Sustainability Column: Bicentennial Carbon Neutrality

The Colgate community is extremely excited about our bicentennial anniversary that kicked off this past weekend. It was really incredible to see all of the alumni, parents, faculty, staff, students and anyone else invested in Colgate get together and celebrate the beginning of a truly special year. But the bicentennial is special for more reasons than one, and one of those reasons dates back to 2011 when Colgate’s senior administration approved the Colgate Sustainability and Climate Action plan. The Plan holds the lofty goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2019, this coming year, our bicentennial.

First, what is carbon neutrality and why does it matter? Carbon neutrality is when an institution has a net zero carbon footprint through a balance of introducing as little carbon compounds as possible into the atmosphere and offsetting the remaining carbon. Offsets are things that sequester the equivalent of the atmospheric carbon that the institution produces. For example, Colgate’s biggest carbon offset program is the Patagonia Sur. Because of this program, 10,000 trees are planted annually in the Colgate Forest in Patagonia, Chile, and these trees sequester carbon and thus help to make Colgate carbon neutral.

In order to understand the importance of carbon neutrality, it is important to understand how much carbon, and how large a footprint, Colgate truly has. Colgate produces emissions through three different sources: scope one, two and three. Scope one sources are sources that are controlled by the institution, such as the heating plant. Scope two sources consist of the indirect emissions that are produced in the energy that Colgate purchases, such as the electricity. And lastly, scope three emissions consist of other indirect sources that are not controlled by the institution, such as faculty commutes and airfare, as well as paper consumption and the Colgate Cruisers. In 2009 and 2010, right before the senior administration set the goal of carbon neutrality by 2019, Colgate produced 17,353 and 14,505 tons of gross emissions respectively according to Colgate’s 2011 Greenhouse Gas Inventory. In 2017, Colgate produced 13,233 tons of gross emissions and 8,187 tons of net emissions. These numbers are a 21% and 51% reduction compared to the numbers that we saw in 2009. However, even these numbers give an idea about how much emissions Colgate University truly produces.

Carbon neutrality is so important, especially today, because of the positive effects that it can have on climate change and global warming. Climate change can affect everything from agriculture, floods, droughts and reduced crop yields to energy through increased demands for heating and cooling, to natural resources through destruction of forests and changes in forest types. Through our goal of becoming carbon neutral, we can do our part in staving off climate change and global warming and help to make the world less susceptible to those consequences. And even if you can’t plant a 10,000-tree forest to help Colgate sequester some of its carbon emissions, you can still do your part to help. Simple things such as turning off the lights when you leave a room, turning the thermostat down or washing laundry in cold water can help to reduce your, and Colgate’s, energy consumption. So let’s all celebrate a fun-filled bicentennial year and continue to take one step closer to celebrating our carbon neutrality in 2019.

Contact Ethan Reiser at [email protected].