With Support from Verizon, a New and Improved Campus Carbon Calculator is On the Way

By Amanda Sayut, Development Officer, Clean Air-Cool Planet

In 2004, a group of student activists at Duke University lobbied their administration to reduce the university’s carbon footprint by installing solar panels on campus. But in spite of strong arguments about leadership, innovation and student demand, they were unsuccessful.

When, however, the same group of students, collaborating with faculty and staff, set about completing a campus greenhouse gas (GHG) inventory—with the help of Clean Air-Cool Planet’s Campus Carbon Calculator™—and analyzed the costs and impacts of more than 20 possible emissions reductions strategies, their results revolutionized Duke’s approach to energy and carbon management.

The students’ analyses showed that the solar panels they had been calling for were a comparatively ineffective, costly solution when compared to other possibilities—and illustrated objectively that fuel switching at Duke’s two coal-fired campus plants made good sense. This data was critical to building consensus and momentum, and led the university to prioritize a move away from coal. Duke burned its last ton of coal on campus in May 2011, and is now lobbying their utility, Duke Energy, to move away from coal as well. Campus greenhouse gas emissions have dropped nearly 10% from 2007 levels, even as the university itself has grown—and CA-CP’s carbon calculator was a critical element in this victory.

Since the Campus Carbon Calculator™ was first made available for free download in 2004, it has provided rigorous data to drive the growing campus sustainability movement, racking up more than 2,500 institutional users.  More than 90% of colleges and universities that currently measure and publicly report their campus greenhouse gas emissions do so using the Campus Carbon Calculator,™ with a large and growing number also use the Calculator’s “Solutions Module” to analyze the life-cycle costs, cash flows, and impacts of projects aimed at reducing their institutional carbon footprints. The EPA has recommended the Calculator to colleges and universities since 2005, and it is considered the tool of record for the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment (ACUPCC). Even for-profit consultants, from large energy service companies to facilities management firms, engineering companies and architects make regular use of the Calculator.

Protocols for “best practices” in the carbon accounting industry as well as user feedback have contributed to a continuously improved and updated tool—with one of our biggest and most exciting improvements on the horizon. Through a generous grant from the Verizon Foundation, we are poised to transform the Calculator from an Excel-based application to an online platform that will not only be more accessible, transparent and user-friendly, but will also allow us to standardize sustainability metrics, improve collaboration between campuses, and help drive unprecedented levels of campus investment. The new online format will allow our Calculator to integrate seamlessly with complementary tools from the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE); the National Association of College and University Business Officers (NACUBO); the National Wildlife Federation; Second Nature and ACUPCC; the U.S. Green Building Council; the Sustainable Endowments Institute; and others.

With Verizon’s support, we will be able to complete and launch the new online Campus Carbon Calculator™ and provide support to more than 2,500 existing users of the present tool.  We expect to launch a basic version of the new Calculator this fall, so watch this space, as well as our website, for updates.

We believe that the new and improved Calculator has the potential to revolutionize campus carbon accounting—just as the original Calculator did back in 2004—and we are honored and delighted that the Verizon Foundation shares in our vision.

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