Inventory shows greenhouse gas emissions down by 36%

Campus Sustainability Office, Student Intern October 6, 2020
Solar panels

A solar farm provides power to the Cornell Campus| Cornell University Photography

Cornell completed its 12th year of pursuing carbon neutrality and has published a greenhouse gas inventory showing carbon emissions have dropped by 36%.

 A bar graph showing the steady drop in Cornell's greenhouse gas emissions
The inventory records Cornell's year-to-year changes in greenhouse gas emissions.

 The University's net greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions have successfully decreased by over a third from the 2008 baseline set as part of Cornell's participation in the Second Nature Carbon Commitment.

As detailed in the full greenhouse gas inventory, the Ithaca campus released 203,001 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (MTCO2e) in 2019, compared to 318,624 MTCO2e 12 years prior. According to the EPA, that reduction is roughly equal to eliminating 19,576 homes' electricity use for one year.

The greenhouse gas inventory is an annual record of Cornell's GHG footprint from energy use, fleet operations, business air travel, and daily commuting by faculty, staff, and students. The inventory tracks progress to carbon neutrality and helps sustainability governance on campus continue to monitor and implement our climate action plan. Most importantly, it provides a transparent account of Cornell's GHG emissions for the Ithaca campus. 

"For an institution like Cornell, a GHG inventory is a tool to help inform and set goals, prioritize and drive changes, and communicate progress. Like most institutions, we use a footprint methodology (versus a comprehensive carbon budget approach) that focuses on an identified set of directly controlled or financed activities. We use this approach because it connects our anthropogenic campus activities with their carbon impact, and therefore highlights where we have opportunities to reduce emissions."

-Sarah Zemanick, director of the Campus Sustainability Office


 Largely responsible for these reductions are Cornell's efforts to make campus buildings more energy-efficient and convert to cleaner energy sources. For instance, the new Cascadilla Community Solar Farm, which came online in January 2020, doubled clean and renewable electricity, powering the Ithaca campus from 10% to 20% renewable electricity. 

Similarly, Cornell is developing other clean energy projects to eliminate its reliance on fossil fuels. Recently, the University was awarded $7.2M for exploratory research into Earth Source Heat. This innovative geothermal system would use the earth's internal heat to warm our campus. While the project is still in its initial stages, it has the potential to eliminate fossil fuel use on campus. 

Cornell is also part of the New York Higher Education Large Scale Renewable Energy consortium. Along with 21 higher-education institutions in New York, Cornell seeks to purchase electricity from large-scale renewable energy projects. If successful, the purchase would bring the University's total renewable electricity use to 100%. 

To learn more about Cornell's greenhouse gas inventory, check out the website here.