Envisioning the Carbon Neutral Campus

Four practices impacting campus carbon neutrality are increasingly common at Colleges and Universities in the United States: faculty and students are engaging in hands-on sustainability curriculum, facilities personnel are analyzing campus energy consumption data, administrators and design professionals are creating campus facilities master plans, and sustainability committees are creating campus sustainability plans. While there are many excellent examples in each of these areas, they are more often than not disconnected processes.

This final project for completion of the MS in Sustainable Design, Envisioning the Carbon Neutral Campus, explored the potential for St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota, to work toward carbon neutrality through an integrated learning laboratory process by:

  • summarizing the climate change crisis and its building-derived influences

  • outlining several frameworks that St. Olaf might employ to reduce campus carbon emissions, including STARS and the ACUPCC (now the Carbon Commitment through Second Nature)

  • exploring and visualizing St. Olaf energy data as a first step to understanding the campus’ carbon emissions from energy consumption, and

  • suggesting ways students might engage in the process of pursuing campus carbon neutrality.

This project was a finalist for the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) Campus Research Award. Thanks to investments in building efficiency and renewable energy, St. Olaf is currently carbon neutral in terms of electricity while benefiting college financial operations. Incidentally, St. Olaf is now carbon neutral in terms of electricity.