Carbon Neutrality

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 is underway with our goal of 2025 in mind.

The Sustainable Infrastructre Program is the next phase of campus work. The campus heating system will be converted from an antiquated steam system to hot water delivery. This new system will lower resource use on campus and increase comfort all year around with expanded cooling to more campus buildings. In March 2021, the Board of Trustees approved geothermal at the source for heating and cooling. This project will save 5,000,000 gallons of water per year, reduce operating costs by $1 million per year, improve campus effiency by 30% and advance the College to 90% to carbon neutrality! More about the project at carbonneutraloc.com. The website features project updates, FAQs, and more.

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. After reviewing many solutions, the current proposal is to modernize campus from a steam system to a hot water system that is more efficient and updating buildings to receive this more efficient thermal delivery. In March 2021, the Board of Trustees voted to approve geothermal as the source of thermal heating and cooling for campus. More can be found at carbonneutralOC.com.

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 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 video about a proposed heating solution.

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.