Correction — Oct. 12, 12:40 p.m. The story initially stated the university's goal was to have zero carbon emissions. This has been changed to reflect the university's goal of neutral carbon emissions. Elon News Network regrets this error.
The Office of Sustainability’s next goal for Elon University is to achieve carbon neutrality. This goal comes out of Elon’s Climate Action Plan, which aims to see neutral carbon emissions by the university by the year 2037.
According to Elon’s 2020-2030 Strategic Plan, “in consideration of our impact locally and abroad, Elon will continue to engage the entire campus community in sustainable practices to reduce our carbon footprint, become carbon neutral by 2037 and prepare students in and out of the classroom to lead lives that build a sustainable future.”
In order to reach carbon neutrality, Elon plans to focus on two major emitters of greenhouse gases: energy and transportation.
Energy strategies include using renewable energy and implementing energy conservation practices throughout campus. Some of the ways the Office of Sustainability wants to achieve energy efficiency are by using carbon-friendly lighting, limiting energy waste in existing buildings and constructing future buildings to emit less carbon.
Transportation strategies include using fuel efficient transportation for faculty, athletics and commuters. Improving the fuel efficiency of the university’s transportation fleet by finding alternative ways to travel is a major focus.
Study abroad, which 83% of undergraduate students at Elon participate in according to the Office of Admissions, will not actively seek to reduce program involvement. However, students will be encouraged by the Office of Sustainability to look into ways to offset carbon emissions caused by study abroad travel.
Since the first greenhouse gas inventory in 2008, Elon has seen fluctuating emission levels. As stated in the Climate Action Plan from the years 2008 to 2018, the overall percentage of emissions increased by 10.2%. In contrast, the emissions per 1,000 square feet has decreased by 29.1%, even as campus grows in size.
To continue this trend, Elon has begun finding other ways to decrease energy consumption in classrooms, dorms and other buildings across campus.
“Elon is also exploring solar energy options for campus,” said Director of Sustainability Elaine Durr. “For emissions that cannot be reduced, possible mitigation strategies for Elon to consider include purchasing renewable energy credits and purchasing verified carbon offsets.”
Vice President for Strategic Initiatives Jeff Stein said the experience of shifting to carbon neutrality, so far, has been an exciting experience, but there is still a lot to be done.
For now, he said, it is a matter of educating the university community.
“We believe that, as an institution, we have to be contributing toward carbon neutrality and a sustainable environment, but we also have to prepare students with knowledge and skills toward sustainability,” Stein said.
The Office of Sustainability encourages students and faculty to get involved in the transition to carbon neutrality, a movement that the entire university must commit to in order to see a change.
The majority of Elon’s peer institutions are attempting to do the same.
These schools include Ithaca College, Bucknell University, Butler University, College of Charleston, College of William & Mary, Creighton University, Davidson College, Furman University, Lehigh University, Loyola University Maryland, Santa Clara University, Villanova University, Bucknell University and University of Richmond.
Only three of these universities, Lehigh, Bucknell and Loyola Maryland, plan to achieve carbon neutrality before Elon does.
Additionally, four of these peer institutions have signed the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment, a national effort to promote sustainability and address climate change across college campuses.
Though Elon has not signed this commitment, the university retains the same end goal of neutrality.
“Working toward carbon neutrality positions Elon as a leader in addressing climate change for the campus community and higher education community,” Durr said.