Current Actions and Priorities

What are we working on today? See our priorities across campus in pursuit of our carbon neutrality goal.

What is our focus?

With over 60+ actions outlined in the CAP, work most crucial to achieving substantial carbon reduction must be prioritized. The University defines our areas of focus in two ways.  The Key Actions are long-term areas of focused required for success.  The Current Priorities defines the highest-priority work underway to support those key actions.

Text over image of campus: Key action - long-term actions required for successText over image of campus: Current priorites - 9 focus areas determined by the senior leaders climate action group

Diagram showing relationship between priorities. Key priorities central to reaching neutrality are first supported by priority actions, then smaller actions from the full campus community.What do these terms mean?

Key Actions are long-term achievements required to reach carbon neutrality. Ten areas including five neutrality actions, two innovation actions, and three leadership actions, are the most critical to reaching our target on time and creating a culture of climate leadership and literacy.

Current Priorities represent current activities or initiatives identified by senior leadership as the focus of our immediate work. These seven priorities compliment the key actions but may also include tactics or smaller projects needed to achieve larger goals. 

In addition to the priorities, all actions in the CAP - over 60! - and new ideas undertaken by the community can help achieve carbon neutrality.  

Current and Long-Term Priorities


Detailed information on the Key Actions, Current Priorities, and Full List of Actions.

Reduce Cornell University's carbon emissions for the Ithaca campus to net zero by 2035.

Neutrality Strategy

Cornell's strategy for this area is to avoid, reduce, replace, offset. First the University must avoid carbon intensive activities, then reduce inefficiencies and replace high-carbon energy sources, and finally offset emissions that cannot be eliminated. This strategy translates to maintaining or reducing campus energy consumption and providing renewable energy to campus buildings through our world-class district energy systems. We further assume that a substantial portion of transportation related emissions will have to be offset, through mission-linked offsets.

Key Actions* 
  • Energy Conservation
    Complete Phase 1 of the Energy Conservation Initiative (ECI) and initiate Phase 2 to conserve energy in campus buildings
    Progress: ECI Phases 1 & 2 were completed successfully.  The current goal is continued operation of the successful ECI program.

  • Building Energy Standards
    Integrate Building Energy Standards and energy modeling into the building design, review, and approval process in order to maximize energy efficiency.
    Progress: Cornell Building Standards have been updated to include carbon and efficiency considerations. 

  • Earth Source Heat
    Eliminate fossil fuels for campus heating through phased exploration of a Hybrid Enhanced Geothermal System - Earth Source Heat - and build a demonstration project, while optimizing the campus heat distribution system to increase efficiency and cost-effectiveness and to facilitate the integration of Cornell’s future energy sources.
    Progress: Work is underway on early research for ESH.

  • Renewable Energy Development
    Support the expansion of regional and other new, additional renewable energy to support Cornell's energy portfolio.
    Progress: Cornell has developed several solar farms and maintains a hydroplant and ultra-efficient energy plant.  Currently, 10% of campus energy comes from renewables with more projects already underway.

  • Mission-Linked Offsets
    Implement broad-based, mission-linked carbon management strategies such as forest management, carbon capture and sequestration, and community projects to offset unavoidable university emissions.

* These actions have been adapted from the 2013 CAP Roadmap.  Roadmap actions #3 and #5 were consolidated into a single Earth Source Heat action here. Action #4 in the roadmap, to pursue a bioenergy initiative with biomass, was eliminated after extensive study of feasibility between 2009-2015. Action #6 in the roadmap was expanded from "regional wind" to "regional and other renewable energy."

Create a living laboratory for low-impact behaviors and climate change education and research. 

Leadership Strategy

Building on the core mission of Cornell in education and research, the Innovation Pillar of our Climate Action Plan acknowledges that Cornell’s ability to mitigate climate change involves engaging students, staff, and faculty in new ways, both on and off campus.

Leadership Actions
  • Climate & Sustainability Literacy
    Work to ensure that climate literacy and sustainability are part of the curriculum and educational experience at Cornell.
    Progress:  Cornell's Assemblies have passed resolutions in support of climate literacy.

  • Quadruple Bottom Line Framework
    Integrate sustainability as an overarching principle into the performance management process. 
    Progress: Cornell has developed a Sustainability Framework and is working to implement it fully in business decision making across campus.

Lead by example, on campus and beyond.

Innovation Strategy

Cornell can embrace the global scale of the climate challenge by focusing on the development of scalable solutions and key partnerships with advance our carbon progress at a local, national, and global scale. We work across disciplines, institutions, industries, sectors, and borders to address climate change by sharing solutions implemented on our campus, and prioritizing learning partnerships.

Innovation Actions
  • Energy Conservation Engagement
    Expand Cornell’s sustainability Engagement Program "Think Big, Live Green" to achieve a 1% reduction in annual electrical energy usage and to educate the campus community, including thousands of future graduates, on the value of sustainable energy use.

  • Community Climate Literacy Partnerships
    Participate actively in climate literacy outreach to ensure that the broader regional community receives Cornell’s support in making critical decisions for a sustainable future.
    Progress: See our current Partnerships for details.

  • STARS Platinum
    Identify realistic actions and responsible parties to lead the effort to increase Cornell’s STARS® (Sustainability Tracking, Assessment, & Rating System™) rating to become one of the first Platinum-rated STARS campuses in the nation.
    Progress:  Cornell has achieved a Gold Rating in STARS every year of submission.

Current Priorities

The Senior Leaders Climate Action Group (SLCAG) is a group of administrators, deans, faculty and student leaders tasked to guide the university’s climate-action direction at the highest level.  Among other directives, the group is charged with "Serving as the ongoing university leadership group for setting broad climate action direction and prioritizing initiatives that offer the greatest promise of emissions-reducing breakthroughs." 

In 2016 the group identified the following priorities as critical and deserving of senior level coordination and focus from among the CAP actions:

Campus Engagement 
Supports Innovation Key Action 1 and Leadership Key Action 1
Lead: Mike Hoffmann, Co-Chair, President's Sustainable Campus Committee
Goal: Ensure that every student, faculty, and staff member understands the challenges posed by climate change and actively engages in solutions to reduce Cornell’s greenhouse emissions.

Energy Efficient Buildings 
Supports Neutrality Key Action 2
Lead: Paul Streeter, Vice President of Budget & Planning
Goal: Increase the number of high-performance buildings on campus, reducing the need for new sources of renewable energy.

Mission-Linked Carbon Offsets 
Supports Neutrality Key Action 5
Lead: Robert Howarth, the David R. Atkinson Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology 
Goal: Develop forest management projects such as 1) carbon sequestration, 2) land leasing for renewable energy, and 3) offsetting unavoidable greenhouse gas emissions from business-related travel.

Greenhouse Gas Inventory Protocol Review
Supports Neutrality 
Robert Bland, Associate Vice President for Energy and Sustainability 
Goal: Evaluate protocol and methodology considerations regarding the University greenhouse gas (GHG) inventory. 

Supports Neutrality  
Sarah Zemanick, Director of the Campus Sustainability Office

Goal: Procure as much renewable electricity as the campus uses on a net annual basis in accordance with established guidelines and protocols.

Heat (Earth Source Heat)
Supports Neutrality Key Action 3
Lance Collins, the Joseph Silbert Dean of Engineering 
Goal: Create a heat distribution, generation strategy, and implementation plan based on Earth Source Heat.

Supports Neutrality 
Edwin A. Cowen, Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering
Goal: Decrease carbon emissions from commuting and on-campus circulation by encouraging more efficient methods of travel. Increase usage of low- and no-emission vehicles. Choose less carbon-intensive modes of transportation for business trips such as remote participation.

All Actions

Refer to the Cornell University CAP Roadmap 2013 Appendix 1-List of Actions_1.pdf

Please contact us if you need an accessible version of this information.