University Announces Plan to Halve Carbon Emissions by 2030

Student Government welcomed the announcement, but said it will continue to advocate for a carbon-neutrality deadline matching peer institutions.


The University of Chicago

A rendering of Woodlawn Residential Commons, currently under construction.

By Carl Sacklen

The University announced on Monday that it has revised its greenhouse gas emissions reduction target to 50 percent of its baseline emissions by 2030.  

This is more ambitious than the target the University announced two years ago, which aimed for a 20 percent reduction in emissions by 2025. According to the recent announcement, the University expects to meet that goal ahead of its original time frame.

This new target comes as the University’s emissions have fallen by 11 percent from their “starting point,” which the announcement defined as the average annual emissions from 2012 and 2014.

“Given the early success, UChicago is prepared to take on more aggressive targets to advance the sustainability of University operations,” Alicia Berg, assistant vice president of Campus Planning and Sustainability, said in the announcement.

According to the announcement, emissions from electricity usage account for almost half of the University’s greenhouse gas emissions. The University plans to begin purchasing more electricity generated from renewable sources.

“Wind power and other renewable sources of energy have become more affordable in recent years, and in some cases should allow for a decrease from current spending rates,” the University wrote.

The University will also focus on improving the energy efficiency of new and existing buildings; scaling back its vehicles’ gasoline consumption; and increasing its landfill diversion rate, which represents how much waste is diverted from a facility without buying landfill space. Knowing the current diversion rate as a benchmark is important for improving the success of a recycling program.

Currently, the University publishes its emissions reports online. The latest Greenhouse Gas Emission Inventory Report was released in October 2019 and the one prior was published in May 2018.

Gerald McSwiggan, a University spokesperson, told *The Maroon* that the University has also implemented an Energy Management Information System (EMIS) to track campus utility data and plans to release these EMIS dashboards for public viewing in the near future.

resolution passed by Student Government (SG) in February this year advocated for publicly available data to show the University’s energy consumption, both historic and in real-time.

The resolution also argued that using emissions per square foot may misrepresent the University’s environmental impact. Since it is a function of area, emission intensity on campus could seemingly decrease simply because of an increase in campus square footage, even if emissions were not really reduced. The resolution contends that measuring emissions per square foot *could* conceal an increase in net emissions.

Until now, emissions were measured per square foot of building, but these future emission reductions targets will be based on emissions as a whole.

“The absolute reduction goal means that even as the University grows, we are targeting an overall decrease in emissions, not just a decrease on a per square foot basis,” McSwiggan told The Maroon.

“We were pleased to see the new announcement, but believe the student role in environmental advocacy deserves credit,” SG said in a statement on Facebook. The University’s announcement only briefly referenced student involvement.

“This target would not have been announced today without the UChicago Environmental Alliance and Student Government's efforts to advance campus sustainability.”

“Until then,” SG wrote, “the Committee on Campus Sustainability will continue to advocate for a carbon neutrality deadline to match peer institutions including Brown, Harvard, Northwestern, Princeton, Stanford, the University of Illinois at Chicago, University of Pennsylvania, and Yale.”