Elon completes annual greenhouse gas emissions inventory

The university's annual greenhouse gas emissions inventory was completed to track progress toward Elon University’s commitment to achieving carbon neutrality by 2037.

The annual Elon University Greenhouse Gas Emissions Inventory for the 2021-22 fiscal year has found that net emissions have decreased 32 percent since 2008, even with campus growth in building square footage and student population. The university started tracking its emissions output in 2008 as part of its commitment to achieving carbon neutrality by 2037.

“While net emissions have decreased from baseline levels, there is still more work to do to reach carbon neutrality by 2037,” said Senior Director of Sustainability Elaine Durr.

Achieving carbon neutrality by 2037 is a priority included within the Thrive theme of the university’s Boldy Elon strategic plan. These efforts are ongoing and guided by the Sustainability Master Plan and include exploring options for renewable energy, among other strategies.

The decrease in net emissions is primarily due to the purchase of verified carbon offsets for the Carbon Neutral Global Engagement Initiative and the source of Elon’s purchased electricity being less carbon-intensive.

Energy conservation efforts are also a critical component of Elon’s carbon neutrality strategy as energy consumption is the largest source of emissions at forty-nine percent. Since 2005, energy consumption per square foot has decreased by more than 30 percent on campus. Without these efforts, Elon’s emissions would be higher.

Transportation is the second largest source of emissions at about 48 percent of total emissions. Transportation includes university-funded travel for faculty, staff and students; study abroad travel; commuter travel and fuel use in the university fleet. Study abroad travel is the largest transportation source of emissions and accounted for 18 percent of overall emissions in the latest inventory. The Carbon Neutral Global Engagement Initiative started to address the emissions from study abroad or global engagement travel through the purchase of verified carbon offsets in fall 2020.

The COVID-19 pandemic significantly impacted annual emissions during the 2020-21 fiscal year through reduced energy and travel and associated emissions. Those emissions reductions were temporary, and the effects of the pandemic were small in this latest inventory.

Completing the greenhouse gas emissions inventory involves collecting data from numerous departments, ranging from Facilities Management for electricity and natural gas consumption to Elon Athletics for team travel data.

“Thank you to the many departments and individuals on campus who provide the necessary data to complete the annual inventory,” said Durr, who completes the annual inventory.

To learn more about the Greenhouse Gas Emissions Inventory and Elon University’s sustainability efforts, visit the university’s Sustainability website.