- Climate Action
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Background on OSU's Carbon Commitment
In 2007, OSU President Ed Ray signed the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment (ACUPCC), now known as the Carbon Commitment. As part of the Commitment, OSU set an ambitious goal of carbon neutrality by 2025.
In 2008 and 2009, based on community input and a review of goals set by the State of Oregon and the Oregon University System, OSU established its first Climate Plan. Prioritizing carbon emissions reduction is now also reflected in the OSU Strategic Plan.
To aid the 2025 carbon neutrality goal, the Faculty Senate formed the Ad hoc Committee on the Carbon Commitment in 2018 as a network to promote carbon reducing actions within faculty and beyond. In 2021, Faculty Senate voted to convert the group to a standing committee, known as the Carbon Commitment Committee (C3). The Sustainability Office helps support this committee and its working groups:
On April 22, 2022, C3 held a Lightning Talks event as part of the Beyond Earth Day celebration. In this event, speakers from across the campus and community shared 5-minute presentations about their research and experience related to climate change. Topics were varied and ranged from media communications to amphibian response to climate change.
On October 26, 2021, OSU leadership, C3 and the Sustainability Office held a one-hour forum to discuss the Path to Carbon Neutrality. This is a draft plan with nine actions that accelerate decarbonization of university activities. Development of the Path has included expert feedback and review, benchmarking with peer institutions, review of existing policies and practices, and analyses of actions most feasible and cost effective for this university. The nine actions are roughly in priority order, although several may be implemented simultaneously. Forum speakers discussed our plans and work before us, and answered questions from an audience of over 250.
On January 12, 2021, the C3 Committee held a one-hour forum to update the OSU community on the carbon reduction commitment and how OSU is tracking progress toward that goal. Attendees heard about efforts to date, and accomplishments such as policy changes, refined building heating and cooling controls, large scale solar installations and construction of the OSU Energy Center. Most importantly, steps were outlined to encourage climate action within departments, colleges and divisions, that will help OSU to meet its carbon commitment goal.
The Committee and the OSU Sustainability Office thank participants for the questions and comments provided at the Forum, and for the many good suggestions. Below, we address as many of them as possible within our scope of work, and relevant to making positive progress. The task of carbon neutrality is a complex and difficult one, and we have only made modest progress so far. The Committee will maintain its focus on that. Some repeat questions and those which have been consolidated may not appear below. As responses to unanswered questions are formulated, they will be posted here.
Yes, the inventory includes all of Scope 1 activities. And yes, it also includes commute trips by students and employees, but those are actually part of Scope 3.
It includes both, and offsets do not need to come from just carbon absorption (sequestration).
Yes, we track emissions from basic agricultural operations like fuel use in tractors and equipment as well as animal activities (like methane from cows, sheep, right down to the chicken!). This exceeds what is required in the Carbon Commitment. Carbon flow from forestry operations are not currently counted, but we will aim to start that within two years or so. There are strict protocols for counting carbon debits and credits for land based activities like forestry.
This type of equipment is included. More info in Q3.
OSU is a signatory of We Are Still In but have not yet internally discussed America Is All In. The Sustainability Office has consciously chosen to not take action on this. If the university community feels signing another of these is a priority, please bring it to C3 for discussion. However, please weigh the cost/benefit from signing: know that discussing, evaluating and recommending to senior administrators direction on these types of actions is time consuming and will delay progress on carbon reduction projects at OSU.
Correct! In non-pandemic years, we also offer composting in residence halls where the Sustainability Office and Campus Recycling have paid Eco-Reps. University departments can also participate in the Departmental Composting program. Please contact Campus Recycling at firstname.lastname@example.org for more details.
Fossil free fuel options for retirement accounts would be an important approach to consider, but is outside the scope and brief of the Carbon Commitment Committee. PERS is a large organization encompassing far more than just OSU employees. This option for emissions reduction could be taken on by other groups.
This is outside the brief of C3, and the Sustainability Office is unfortunately not staffed at a level that could develop or maintain this. However, the Education Action Team of the Corvallis Sustainability Coalition can probably help, and the 509J School District has a relatively new sustainability staff person dedicated to this work. Please contact Brandon for a connection to the district contact. If there are specific places where the OSU Sustainability Office can plug in some of our existing programming, we will be glad to help!
Any servers or other related support equipment at any OSU owned or leased facility is counted (via the electric bill for that facility). We do not have the ability to measure externally hosted services like Amazon Web Services. We also recognize there is an impact to personal living space energy bills for many people learning and working at home, but have no way to measure that.
Yes, and in fact we are currently exploring internal carbon pricing and proxy carbon pricing to help drive investment decisions. At the same time, experience at the national and state level has shown that proposals to charge entities and individuals for carbon emissions can be very contentious; making the large investments and structural changes needed at the central university level instead of targeting individual units is likely to be far more palatable. We hope to have a recommendation for leadership this spring, which may include a later transition period of accounting for the cost of carbon without actually charging those added costs to units.
Agreed. More info in Q10.
Statewide emissions measurements include all sectors of the economy, and in today’s world, sadly little is produced, purchased, consumed and reprocessed locally. OSU’s measurements do not include transportation emissions from freight/deliveries, for example. There are many “upstream” emissions that are very difficult to estimate but are also not required by the Carbon Commitment to be measured or mitigated.
Pacific Power is part of a huge, multi-state, utility conglomerate for which OSU represents a very small volume. While we cannot force Pacific Power to eliminate coal, OSU does have options to select lower carbon fuel sources. Renewable Energy Certificates are the easiest immediate path to reducing emissions and carry a small price premium, but do not have a financial payback the way on site renewables or energy efficiency do. The Sustainability Office is engaging with Pacific Power about larger scale options that would offer lower prices and result in new, real renewable generation being brought to the power grid as a result of university action. If the university wishes to seek lower carbon options than Pacific Power’s long term offerings, OSU has the ability to buy wholesale power on the market but that’s an involved process that would require long term contracting and other complications. On the positive side, statewide directives are also pushing electricity providers away from high-carbon sources.
Departments and units can get an estimate of their energy use and buy renewable energy through a central purchase made by the Sustainability Office. Our Travel Offsets program works similarly to buy carbon offsets for travel. Please contact the Sustainability Office with info about your unit and we can work with you.
We recognize there is an impact to personal living space energy bills for many people learning and working at home. While energy audits and similar measures are not required by the Carbon Commitment, it’s always a good idea – and in the best interest of those paying the bills at home – to have that spaces be as efficient as possible. Energy Trust of Oregon has many programs to help. And yes, most OSU buildings are not truly empty during the pandemic so we have had to keep some systems active, increasing our carbon footprint. What is missing are actual daily occupancy data for buildings, so that heating and ventilation systems can be turned lower for buildings with extremely low or no occupancy. If audience members have ideas for how to accurately, systematically and continually count occupancy in buildings without huge system costs, please contact the Sustainability Office.
The OSU Landscape Shop regularly takes the following actions to keep carbon naturally cycling on site:
Not currently in biochar format. See also Q16.
This has been studied by the Landscape Shop but current equipment battery life (both charge life and long term lifecycle length) is not adequate for commercial level application. They have benchmarked with other schools where battery lifecycle is as short as under 1 year, making battery disposal and replacement more damaging that using fossil fuels in small equipment.
Yes, but battery powered landscaping equipment is not quite there yet. More in Q18. The OSU Landscape Shop is not staffed nearly at the level of being able to rake leaves on the 500+ acre main campus.
Yes! This is in our upcoming Solar Development Plan!
We are including some parking areas in our long range solar development planning.
OSU’s draft Sustainable Transportation Strategy addresses just that. The cultural and systemic change needed must be multifaceted and phase out “all you can eat” parking.
Indeed, upstream emissions account for a significant part of OSU’s total emissions, but our current economy doesn’t afford us the ability to measure accurately. In 2009, a consultant estimated for us upstream supply chain emissions could add 70% to the carbon footprint of OSU. More info here. While we must be aware of our upstream emissions and make choices that minimize them, we are at least a few years away from measuring them. Additionally, the Carbon Commitment does not require us to mitigate them, although we may choose to in the future. The decentralized purchasing structure of OSU presents multiple barriers to policies on this topic.
Yes, and in fact the recent $300M bond sale includes funding for solar and other measures. More info on this will be released in the coming months.
This is ultimately a question for the OSU Foundation, but we have had positive dialogue with them on this topic. Fundraising typically is effective only for targeted projects, and we are working with the Foundation on that. OSU can help by articulating the funding gap needed for each project to the Foundation. OSU leadership can also periodically remind the Foundation of the importance of having additional funding for yet-to-be identified projects, but in the end, donors are usually only willing to write a check for a specific project or activity.
Carbon Pricing Workgroup
This workgroup researches and develops institutional carbon pricing policies to better measure, illustrate and address the effects of OSU’s carbon emissions. The group uses current science plus benchmarked actions from other organizations to craft policy options that will benefit OSU students for generations to come.
Conservation, Efficiency and Transportation Workgroup
This workgroup identifies goals, best practices, and opportunities for reducing carbon emissions through policy recommendations and communication with the OSU community. The group's focus is to review procedures around campus infrastructure, major capital projects and university-funded travel.
Education and Curriculum Workgroup
The goal of the Education and Curriculum Workgroup is to ensure that climate literacy courses are available to all OSU students.
Communication and Reporting Workgroup
The Communication and Reporting Workgroup facilitates, produces, and distributes information and active engagement opportunities for the OSU Community and beyond. This working group is exploring tools to engage the OSU community and market the carbon-reduction message.
A representative from each Faculty Senate apportionment unit has a seat in the Committee. ASOSU and other groups are also represented. Your representative can bring information from your unit to the committee, and they can also bring information back to the unit for sharing and discussion. See committee membership here.
Committee meetings are open to the public and faculty, staff, students, and administrators are welcome to attend.
If you would like to receive updates about events and activities from the Committee, please fill out this form.
If you would like to participate in a workgroup, please email the Sustainability Office. Committee membership is not required to participate in workgroups.
We invite participation by all.