Oberlin College is committed to the challenging goal of carbon neutrality by 2025.
Oberlin signed the Carbon Commitment (previously American Colleges & University President’s Climate Commitment (ACUPCC)) in 2006. The college set the date to achieve carbon neutrality as 2025. Carbon neutrality means reducing greenhouse emissions to zero or otherwise balancing emissions to zero through sequestration and offsets.
Since the first greenhouse gas inventory in 2007, the college has halved on-campus emissions by about half through the purchase of green electricity, installation of a 2.27 MW solar array, energy efficiency projects, and ending the use of coal for heating. Further progress must be made with our goal of 2025 in mind.
The From Coal to Carbon Neutrality (FC2CN) campaign at Oberlin was initiated in the fall 2012 as a campuswide dialogue series to maximize our capacity as a community to meet our goal. This work revealed a need for a central place for carbon neutrality efforts to be documented. In order to achieve our ambitious goals, Oberlin must strive to engage all constituencies, take aggressive actions, and get creative. This web page aims to document historical activities; lay out past, present, and future projection timelines; answer frequently asked questions; and engage folks in our carbon neutrality process. The intention is to make these efforts more transparent, provide opportunities for further understanding and involvement, and chart our path so other institutions can follow.
As this website continues to be developed, projects and ideas generated will be cataloged here, videos from past events made available, and updates will be shared with the community. We hope you will use this site to delve deeper into understanding college commitments and utilize the information to form ideas to be further engaged in these community efforts.
View videos from past events, a new video about our district system, and a new video about a proposed heating solution.
The next step: Achieving carbon neutrality by 2025
In December 2016, the Office of Environmental Sustainability in conjunction with the Board of Trustees Carbon Neutrality Subcommittee of the Capital Planning Committee finalized a study that presented an actionable and financially feasible plan for achieving Oberlin’s commitment to carbon neutrality by 2025. The study is called the Oberlin College Carbon Neutrality Resource Master Plan, Implementation Strategy, and Economic Approach and was delivered to the Board of Trustees Capital Planning Committee (CPC) in December 2016. The plan includes a set of energy conservation measures (ECMs) that will reduce unnecessary resource use. Beyond the ECMs, the plan focuses on addressing heating as the largest source of emissions. Currently, most of campus is heated by burning natural gas - a fossil fuel. In simple terms, the leading thermal recommendation presents an engineering solution to capture wasted heat from a local landfill electrification process to heat the majority of campus buildings using hot water (video explanation). This is an optimal approach from a carbon emissions perspective and preliminary financial analysis presents this as the most economically viable option of all options explored by consultant, Ever-Green Energy. Implementation of the recommendations are projected to reduce Oberlin’s annual water consumption by 7.5 million gallons and reduce current Scope 1 and 2 carbon emissions by 73%, with a 92% reduction from the 2007 baseline year.
Oberlin College is currently doing due diligence on the primary heating option and implementing energy conservation measures on a regular basis.
Future strategies will focus on emissions related to waste and transportation.
The study can be found here with a partially redacted appendix: Oberlin College Carbon Neutrality Resource Master Plan, Implementation Strategy, and Economic Approach
The Board of Trustee Carbon Neutrality Subcommittee of Capital Planning Committee was formed in 2016. The design and make-up of the subcommittee is unique compared to other typical subcommittees of Capital Planning Committee as it includes staff, faculty, and students in addition to trustees and is working on carbon neutrality solutions that stretch into the next decade. The Carbon Neutrality Subcommittee was designed to address some of the toughest challenges to achieving a carbon neutral campus. In 2018, the subcommittee is also tasked with examining sustainable infrastructure.
Plans to convert the campus heating system from steam to hot water are progressing. This new system will lower water use on campus substantially, reduce natural gas use, and increase the comfort and efficiency of campus buildings. Renewable sources of heat are being carefully evaluated in order to utilize renewables and decrease fossil fuel dependence on campus in effort to achieve our carbon neutrality goals and take committed actions to address the climate crisis. The sustainable infrastructure project will have a major construction presence starting May 2021 and stretching through 2024. Engineering teams are busy surveying and designing modernized building heating systems to work towards fulfillment of our carbon neutral commitment. A website about the project was recently launched at carbonneutraloc.com/. The website features project updates, FAQs, and more.