SANTA CLARA, Calif., Mar. 29, 2021— One of the first higher education institutions to set an ambitious goal of carbon neutrality, Santa Clara University is now one of the few universities that has reached carbon neutrality of energy used for campus operations in 2020.
SCU has had a public climate commitment since 2007, when then-president, the late Fr. Paul Locatelli, recognized the urgency to care for our common home and joined the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment, now known as the Climate Leadership Commitment. Since then, Presidents Fr. Michael Engh and Fr. Kevin O’Brien have each reaffirmed this presidential commitment and called for progress to reduce operational greenhouse gas emissions and called upon the Center for Sustainability to catalyze infusion of climate action, sustainability practices, and environmental justice work into the university’s academics, campus life, and community engagement.
Santa Clara University’s commitment to zero net greenhouse gas emissions has two components: stage 1. those associated with campus energy use by 2020, and stage 2: those associated with energy use and transportation (commute and business travel) by the end of 2029. SCU has decreased energy use per square foot by 42% since 2005. Our Energy Master Plan sets a continued, ambitious course to reduce energy usage through efficiency upgrades, metering, and retro-commissioning building systems.
Spearheaded by the Center for Sustainability, SCU plans to continue driving down our reliance on fossil fuels by reducing energy demand, expanding onsite renewable generation, and increasing onsite-energy storage capacity. These efforts directly reduce the University’s Scope 1 (natural gas and fuel for University fleet) and 2 (electricity) greenhouse gas emissions. “Saving energy makes business sense, and we can apply financial savings to fund subsequent projects,” said Michael Crowley, vice president of finance & administration.
SCU’s carbon neutrality strategy includes strategic offsets to mitigate unavoidable greenhouse gas emissions. The University prioritizes purchasing carbon credits from social entrepreneurs working on climate solutions and resilience. This year, SCU was able to purchase carbon credits from a social entrepreneur organization that participated in Miller Center’s Climate Resilience Accelerator (formerly known as Global Social Benefit Institute). SCU, with the help of students, faculty, and staff, plans to use our carbon neutrality efforts to help scale global carbon solutions and climate resiliency, especially in poor and low-income communities where the impacts of climate change hit the hardest.
“We can be of service to our planet and others by avoiding and diminishing emissions every year,” stated Father O’Brien. “Our commitment to carbon neutrality is rooted in our Jesuit tradition of magis, to be and do more, to strive for excellence in taking care of our common home and of our brothers and sisters who are often marginalized or forgotten, especially when faced with the negative repercussions of climate change.
The SCU community can continue to contribute to less energy-associated emissions with help from Playbooks, one of the components of SCU’s Sustainability Strategic Plan, a guiding document for climate and sustainability practices. “I am proud that some of the Playbook Actions I do have helped SCU reach this amazing milestone,” said Center for Sustainability Data Analytics intern and Computer Science & Engineering major (with minors in Entrepreneurship & Sustainability) Steven Bucher ‘21. “Knowing that SCU is energy carbon neutral makes me feel better about my education’s impact on the climate and makes me excited for future sustainability plans for the school.”
“Congratulations to Santa Clara University for achieving carbon neutrality for Scope 1 and 2 emissions!” said Tim Carter, President of Second Nature, which oversees the Climate Leadership Commitment. “Having been in existence since 1851, SCU understands that continued hard work and dedication leads to long-term success; and achieving this milestone takes just that. Second Nature is proud to have SCU as a leading institution in the Climate Leadership Network and looks forward to supporting increased climate ambition in this critical decade ahead.”
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More about SCU’s Sustainability Strategic Plan
Students, staff, and faculty have been instrumental in developing and implementing SCU’s Sustainability Strategic Plan, SCU’s guiding document for climate and sustainability practices. Each of the document’s goals and objectives align with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs), reflecting the institution’s role in the global effort for combating climate change’s impacts while also increasing well-being. The Plan also includes Sustainability Playbooks, which define individual actions SCU Broncos can take to practice sustainable behaviors and contribute to the campus’ strategic goals.
SCU’s curriculum and research is also a huge component of our efforts, and key to Santa Clara’s contributions to drawing down climate change. Over 1,300 courses offered at SCU last year (roughly 27% of class sections) incorporated sustainability, showing students how their academic areas’ expertise contributes to solving global issues. SCU’s students, faculty, and staff use the campus, community, and world as their living laboratory, for example, identifying solutions to reach carbon neutrality, working with community partners to research and address environmental justice issues, and scaling solutions to advance the UN SDGs.
In 2020, SCU ranked No. 13 out of 312 institutions in The Sierra Club Magazine’s Top 20 Coolest Schools, was included in The Princeton Review’s Top 50 Green Colleges, was deemed a top performer for Wellbeing, Public Engagement, and Research in the Association for the Advancement of Higher Education (AASHE)’s 2020 Sustainable Campus Index, and has received numerous awards from the California Higher Education Sustainability Conference.