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.”

Climate Action Plan

To guide this effort, the university completed a Climate Action Plan (CAP) in the spring of 2010. The strategies and goals outlined in the CAP will by 2037, reduce emissions from what the university produced in its 2008 baseline year. Those reductions are expected even as the campus increases its building square footage through future projects.

The plan 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 is a flexible document that will be reviewed periodically and revised as appropriate to take new technologies, incentives and developments into consideration. 

Click here for an Executive Summary of the Climate Action Plan.

Click here for the full Climate Action Plan

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 2015 GHG emissions were 17% higher than FY 2008 emissions. This increase came primarily from an increase in energy consumption, study abroad and directly financed travel. The increase in energy consumption is likely due to additional square footage, 115,846 square feet were added to campus from FY 2014 to FY 2015. Study abroad emissions increased due to additional data being provided and more students studying abroad. An increase in directly financed travel is due to additional Athletics travel which is likely a result of changing athletic conferences.

While overall emissions have increased, Emissions per square foot decreased from FY 2008 to FY 2015, even though square footage increased 41%. The below graph depicts the 17% decrease in emissions per 1,000 square feet.









Emissions per student also decreased from FY 2008 to FY2015, even though the number of FTE students increased 19%. The below graph illustrates the change in emissions per FTE student over time. Compared to FY 2008, in FY 2015 emissions per FTE student are down 1.9%.









Energy consumption is the largest source of Elon’s GHG emissions accounting for 53.9% of Elon’s emissions in FY 2015. The next largest source of emissions is Transportation with 39.3% of FY 2015 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 12.7% of Elon’s FY 2015 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 13.9 miles for the Elon campus and 10.2 miles for the School of Law campus. The study showed that for both campuses, 45.2% of faculty and staff live within 5 miles and 57.0% 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 in 2014 were making fewer trips to campus in a week than those in 2008.
  • A larger percentage of weekly student trips were done via Biobuses in 2014 than in 2008.
  • About 12% of student trips in 2014 were via carpooling.
  • In 2015, about 11.7% of faculty trips to campus, and 5.6% of staff trips were done via carpooling.
  • The average number of faculty and staff roundtrips to campus per week have decreased since 2008.

Click here for the GHG Emissions Inventory Report for FY 2015.

Contact us if you are interested in previous inventory reports.

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.