Greenhouse Gas Inventory
The annual greenhouse gas (GHG) inventory tracks emissions associated with campus operations and helps the University measure progress towards carbon neutrality. Data is shared here and via the Carbon Commitment reporting platform for benchmarking with peer institutions.
Progress to Date
To date, Cornell University has reduced emissions by at least 36% from the 2008 baseline. Although the most recent inventory in FY2020 (July 2019 - June 2020) shows a reduction of nearly 50% from the 2008 baseline, it is important to note that this data represents half a year of disrupted operations during the COVID-19 pandemic. From March 2020 - June 2020, campus operations, air travel and commuting were greatly reduced.
Thus, both FY2020 and FY2021 will likely show greater reductions to account for these operational changes.
Notes: Carbon sinks or reductions include retired renewable energy certificates, offsets from composting food waste on campus, and emissions associated with exported electricity.
Understanding the Inventory
Cornell completes an annual greenhouse gas inventory using the SIMAP® calculator and reports publicly to the Second Nature Carbon Commitment, and this webpage. SIMAP uses accounting methodology provided by the World Resources Institute GHG Protocol, the world's most widely used greenhouse gas accounting standard.
Cornell's baseline greenhouse gas inventory includes the areas required by the Carbon Commitment: all Scope 1 and Scope 2 emissions, and Scope 3 emissions from business travel, commuting, and transmissions & distribution losses. Data is gathered from campus metrics, such as fuel use in the central energy plant.
SIMAP and the GHG Protocol are a global stanard for ghg accounting. Use of this standardized accounting methodology allows Cornell to accurately assess our progress towards climate neutrality and benchmark with other institutions.
Emissions are measured for the Ithaca campus only.
Emissions from all six greenhouse gases are inventoried and translated into Metric Tons of carbon dioxide equivalent, or MTCO2e.
The University uses the operational control approach and therefore does not include leased assets in the baseline inventory.
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.
FY2020 Baseline GHG Inventory Detail
Browse the data and analysis of our most recent GHG inventory.
Changes Over Time
The largest areas of change from 2019 to 2020 were due to reduced operations under COVID. Fewer staff, faculty, and students commuted to and from campus, and business air travel was greatly reduced. Note that GHG is calculated on Fiscal Year, e.g. July 2019 - July 2020. Therefore results show "half a year" of COVID and half normal operations.
Although core campus operations were reduced during COVID-19 (see this article on load shedding early in the pandemic and analysis of energy savings during pandemic operations), the greatest area of change overall was in travel patterns. Air travel between 2019 and 2020 was reduced by 13,049 metric tons of CO2 equivalent or a 53% reduction in that area of emissions. Faculty & staff commuting was down 40% and student commuting was down 66% (students overall report higher levels of alternative transportation as their main means of traveling to and from campus on an average year).
Key initiatives which have led to a reduction in GHG emissions include the utilization of our award-winning and highly energy-efficient campus combined heat and power plant, the Beyond Coal initiative (which eliminated coal as a fuel source used to heat and power the campus), Cornell's energy conservation initiative, lower grid electric emission factors as New York State expands renewable energy sources, and increased use of our own renewable energy, including the introduction of new solar farms and on-campus solar projects that provide clean power to the campus.
Cornell University's continued support and progress towards the carbon neutrality goal can be seen through ongoing efforts to deliver on the Climate Action Plan.
Emissions by Category
Heat, cooling, and electricity used for campus facilities comprise the largest portion of Cornell's greenhouse gas footprint, with over 80% of emissions stemming from this Scope 1 source. Gains in efficiency and our green building program have reduced the impact of this area over time by about 7%.
Emissions by Scope
Scope 1 emissions include University Facilities and the fuel used to power University Vehicles. This is the largest component of Cornell's emissions. As a research university, many of our campus buildings use large amounts of energy, in addition to campus facilities for administrative staff, residential housing, athletics, storage, agricultural facilities, and more. This is also the area that individuals on campus can contribute to the most by helping make offices, labs, and residential spaces more energy efficient.
Scope 2 emissions are exclusively emissions from purchased electricity. Cornell mainly heat, cools, and powers the campus with our Central Energy Plant, Lake Source Cooling, and Renewable Energy systems, so this emissions scope is typically small.
Scope 3 includes emissions from student, faculty, and staff commuting to campus, business air travel (for conferences and professional work - study abroad is not included), as well as two "de minimus" categories, or categories that are statistically insignificant in the broad scope of Cornell's GHG portfolio. The additional two categories are emissions from transmission & distribution losses, and emissions associated with landfill waste.