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Climate Neutrality

Santa Clara University is a Charter Signatory of the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment. We first developed a Climate Neutrality Action Plan in 2010, updated the plan into two parts in 2015, and have the current goal to achieve carbon neutrality by 2020 for scopes 1 and 2 (natural gas and electricity, respectively), and by 2029, scope 3, indirect greenhouse gas emissions from University funded travel and commutes.

The top four things SCU can do to further reduce our emissions: 

  • Prevent emissions growth. With a growing campus (square footage and people) could easily come creeping increases in our energy needs. Smart building design (zero-net energy buildings) and enforcing temperature set-point policies can eliminate this growth.
  • Support campus-based investments in and pilot tests of leading-edge technology and systems to use energy more efficiently and conserve energy. 
  • Change the culture of our community regarding transportation. Reduce single-occupancy vehicle trips to campus and air travel, while expanding student and employee use of sustainable transportation options. 
  • Expand current reuse, recycling, composting, and waste diversion practices to achieve "Zero Waste."

What can our campus community do to help? Everyone can start by using less energy. Turn off lights, monitors, computers, and other electronics when we aren’t using them. Dress (and drink beverages) appropriate for the weather rather than using fans or space heaters. If you have ideas that might help our campus reduce our greenhouse gas emissions, share them with us! Email!

Greenhouse Gas Emissions (GHG) Sources 
Scope 1: Direct emissions. Natural gas usage and campus fleet gas & diesel usage 
Scope 2: Indirect emissions. Purchased electricity 
Scope 3: Other Indirect emissions. Student & employee commute and University-funded air travel. Landfill waste and water usage also fall into this category though we don’t currently include them in our calculations. 
Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs): reduce emissions due to support of green power generation in other locations. SCU purchases RECs through Silicon Valley Power’s Green Power Program. 
Gross emissions: “what comes out of the tailpipe.”
Net emissions: gross emissions minus offsets or Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs) 
Carbon neutral: zero net greenhouse gas emissions 
Climate Neutrality: carbon neutrality (neutralizing our greenhouse gas emissions) plus integrating climate and sustainability into our research and curriculum. 

View GHG Inventories submitted to Second Nature (formerly the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment). We have published inventories for the following years: 1997, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018.

Thank you to the following departments for providing information for our Greenhouse Gas Emissions Inventories: University Operations, Facilities, International Programs, and the University Finance Office.


Fr. Locatelli became a signatory of the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment (ACUPCC).
SCU completed and submitted our first greenhouse gas emissions inventories for 2007 and 2009.
The Sustainability Council and Office of Sustainability completed SCU's first Climate Neutrality Action Plan. The draft was open to University community comment from June through August, 2009.
SCU's Climate Neutrality Action Plan was approved by Fr. Engh and submitted to the ACUPCC. Download the 2010 Climate Neutrality Action Plan draft, and view the public report on ACUPCC's web site.
SCU submitted our first Progress Report to ACUPCC.
The University continues to implement initiatives to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions, and has submitted GHG reports to ACUPCC for 2012, 2013, and 2014. The 2015 Climate Neutrality Action Plan, which is currently in revision, is a two-part update on the 2010 Climate Neutrality Plan and is fundamental to supporting Goal 2 of the 2020 Integrated Strategic Plan: "Strengthen SCU's culture of environmental sustainability by becoming a climate-neutral, zero-waste campus that serves as a living laboratory for developing global solutions rooted in Catholic social thought." Part I of the Climate Neutrality Action Plan outlines SCU's plans to make climate neutrality and sustainability a part of the curriculum and educational experience for all students as well as to expand research efforts and community engagement to achieve climate neutrality and advance sustainability. Read Part I. Part II outlines SCU's carbon neutrality operational strategy (forthcoming).
The University also introduced the Campus Sustainability Investment Fund that supports student, faculty, and staff-initiated campus-based projects that move the University to its goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and achieve climate neutrality by 2020 in all three greenhouse gas emission scopes (see below for more details).

Weren’t we supposed to reach climate neutrality by the end of 2015?
Yes. When we first joined the ACUPCC in 2007, we decided we would work toward reaching carbon neutrality (net emissions, scopes 1 and 2) by the end of 2015. Though we didn’t reach zero net greenhouse gas emissions by the end of 2015, we reduced them by 54.3% compared to the year we joined the commitment (2014 vs 2007) (Figure 2).

If our emissions had followed business as usual trends, we would have expected about a 35% increase in net emissions as campus population grew 34.5% and building space expanded by 36.2% in that same time period! Even if we look at gross emissions (remove the RECs from the calculation), we reduced scopes 1 and 2 emissions by almost 15% since 2007.

Why did we commit to such a hard goal?
Many other higher education institutions have chosen more reasonable, realistic neutrality dates, ranging from 2020 to 2050. See a list of campuses’ commitments sorted by neutrality date.

We purposely chose a lofty goal, knowing we might not achieve it in time. We wanted a goal that was near-term enough to activate our campus around a pressing global issue. Though we didn’t achieve zero, we know our efforts have resulted in measurable decreases in our emissions.

What’s our new goal? Are we going to reach that goal?
Our new goal is Climate Neutrality by 2020, this time including scope 3 (transportation emissions associated with student and employee commute and University-funded travel). We will continue to work on driving down electricity and natural gas usage, and will also focus on reducing our travel emissions. This is going to be even more difficult than our original 2015 goal! We might not make it all the way to zero, but any momentum towards neutrality will be considered successful.

Alexander Moran image

Class of 2019

Alexander Moran

"I have been making small impacts by creating a prototype solar charging station in Engineering 110 and installing solar panels for low-income families through GRID Alternatives."

Carbon Neutrality Task Force

This Task Force works to develop an updated Carbon Neutrality Plan that will enable the University to achieve its climate neutrality goals withstanding the simultaneous expansion of the geographic area and population of the campus.

James Wang, Center for Sustainability Buildings and Grounds Intern
Ashton Lester, University Finance Office
C.J. Gabbe, Faculty
Kaz Joseph, Information Services
Lindsey Kalkbrenner, Director of the Center for Sustainability
Millie Kenney, Transportation Services
Chris Mendoza, Athletics
Susan Popko, Office of the Provost - Global Engagement
Toby Smith, Utilities
Payton Dizney Swanson, ASG Rep. '20


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