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For purposes of the Presidents’ Climate Leadership Commitments, carbon neutrality is defined as having no net greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, to be achieved by either: 1) eliminating net GHG emissions, or 2) by minimizing GHG emissions as much as possible, and using carbon offsets or other measures to mitigate the remaining emissions. GHG emissions should be tracked for Scope 1, Scope 2, and Scope 3 Commuting/Air Travel.

SCU has signed the Carbon Commitment, which is focused on reducing greenhouse gas emissions and achieving carbon neutrality as soon as possible.

Climate neutrality: integrates carbon neutrality (neutralizing greenhouse gas emissions) with climate resilience and provides a systems-based approach with community capacity-building to mitigating and adapting to a changing climate and resulting extremes. (Definition derived from Second Nature.)

Yes! We achieved carbon neutrality for scopes 1 and 2, which are emissions associated with natural gas + University fleet gas and diesel usage, and purchased electricity, respectively. Carbon neutrality was possible by investments in energy infrastructure, energy efficiency upgrades, retro commission building systems, behavioral actions from the campus community, and purchasing strategic offsets with co-benefits. 

We actually only saw a 10% dip in energy use due to the campus closure in 2020. We still had construction and 321,000 extra square feet of new buildings come online in the past 2 years.

We have been aiming for carbon neutrality by the end of 2020 for years, so while the effect of the pandemic certainly made it easier to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, we would have reached neutrality in 2020 anyway.

We've still got a lot of work ahead of us to minimize energy increases once we can all return to campus again. We’ve made significant progress implementing SCU’s Energy Master Plan, which sets the course for a multi-year massive lighting upgrade, new solar panels, and battery energy storage systems. SCU has already decreased energy use per square foot by 30% since 2009!


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 - such as student & employee commute and University-funded air travel. A lot of other emissions fall into this category though we don’t currently include them in our calculations. We have students working on calculating the emissions of our food purchases - meat is one of the largest contributors to our "food"print!

These definitions are simplified; for more, please visit Second Nature.


Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs): reduce emissions due to support of green power generation in other locations.
Carbon offsets/credits: A carbon offset is a tradable instrument that represents the reduction or removal of one metric tonne of carbon dioxide equivalent. Carbon offsets fund projects that reduce greenhouse gases, ranging from reforestation to renewable energy investments. Offsets can be bought and sold to transfer climate benefit between entities. Carbon offsets represent a unit of carbon dioxide equivalents and are different from RECs. Definition from Second Nature.
Gross emissions: “what comes out of the tailpipe”
Net emissions: gross emissions minus offsets or Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs) 
Drawing down climate change is extremely difficult and one of the most urgent and important actions we must take individually and collectively. SCU has been committed to become carbon neutral since 2007. Since making that commitment, we have formalized our objectives to reduce our onsite greenhouse gas emissions as much as possible. We are very proud of our efforts. And we will continue to drive emission reductions each year.
The University has been investing in ongoing improvements to our energy infrastructure so that we can consistently meet our neutrality goal annually and have less emissions to offset. For emissions we can't avoid in the interim, we have the obligation to reduce greenhouse gas emissions beyond our campus boundaries through the purchase of carbon credits.
We are contributing to and building momentum for a carbon-free future through scholarship, research, and entrepreneurship. With this intention, we are choosing high-quality carbon offsets/credits coupled with educational opportunities, or co-benefits, that enrich social enterprises and our SCU community.
SCU uses a portfolio approach for purchasing carbon offsets, balancing cost per unit with social and educational benefits. At least 50% of the portfolio must have co-benefits. We look for projects that work toward higher-impact solutions as identified by Project Drawdown, and advance at least two of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals
For the first year of carbon neutrality (2020), SCU was able to purchase carbon credits from a social entrepreneur organization that participated in Miller Center’s Climate Resilience Accelerator (formerly known as Global Social Benefit Institute). SCU, with the help of students, faculty, and staff, plans to use our carbon neutrality efforts to help scale global carbon solutions and climate resiliency, especially in poor and low-income communities where the impacts of climate change hit the hardest.
We are always looking for more ways to meet climate neutrality. Please share your ideas with us by suggesting a Playbook action (view all current actions here and filter by campus role) or submitting an idea to the Campus Sustainability Investment Fund (CSIF).

See SCU's greenhouse gas emissions trends back to 2005. See our energy and transportation trends, too.

You can also view GHG Inventories submitted to Second Nature (formerly the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment).

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.


We use the Sustainability Indicator Management & Analysis Platform (SIMAP) to calculate our greenhouse gas emissions. 
We report our emissions annually to Second Nature.

Yes, we did have that goal. When we first made our carbon neutrality commitment 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).

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 (removing the RECs from the calculation), we reduced scopes 1 and 2 emissions by almost 15% since 2007.

Many other higher education institutions chose more reasonable, realistic neutrality dates, ranging from 2020 to 2050. See a world map of the Climate Leadership Network.

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...and we achieved the new 2020 goal!

SCU will continue to achieve carbon neutrality year after year for emissions related to scopes 1 (natural gas and diesel) and 2 (electricity) by doing the following:

  1. Avoid new emissions
  2. Reduce existing emissions by increasing campus energy efficiency. Reduce natural gas use as much as possible. Reduce electricity use as much as possible.
  3. Generate and store on-site renewable sources of emissions by migrating to carbon-free energy sources. Generate on-site renewable energy. Procure renewable energy.
  4. Procure Renewable Energy Certificates and Offsets to achieve and maintain carbon neutrality for energy usage.
  5. Repeat the above annually, prioritizing items 1, 2, and 3 since they are the best way to permanently reduce greenhouse gas emissions and ensure long-term carbon neutrality.

By 2029, we will declare carbon neutrality for scopes 1, 2, and include scope 3 (transportation emissions associated with student and employee commute and University-funded travel). 

Fr. Locatelli became a signatory of what is now called Climate Leadership Network by Second Nature, previously known as 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 Second Nature. View the 2010 Climate Neutrality Action Plan.
SCU submitted our first Progress Report to Second Nature.
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 the end of 2020 in all three greenhouse gas emission scopes (see below for more details).

Building upon the Climate Action Plan, SCU develops the inaugural Sustainability Strategic Plan. This plan includes the intended Part II, outlining a carbon neutrality operational strategy. View the 2018 plan document on the Second Nature reporting platform.

Fr. Engh also pledges SCU to be part of the "We Are Still In" declaration, an open letter to the international community and United Nations parties of the Paris Climate Agreement.


Fr. O'Brien re-committs SCU as a signatory of Second Nature's Climate Leadership Network.