Carbon Neutrality Pathways: Further Examination

Submitted to President Crawford for consideration by the Miami University Sustainability Committee February 1, 2020.

Addendum to: Commitment to Lead: A proposed, renewed vision to position Miami University as a sustainability leader among higher education institutions (June 2019)

Executive Summary

In September 2019, Miami University President Gregory Crawford charged Miami’s Sustainability Committee with examining issues to help the University decide whether to create a plan for carbon neutrality under the Presidents’ Climate Leadership Commitments (PCLC), or to create a plan independent of the PCLC.

The Sustainability Committee examined practices of over 60 universities in the United States. Carbon neutrality plans created by other institutions, whether under the PCLC or independent of the PCLC, generally called Climate Action Plans, describe how institutions plan to achieve net zero carbon emissions and detail costs and barriers.

The PCLC provides colleges and universities with guidelines for addressing issues related to climate change. Institutions can choose from three commitments under the PCLC:

  • Resilience: Committing to adapt to the impacts of climate change through campus/community engagement.
  • Carbon: Committing to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and achieve carbon neutrality as soon as possible.
  • Climate: Committing to develop a resilience plan and achieve carbon neutrality (Resilience + Carbon).

For both Carbon and Climate Commitments, the PCLC requires signatories to commit to net zero emissions for (1) direct emissions produced through campus activities (Scope 1); (2) indirect emissions from purchased energy (Scope 2); and (3) indirect emissions from (a) student, faculty, and staff commuting; and (b) air travel paid by/through the institution (Scope 3).

The schools we examined that have committed to carbon neutrality - whether under the PCLC or not - committed to net zero emissions for direct energy (Scope 1) and indirect emissions from purchased electricity (Scope 2). Of the 11 schools examined that have committed to carbon neutrality independent of the PCLC, we found that some do not include Scope 3 emissions in their definition of carbon neutrality, some do include Scope 3 commuting and air travel emissions, and others indicate that they are “considering” Scope 3 emissions.

Since 2008, Miami University has achieved a 51% reduction in Scope 1 and 2 energy emissions due to a comprehensive and innovative transformation of its campus energy systems. With continued implementation of the University Utility Master Plan, it is foreseeable that the bulk of Scope 1 and 2 emissions will be further reduced.

While including Scope 3 emissions in our institutional definition of carbon neutrality would require innovative solutions and the purchase of carbon offsets, it would demonstrate Miami’s leadership in sustainability and serious commitment to carbon neutrality. As a nationally recognized academic institution that has a strong relationship with the City of Oxford, the University is well poised to do this work.

Since Miami University has already made a commitment to carbon neutrality, the next step is to create a Climate Action Plan. This can be achieved independently of the PCLC; however, by becoming a signatory of the PCLC, Miami would be part of a large (>400) network of colleges, provided with a timeline for reporting, and some unique options for verifying offsets that are not available outside the PCLC.

In addition, signing the PCLC could empower faculty, staff and students to recognize the role they need to play in achieving carbon neutrality.

Based on its research and findings, the Committee recommends that Miami University become a signatory of the Presidents’ Climate Leadership Commitments – and do so by April 22, 2020, the 50th Anniversary of Earth Day.