Cornell Aims to Achieve Carbon Neutrality by 2035. Here’s How.

White e-bikes Ithaca Bikeshare

(Credit: Cornell University)

by | Mar 20, 2023

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White e-bikes Ithaca Bikeshare Carbon Neutrality Cornell

(Credit: Cornell University)

Cornell University is taking a multifaceted approach to achieving carbon neutrality by 2035. The University, with a focus on reducing energy consumption, investing in renewable energy, promoting sustainable transportation, and leveraging its research and education programs to advance sustainability that aligns with the University’s Quadruple Bottom Line Sustainability Framework.

2021 Baseline Data

The latest GHG inventory for FY21 indicates that net emissions stand at 147,124 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (MTCO2e), representing a reduction of over 50% from the 2008 baseline. Despite the operational disruption caused by COVID-19 throughout the year, FY2021 represents a complete year of emissions data.

In FY2021, business air travel was reduced by 97%, and commuting was decreased due to campus density reductions and remote work/learning. Stationary combustion emissions increased by 3% between FY20 and FY21 but reduced by 9% in FY20, resulting in a net reduction of 6% for the current year.

Energy Conservation 

The Energy Management Department oversees the Energy Conservation Initiative (ECI), which is responsible for identifying and assessing energy-saving projects that can significantly impact the Ithaca campus and the University’s off-campus contract colleges and real estate holdings. ECI’s dedicated team focuses on implementing three main types of upgrades: building automation and controls, heat recovery, and lighting systems.

By the beginning of the 2020s, the ECI initiative had resulted in savings of more than $52 million for the University and prevented over 231,000 MTCO2e from being emitted, which are greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change.

The greenest energy, and the best for reducing climate change impacts, is the energy we never use. Cornell University has seen flat energy use since 2000 as a result of energy conservation efforts, in spite of campus square footage growing by 20% during that same time. – Cornell University

Investing in Renewable Energy

  • Steam to low-temperature hot water heat distribution conversion
  • Heat campus with renewable energy: Develop Earth Source Heat
  • Power campus with 100% renewable electricity
  • Optimize campus energy systems for renewables

Sustainable Transportation

  • Free bus rides for first-year students and free weekend and after-6 p.m. rides for all students.
  • Students can buy discounted year-round bus passes.
  • The Way2Go program advises on alternative transportation solutions.
  • Ithaca CarShare offers free or discounted memberships,
  • TCAT buses have bike racks.
  • The Center For Community Transportation (CCT) in Ithaca launched the new Ithaca Bikeshare service in November of 2022.
  • Eligible employees can receive free or discounted parking permits through the carpool program.
  • An app developed by Cornell students helps with transit tracking for Apple users.

Quadruple Bottom Line Sustainability Framework

The Quadruple Bottom Line Sustainability Framework at Cornell is a holistic approach to sustainability that considers four interconnected dimensions: environmental, social, economic, and cultural.

Leading the way, Cornell expanded on the traditional Triple Bottom Line for sustainability, which includes People, Prosperity, and Planet, by adding a fourth component, Purpose. This fourth component emphasizes alignment with Cornell’s academic, research, and land-grant mission.

Additional Sustainability Programs & Initiatives at Cornell

  • Beyond Waste Campaign: A two-month initiative aimed at reducing institutional waste that encourages every member of the Cornell community to rethink their relationship with everyday products. It goes beyond recycling and waste management, promoting a creative life-cycle approach to purchasing, using, reusing, and disposing of goods and materials across campus systems. The program is open until March 31st.
  • Mission Sustainability: Student Sustainability Literacy Course: A mandatory learning and survey module for new Cornell students. It assesses their sustainability literacy and beliefs, as well as their knowledge and attitudes toward climate change and environmental issues.
  • Electronics Recycling Month: Taking place every Wednesday in March. Items accepted include CDs, Computers, TVs, cameras, VCR/DVD players, microwaves, phones, cables, remote controls, extension cords, power strips, printers, monitors, fax/answering machines, pagers, typewriters, stereo/tape/record/8 track tape players, and anything with a cord.
  • Combined Heat & Power Plant Office: The US Green Building Council has granted Cornell’s Combined Heat and Power Building a LEED® Gold Rating. This building not only delivers energy to the campus in an efficient and sustainable way through its USEPA award-winning combined heat and power generation but also utilizes solar panels installed on the office roof.
  • Beyond Coal initiative: Eliminating coal as a fuel source used to heat and power the campus.

In addition, the University has benefited from lower grid electric emission factors as New York State expands its renewable energy sources. Cornell has also increased its use of renewable energy by implementing solar farms and on-campus solar projects, which provide clean power to the campus.

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