Campus Initiatives: Climate

The overarching goal of Elon University’s Sustainability Master Plan completed in the spring of 2007 is “to minimize our impact on the global environment by establishing a carbon neutral university.”

Greenhouse Gas Inventory

The university’s first greenhouse gas (GHG) or carbon footprint was calculated for FY 2008 and serves as the baseline from which to measure reductions. An inventory is conducted yearly to monitor progress toward the university’s carbon reduction goals. Elon’s FY 2016 GHG emissions were 13.5% higher than FY 2008 emissions. This increase came primarily from an increase in study abroad travel and directly financed travel. Study abroad emissions increased due to improved data and more students studying abroad. The increase in directly financed travel is due to improved data and more travel.

While overall emissions have increased, emissions per square foot decreased from FY 2008 to FY 2016, even though square footage increased 41.3%. The below graph depicts the 19.7% decrease in emissions per 1,000 square feet.









Emissions per student also decreased from FY 2008 to FY2016, even though the number of FTE students increased 21.9%. The below graph illustrates the change in emissions per FTE student over time. Compared to FY 2008, in FY 2016 emissions per FTE student are down 7.0%.









Energy consumption is the largest source of Elon’s GHG emissions accounting for 51% of Elon’s emissions in FY 2016. The next largest source of emissions is Transportation with 42% of FY 2016 emissions. The Transportation category includes the following: Study Abroad Travel, Commuter Travel, Fuel Usage (University Fleet), Directly Financed Travel (faculty and staff business and athletic team travel).










Commuter Travel accounts for 12% of Elon’s FY 2016 emissions. It is one of the more challenging categories for which to collect data. A combination of two strategies was used to gather information for this category. A Geographic Information Systems (GIS) analysis was done using faculty and staff anonymous addresses to generate an average one-way travel distance of 14.4 miles for the Elon campus and 10.5 miles for the School of Law campus. The study showed that for both campuses, 43.3% of faculty and staff live within 5 miles and 55.8% are within 10 miles. Click here for the resulting maps.

In addition, a commuter habit survey was created and distributed to faculty, staff and students. The results were used to determine the average number of trips to campus each week, trip distribution (% trips by mode) and the specific trip distance for each commuting mode. Based on the results:

  • Commuting students made fewer trips to campus in 2016 than in 2008.
  • In 2016, 68% of the time students walked, biked, carpooled or bussed to get to campus.
  • A larger percentage of weekly student trips were done via Biobuses in 2016 than in 2008.

Contact us if you are interested in the full GHG Emissions Inventory Report for FY 2016 and/or previous years.

Climate Action Plan

To guide this effort, the university completed a Climate Action Plan (CAP) in the spring of 2010. In 2017, an assessment of the CAP was done to determine progress and next steps toward meeting the carbon neutrality goal.

The 2010 CAP identifies emission reduction strategies and goals in four categories:

  1.     Energy
  2.     Transportation
  3.     Solid waste
  4.     Other sources such as fertilizer application, refrigeration and wastewater

It also includes recommendations for incorporating sustainability and climate change into education, research and community outreach.

The CAP will continue to be reviewed periodically to maintain progress toward carbon neutrality.

Solar Farm at Elon

The solar farm at Elon does not yet contribute directly to the University’s carbon reduction goals but it does contribute to global carbon reduction. Click here for more information about the solar farm.