Campus Greenhouse Gas Emissions Inventory
This activity was selected for the On the Cutting Edge Exemplary Teaching Collection
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This page first made public: Sep 18, 2006
This material is replicated on a number of sites as part of the SERC Pedagogic Service Project
Context for Use
In this class, student develop a college greenhouse gas emissions assessment, as required by all signatories to the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment. The following year after this class, students in another environmental studies senior seminar used this data and developed recommendations for the college's climate action plan.
Research of this kind is a major undertaking. This project requires a team of students working on it as a class project throughout the semester. It could also be accomplished by an individual student as part of an independent study over a year.
If the size of the task is an issue or an entire semester can not be used for this project, have the students concentrate on the four largest sources of greenhouse gas emissions. The largest campus sources are likely electricity consumption, on-campus combustion of fossil fuels for heat and cooling, commuter transportation, and air travel. Another way to reduce the work load is to reduce the number of years of data to collect. In this class, the students estimated emissions from 1990 through 2007.
American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment is a high-visibility effort to address global warming by garnering institutional commitments to neutralize greenhouse gas emissions, and to accelerate the research and educational efforts of higher education to equip society to re-stabilize the earth's climate. Numerous greenhouse gas emissions inventories and climate action plans are available.
Macalester College Reports:
- Macalester College Greenhouse Gas Emissions inventory 1990-2006: Student paper from this class
- Macalester College Greenhouse Gas Emissions 2007-2008
- Macalester College Greenhouse Gas Emissions 2008-2009
- Student recommendations for the Macalester College Institutional Action Plan for Climate Neutrality: 2009 environmental studies senior seminar project.
- Macalester College Sustainability Plan, 2009: The final climate action plan is included in the sustainability plan.
Teaching Notes and Tips
We found that our students needed more time to develop recommendations. Also, make sure that the students present their recommendations to campus decision makers. This class had a meeting with the Presidents Climate Commitment Committee and the college president.
The difficulty of compiling the data depends on the type and accessibility of records. Collecting data on an academic or fiscal year may be more reasonable, depending on how the college keeps data. For a more complete idea of this project used in an environmental studies senior seminar, see Wells, Savanick, and Manning (2009) "Using a Class to Conduct a Carbon Audit: A case study with practical results at Macalester College" (complete citation is in the references section below).
Possible course issues include: logistics (i.e. poor data quality, unequal work loads) and group dynamics issues. We often coached the students through handling data quality issues. We did not have group dynamics issues, though many classes of this type do have this problem. Some instructors spend a class period discussing how to handle challenging groups or bring in a specialist on group dynamics. For further strategies, see the page about how to monitor and intervene from the Cooperative Learning module.
I. Instructors meet with key staff (Facilities Services, Provost, Registrar, Budget Office, Food Service, Institutional Research)
II. Instructors decide on calculator tool (Clean Air Cool Planet campus carbon calculator or similar)
III. Course Outline
a. Week 1-3: Carbon audits and campus sustainability
- Brainstorm: How does a campus contribute to climate change?
- How do calculators work?
- What is campus sustainability?
- What projects are already in place?
- How does the Clean Air Cool Planet Clean Air Cool Planet campus carbon calculator work?
- Analyze other school's data
b. Weeks 4-12: Conducting Macalester's carbon audit
- Have/Needs Assessment
- What they know about their topic?
- What they need to know about their topic?
- Develop Research Plan
- Have students assign tasks to group members.
- What are the intermediary steps of the project? Include deadlines and timelines for project completion.
- Keep Good Records Have students log all telephone and email communications with staff in one notebook. Keep hard copy data in file folders and organize data on a spreadsheet.
- Rotating group meetings with instructors
- Campus field trips (steam plant, food service, recycling)
- Progress Report. One third of the way through the course, have student report on their activities to date. For individual student projects, have students meet with faculty each week to report.
- Formal presentation to the Presidents Climate Commitment Committee
- Public presentation to the campus community
IV. Instructors edit final report for Presidents Climate Commitment if needed
See Campus Based Learning for more advice using the campus as a teaching tool.
- Student Peer Assessment Rubric for Group Work (Microsoft Word 37kB May20 05) When students work in groups, use this seven item rubric to rate other team members on such items as work ethic, participation in discussion, and ability to meet deadlines (from Gallery Walk).
- Instructor Evaluation Rubric for Written Reports (Microsoft Word 40kB Jul5 07)a fairly detailed eleven part rubric for evaluating the quality of students' oral reports from (from Gallery Walk).
- Oral Report Evaluation Rubric (Microsoft Word 56kB Jul6 07)
(from Gallery Walk)
References and Resources
Wells, Savanick, and Manning (2009) "Using a Class to Conduct a Carbon Audit: A case study with practical results at Macalester College," International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education, vol 10 n 3, pp 228-238.
Clean Air-Cool Planet on-line Campus Climate Action Toolkit ( This site may be offline. ) - contains guidance for every aspect of "campus climate action" along with technical resources and examples/case studies that will help people understand, plan, and execute or implement a climate action plan's various elements.
Campus Greenhouse Gas Emissions Inventories Links to completed campus greenhouse gas emissions inventories. The inventories are organized according to the methodology or tool used to calculate the emissions. Or, use the ACUPCC Greenhouse Gas Emissions Reporting - to browse results from more recent inventory projects.
Lewis and Clark College became the first college in the U.S. to meet the provisions of the Kyoto Protocol. Lewis and Clark student-developed guidelines are the basis for this project.
National Wildlife Federation Campus Ecology program is a good source of information on energy related projects on campuses in the United States.
The University of Iowa, The University of Minnesota, The University of Oklahoma, and Tufts University all are full members of the Chicago Climate Exchange. Members have made a voluntary, legally binding commitment to reduce their emissions of greenhouse gases by four percent below the average of their 1998-2001 baseline by 2006.
In 1999 Tufts University committed to meeting or beating the Kyoto Protocol greenhouse gas reduction goal. Method for Conducting a Greenhouse Gas Emissions Inventory for Colleges and Universities from Tufts University
The State of New Jersey adopted a Greenhouse Gas Action Plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 3.5 %. Fifty-six colleges and universities were part of this project.