Frequently Asked Questions
What is a carbon footprint?
A carbon footprint is a measure of total greenhouse gases (GHG) emitted into the atmosphere due to direct and indirect activities by humans, expressed as carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e). Simply, CO2e is the standard unit of measurement for a carbon footprint. Greenhouse gases that are included in the measurement of CO2e are carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O), and other refrigerants and chemicals that trap heat in the atmosphere, making it warmer than it otherwise would be.
As a member of Second Nature’s Carbon Commitment (formally ACUPCC), Colorado College annually tracks its GHG emissions following guidelines established by Second Nature and consistent with the Greenhouse Gas Protocol. Emissions in the carbon footprint include those from direct and indirect sources and can be grouped by three different ‘scopes’ as defined by the GHG Protocol for accounting and reporting purposes.
What are scopes?
Scope 1: Refers to direct emissions from sources owned or controlled by the institution.
These emissions are physically produced on campus. At Colorado College, this includes burning fossil fuels for our central heating and burning fuels for college owned vehicles.
Scope 2: Refers to indirect emissions from electrical generation.
These emissions are not produced on campus, but they are consumed within Colorado College’s boundaries. In other words, Colorado College purchases electricity through Colorado Springs Utilities for the consumption on campus.
Scope 3: Refers to all other indirect emissions that are not controlled or owned by the institution but significantly contribute to the carbon footprint.
These emissions are central to Colorado College’s operations and activities, but are not controlled/owned by the institution. Emissions under Scope 3 for Colorado College’s reporting include business air travel, study abroad, solid waste, commuting, paper purchasing, and wastewater. It is important to note that Scope 3 emissions are not required to report on, however as a signatory of Second Nature, Colorado College leadership has opted into reporting on emissions that we believe we can educate about and influence on campus.
What is Colorado College’s carbon footprint?
Colorado College’s net emissions as of January 1st, 2020 is 0 metric tons (MT) of CO2e. Previously, net emissions from all scopes was 22,335 MTCO2e in FY18. Of those emissions, 13,600 MTCO2e came from Scope 3. Since our baseline year in 2008, the institution has reduced on campus emissions (Scopes 1 & 2) by 75% due to efficiency upgrades, building renovations, on-site renewable energy, and renewable energy purchases. As of Jan. 1st, 2020 Scope 2 emissions are 100% from local renewable energy. This is made possible by Colorado Springs Utilities' Green Power program which enables commercial (CC) and residential electric users to buy solar directly from the municipal utilities company.
What does it mean to be carbon neutral?
To be carbon neutral is to have zero net emissions. Net emissions represent emissions from the campus that includes the consideration of offsets. Gross emissions are the total emissions produced by the college. This means between on campus reductions and off campus projects, Colorado College’s net emissions are zero. This does not mean that Colorado College does not have emission on campus, but the emission that remain are being offset.
So, if we still have emissions occurring on campus, how can we say that we are carbon neutral?
It is extremely difficult for an institution to eliminate all emissions. In fact, some sources of emissions are nearly impossible to eliminate without a huge financial and social cost to the academic mission of the college.
Colorado College has reduced on campus emissions (Scopes 1 & 2) by 75%. The remaining emissions are those that we do not have complete control over such as commuting and air travel. Travel for many offices, departments, and students is essential. For these remaining emissions, we have invested in local projects offsite that actively remove GHG emissions from the atmosphere, also known as carbon offsets.
Colorado College has specifically invested in a methane destruction project at the Larimer County landfill in the northern part of Colorado. This project prevents methane (CH4), a very potent GHG, from entering the atmosphere. Instead, this project uses the CH4 to generate electricity directly to the Larimer County community.
In sum, in addition to impressive on campus reductions, Colorado College has also invested in carbon offsets. With both strategies, our net emissions are zero, making us one of the handful of institutions who are carbon neutral in the United States.
What does it mean to offset emissions? Do they even make a difference?
An offset is an investment in a project that reduces or eliminates GHG emissions somewhere else. There are many different types of projects: renewable energy, energy efficiency, forestry, methane capture/avoidance, and other projects such as carbon capture and storage. These investments enable projects that would not otherwise exist. All projects must remove additional emissions from a business-as-usual scenario. Additionally, offsets are fully verified must meet multiple criteria and pass rigorous peer review and verification standards to ensure that they have real impacts.
Other considerations include co-benefits: benefits that go beyond just GHG emission reductions. Co-benefits vary depending on project, technology employed, socio-demographic conditions, and location. Offsets often deliver measurable environmental, social, and economic benefits.
The Larimer County Landfill Capture Project that Colorado College has invested in has co-benefits that go beyond just reducing emissions; it has opened doors for future carbon related markets, has reduced air pollution by adding renewable energy to the gird, and supports the local community of Larimer County.
It sounds like Colorado College is just buying our way to carbon neutrality.
Nothing could be farther from the truth. By investing in carbon markets, we are in investing in future solutions. We do not see this as ‘buying’ our way to carbon neutrality, especially since Colorado College has seen on-campus reductions by 75% through efficiency upgrades, building renovations, on-site renewable energy, and renewable energy purchases that have been completed over the course of the past decade. By looking at off campus solutions, Colorado College has become an early adopter in creating and developing carbon markets and projects for the future, with the added bonus that we have met our aggressive 2020 goal. Addressing the climate crisis will take these strategies and more.
What makes CC different from other colleges/universities that have met carbon neutrality?
There are a few things that make CC stand out among the other schools that have already reached carbon neutrality. First, CC has the greatest emission reductions while buying the fewest amount of offsets and RECS than any other U.S campus. Many of our building and lighting retrofits at CC is scalable and replicable in the Colorado Springs community, greater Colorado community, and other institutions across the world. Additionally, CC is the only institution located in a high intensity electric grid still having two functioning coal plants operating in our city.
What happens now that we have met our carbon neutrality goal?
Although we are carbon neutral, that does not mean that our work is finished. Colorado College is currently working to address this question. President Jill Tiefenthaler and the Board of Trustees has put together a Climate Change Task Force, led by Provost Alan Townsend to take on ‘What’s Next’ for thinking about operations, leadership beyond CC, academics & the co-curricular, and the endowment. Colorado College will continue to engage with the Colorado Springs community, looking for opportunities to collaborate across various demographics in building resiliency and climate preparedness with military, religious, and higher education groups.
In addition, Colorado College is looking at options to not simply purchase carbon offsets, but to invest in developing new projects that are more socially and environmentally responsible, thereby benefiting our core academic mission, developing markets as part of the solution to climate change, and providing positive social benefits for our communities and region.