Carbon Neutral Universities

    By KCI Ambassador Chris Grady

When you think of college students, which superlatives come to mind? Lazy, unhealthy, privileged, poor? As a college student myself, I acknowledge many of those stereotypes to be true, however I think it would be unfair to neglect the vigor, passion, and empowerment we can demonstrate when rallying behind an issue we see as unjust. From The Berkeley Free Speech Movement of 1964, to Student Debt Protests of 2013 and countless others, students have long protested against the corruption facing their generation.

One movement that has been nearly ubiquitous throughout college campuses nationwide is the push for campus carbon neutrality. Environmental clubs and organizations have gradually been appearing and growing on college campuses for many years pushing for local climate justice and general environmental awareness. But since the turn of the century the main focus of most of these clubs have shifted their goals towards campus carbon neutrality. A few universities to have met carbon neutrality are American University, Colgate University, and Bates College. Many others have also pledged to achieve carbon neutrality by some time between 2025 and 2050. Due to legislative yellow tape and financial insufficiency some schools have more hoops to jump through than others to get there. But thankfully, the positive public opinion on campus carbon neutrality has pressured most universities to work towards this goal even if difficult.

Some universities have had to get creative in order to meet their targets for neutrality. Take Bates College of Lewiston, Maine for example: one of the biggest reasons that they were able to reach neutrality one year ahead of projections was because they used renewable fuel oil (RFO), a sustainable wood-derived liquid energy source, for heating which in one years time reduced their campus emissions by 83%! (Bates, 2018) Another example of this creativity is in Farmington, Maine. A solar farm was launched in Farmington, Maine by the collaboration of Amherst, Hampshire, Smith, Williams, and Bowdoin College which “will create enough electricity each year to power about 5,000 New England homes” (University Business, 2018). According to Dano Weisbord, Director of Sustainability and Planning at Smith College, “students experience a cognitive dissonance, they learn in class that climate change is bad yet they see that we use a lot of fossil fuel to run a campus” (ibid).

Weisbord has a point. This investment is better for the environment and is very appealing to their current and future students. Campus carbon neutrality has been advocated for by students for many years and as more schools set neutrality as the new precedent, I foresee a future where neutrality is the new normal. Until then, it will only help colleges attract new students.