Cornell Greenhouse Gas Inventory
Cornell has set a goal to achieve carbon neutrality by 2035. The annual greenhouse gas (GHG) inventory tracks campus progress towards this goal and shows trends in emissions reduction over time.
Progress to Carbon Neutrality
The baseline greenhouse gas inventory measures emissions from the Ithaca, NY campus and includes categories included in our commitment to reach carbon neutrality by 2035. Emissions from all six greenhouse gases are measured and translated into metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent, and reported using the Second Nature and GHG Protocol methodology.
2021 Baseline Inventory
The most recent GHG inventory for FY21 shows net emissions at 147,124 MTCO2e with emissions reduced by over 50% reduction from the 2008 baseline. FY2021 represents a full year of operational disruption from COVID-19. See below for a detailed analysis of trends in emissions from this year.
Trends during COVID-19
Although the most recent inventories in FY2020 and FY2021 show a reduction in emissions of over 50% from the 2008 baseline, this data represents disrupted operations during the COVID-19 pandemic including reduced campus density, and reduced faculty & staff commuting and business air travel.
Looking at historical trends in FY2017-FY2019, data shows a clear gain of around 36% total emissions reduction from the baseline; after operations return from disruption, post-pandemic, GHG emissions may rise again in coming years and return to this level of GHG reduction.
Trends During FY2021
During FY2021, business air travel was reduced 97% from the previous year. During the year, business travel was banned or greatly reduced as pandemic policies changed, thereby greatly reducing carbon emissions from air travel.
Faculty, staff, and student commuting were also reduced due to additional campus density reductions, and remote learning and work.
In spite of reduced campus density, stationary combustion emissions increased 3% between FY20 and FY21 as additional air handling and other measures were implemented to ensure human health and safety during the pandemic (in addition to other normalized changes such as weather, which often result in small changes to annual stationary combustion). Note that stationary combustion emissions were reduced 9% in FY20, meaning a net reduction of 6% persisted into the current inventoried year.
How have emissions changed since the 2008 baseline, and shifted year to year? Use this graph to explore discrete emissions profile changes over time. The top number on each line graph shows the % reduction from the previous fiscal year. The bottom number shows the % change from the baseline year, 2008. Use the Zoom tool to more easily isolate and read data.
Changing Emissions Over Time
Cornell has reduced emissions steadily over time, meeting the first interim target of a 25% reduction just two years after committing to carbon neutrality, and making subsequent progress towards a steady 35% reduction in the early 2020s. Explore the example pie charts to see how the emissions profile has changed over time.
Note that the "avoided emissions" category shows the difference between the baseline inventory and current emissions overall. FY2019 represents the last fiscal year before COVID19 disruptions to usual business operations.
Scope 1 Emissions
Scope 1 emissions are direct greenhouse (GHG) emissions that occur from sources that are controlled or owned by an organization (e.g., emissions associated with fuel combustion in boilers, furnaces, vehicles, or during research processes).
Cornell produces its own power, heat, and cooling, overseen by the Energy & Sustainability Department. Cornell moved "Beyond Coal" to natural gas in 2018 as part of a short-term carbon neutrality effort on the road to full renewable energy. Today, the University produces it's own heat and power using a highly efficient natural-gas-fired District Energy and Combined Heat & Power Plant. CHP is expected to be phased out and replaced with renewable energy development such as hydropower and solar and Earth Source Heat by 2035.
Fossil fuel emissions from cooling are also avoided through the use a renewable energy cooling system: Lake Source Cooling (LSC). LSC saves over 20 million kWh per year over traditional cooling methods, leading to an 85% reduction in energy use for campus cooling since the plant began operation in 2000. LSC reduces or eliminates the need for individual-building cooling & air conditioning equipment on campus, greatly reducing CFCs. (Thus, LSC reduces emissions from Stationary Combustion and Refrigerants).
All vehicles owned or leased by Cornell that burn fuels producing greenhouse gases fall into Scope 1. This includes cars, vans, trucks, tractors, farm equipment, and motorcycles powered by petrol or diesel engines. Most University-owned vehicles are still powered by fossil fuels.
Refrigerants & Chemicals
An important category of Scope 1 direct greenhouse gas (GHG) are fugitive emissions, which result from the direct release to the atmosphere of GHG compounds from various types of equipment and research. Hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), perfluorocarbons (PFCs) and Sulfur Hexafluoride (SF6) are all used for refrigeration and research at Cornell.
Though small in amount consumed, these gases have 100-year global warming potentials (GWPs), which are typically greater than 1,000 times that of CO2 , so their potential impact on climate change can be significant. By the same token, any reductions of these gases can have a large climate-impact benefit.
Scope 2 Emissions
Scope 2 indirect GHG emissions result from the purchase of electricity, steam, heat, or cooling. Cornell has significantly reduced emissions in this area over time as purchases of heat, steam, cooling, and electricity have waned. In the future, emissions purchased in New York State may have a reduced fossil fuel impact as the state moves to reach renewable energy development goals.
What is the impact of other upstream and downstream emissions? View the Additional Inventory to see waste, food, purchasing, upstream fuel impacts, and other areas of new and emerging analysis on Cornell's greenhouse gas footprint.
GHG Reporting Methodology
Cornell updates a baseline inventory of all emissions categories covered by the Climate Action Plan annually. It includes all Scope 1 and Scope 2 emissions, and Scope 3 emissions from commuting and business air travel. This baseline allows Cornell to participate in national benchmarking using a peer-reviewed GHG reporting protocol shared by all higher education institutions participating in a carbon neutrality goal as part of the Second Nature Carbon Commitment.
Additional Inventory for Scope 3
New and emerging areas of accounting are available in an additional inventory. Any researcher, course, or campus team can complete an inventory of additional Scope 3 areas which allows for a broader view of Cornell's emissions profile. These inventories are updated by faculty, students, or project teams on a variable basis.
Emissions from all six greenhouse gases are inventoried
Emissions are converted to metric tons of CO2 equivalent (MTCO2e)
The University uses the operational control approach to identify campus boundaries; leased assets are not included
Ithaca, NY campus only
The baseline year for measuring progress is FY2008
Cornell completes the annual inventory using SIMAP®, which relies on the GHG accounting protocol created by the World Resources Institute GHG Protocol which is the world's most widely used greenhouse gas accounting standard.
The baseline inventory includes all Scope 1 and Scope 2 emissions, and select Scope 3 emissions from commuting and business air travel.
Greenhouse gases are divided into scopes based on how directly an organization is responsible for and influences the related activities. Scope 1 are direct emissions, Scope 2 indirect, and Scope 3 are upstream and downstream emissions for which an organization has some control, but also shares decision making or impact with other organizations, or individual choice.
These categories are used by all institutions with a public carbon neutrality commitment participating in the Second Nature Carbon Commitment. Use of this standardized methodology allows our campus to benchmark with other institutions, and keep a consistent baseline and categories to measure progress.
Stationary Combustion or University Facilities: Power produced and used on campus, by campus. Includes combustion from the Combined Heat & Power Plant and other energy sources and the use of this energy by our administrative, residential, athletic, research, operational, and other buildings and resources.
Fleet Vehicles: Fuel used for university-owned vehicles, such as cars and tractors
Refrigerants and Chemicals: Process gases used for refrigeration and research
Purchased Electricity: Electricity purchased from the grid
Commuting: Employee and student commuting to and from campus for daily work and study
Business Air Travel: University-sponsored business air travel for conferences, meetings, etc.
Reductions: Carbon Sinks
Carbon sinks offset our campus footprint and are subtracted from the gross emissions produced each year. Sinks currently included come from retired renewable energy certificates, offsets from composting food waste on campus, and emissions associated with exported electricity.
In 2016, Cornell adopted the use of an additional Scope 3 inventory for the measurement of new, emerging, or additional areas of Scope 3 greenhouse gas measurement beyond the original baseline.
The additional GHG inventory allows members of the campus community to contribute to a wider view of Cornell's organizational climate impact, without changing the original "goalposts" of the public carbon commitment. This approach advances emerging greenhouse gas accounting using Cornell as a living laboratory to inform best practices in measurement and methdology.
Additional Inventories Measured
Upstream Fuel & Energy (Scope 3)
Measuring methane leakage and associated emissions the production, extraction, and distribution of natural gas
Waste and Wastewater (Scope 3)
Emissions from the production of clean water, and disposal of wastewater
Purchased Goods (Including Food) (Scope 3)
Preliminary assessment of the full supply chain of purchases across Cornell, including food emissions
Forest Carbon Sequestration (Scope 3)
Reductions from carbon sequestration due to forest management practices