Our Sustainability and Climate Leadership
Cornell University's commitment to sustainability extends to our people, our planet, prosperity, and educational purpose. Our commitments require innovation and action from each member of the community. Together we can invent and demonstrate solutions using our campus as a living laboratory for a low-carbon future and more sustainable communities, in partnership with each other, our region, New York State, and the world.
Commitment to Progress
Cornell University has a history of leadership in both climate and sustainability leadership. Cornell aspires to both demonstrate and create best practice using our own facilities, but also to effect global change through collaboration and partnership. We amplify impact by using our campus as a living laboratory for climate innovation.
Cornell was the first Ivy league university and one of the first fifty institutions in the nation to sign the carbon neutrality pledge. Over 400+ campuses participate, and are committed to reaching carbon neutrality and publicly reporting on progress.
Our Plans & Goals
Four major goals guide our work, as articulated through our public plans, documents, and public commitments:
Carbon Neutrality by 2035
100% campus carbon neutrality by 2035 | Climate Action Plan
Cornell plans to eliminate or offset net carbon emissions from our Ithaca campus by 2035 and has reduced emissions 36% to date. As a signatory of the Carbon Commitment the University adopted a 2050 target in 2007, accelerated in 2014 to our current date of 2035. The Climate Action Plan provides a roadmap to neutrality.
100% renewable energy to power our campus by 2035 | Renewable Energy
We aspire to power our campus by creating or purchasing new, additional renewable energy infrastructure, and have already installed enough to produce 20% of the net annual needs of the Ithaca campus. By using green energy to power the campus, we can secure a low-risk future for our operations and develop New York State's green economy.
Earth Source Heat
Heat and power our campus using deep geothermal technology by 2035 | Earth Source Heat
Earth Source Heat (ESH) is Cornell's plan to heat and power the campus using renewable energy. ESH will create a new regional energy supply and heat using only natural, renewable resources including energy from deep in the earth. ESH was a goal of the original Climate Action Plan and affirmed as the primary heating target in the 2016 Options Report.
Climate Change Literacy
Ensure 100% of students & staff are prepared to face the challenges of a changing climate
Climate Change Literacy
Climate literacy means understanding how human society influences the climate and how the climate influences human society – and it is fundamental to meaningful climate action on campus and in the world. Cornell is working towards climate literacy through curricular and extra-curricular programs. This goal is part of the Climate Action Plan.
Other Historical Commitments
Cornell has also shown leadership on climate and sustainability through the following actions:
- 2005: Alice Cook House and Becker North become the first buildings in New York State to receive a US Green Building Council's LEED Building certification.
- 2001: Cornell University becomes the first University in the nation to independently commit to pursuing the goals of the Kyoto Protocol following the United States' failure to ratify the international climate agreement
- 1997: Cornell begins composting dining related waste and non-food waste from agricultural activities
- 1985: Cornell staffs the Energy Conservation Initiative (ECI) with the aim of reducing energy and carbon emissions through building retrofitting, retro-commissioning, and update projects across campus. The program still exists and has saved the campus over $60 million.
For more information on our past leadership and commitments, visit Sustainability History.