News Release

To reduce carbon, colleges should target purchasing, travel

Peer-Reviewed Publication

Cornell University

ITHACA, N.Y. – Activities beyond campus – such as business air travel, student commutes and purchases of goods like lab equipment – account for more than 60% of Cornell University’s carbon emissions, according to new research that analyzed the university’s greenhouse gas consumption through the lens of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We used the COVID pandemic opportunity to figure out hotspots of our campus carbon emissions, to identify opportunities for making Cornell greener and carbon-neutral,” said Fengqi You, professor in energy systems engineering at Cornell. “We sought opportunities for improvements.”

You is a senior author of “COVID-19 Impact on an Academic Institution’s Greenhouse Gas Inventory: The Case of Cornell University,” which appears in the forthcoming Journal of Cleaner Production, Aug. 20.

As Cornell has taken steps to reduce carbon dioxide emissions over the past two decades, addressing campus consumption may be the next green frontier. Using Cornell as a case study, the researchers created a framework aimed at helping universities reach their climate goals in the coming years; Cornell seeks to achieve carbon neutrality by 2035.

“Understanding what causes emissions leading to climate change is key to solving climate change,” said senior author Natalie Mahowald, professor in engineering at Cornell and an atmospheric scientist.

Campus greenhouse gas emissions dropped from 463.5 thousand metric tons of carbon dioxide in pre-COVID 2019 to 404.7 thousand metric tons in 2020 at the starting phase of the pandemic, the researchers found. The shutdown also offered new insight into campus’s carbon usage overall.

While energy and managing greenhouse emission is important to sustainability, procurement is becoming a crucial issue in campus management.

The Cornell Atkinson Center for Sustainability funded the work.

For additional information, see this Cornell Chronicle story.


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