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Vassar’s 2020 Climate Action Plan: Carbon Neutrality and Beyond

In October 2019, Vassar’s Board of Trustees endorsed an aggressive, $13-million energy efficiency project that set the College on course to become carbon-neutral by 2030.  One year later, the Climate Action and Sustainability Committee (CASC) ratified a series of initiatives that will move the College closer to that goal.

The 2020 Climate Action Plan approved by CASC on October 9, empowers the College to take several concrete steps to reduce its carbon footprint by an estimated 2,000 metric tons in the next five years. The new plan represents the collective interests of the Vassar community obtained through a survey, all-campus brainstorming sessions, and the work of the Climate Action and Sustainability Committee.

The Climate Action Plan addresses climate change on many fronts.

When combined with the facility upgrades and improvements approved last year by the Board of Trustees, Vassar will emit fewer than 5,000 metric tons of greenhouse gases annually—a reduction of nearly 85 percent compared to 2005.

Key elements of the new plan include:

  • the implementation of projects contained in Vassar’s Energy Master Plan, supported by the Green Reinvestment Fund;
  • a “recycling relaunch” for waste management efforts throughout the campus, including new bins, campus-wide signage, and a major educational campaign;
  • a pilot program that adds electric vehicles and other electrified equipment, such as lawnmowers, to the College’s fleet;
  • an expansion of bike paths on campus and a van pool program between the train station and campus;
  • new restorative land management guidelines that will allow Vassar to invest in the Vassar Farm & Ecological Preserve for additional carbon reduction.

CASC Chair Marianne Begemann, Dean of Strategic Planning and Academic Resources, said she and others on the committee were determined to continue to expand and enhance the College’s sustainability efforts despite financial challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. “We set some ambitious priorities two years ago, well before COVID-19 hit us,” Begemann said, “and it has become crystal clear that one of the College’s core values is to continue to carry that commitment forward.”

President Elizabeth Bradley endorsed the new five-year Climate Action Plan. “Even during these times of financial hardship and tremendous stress due to COVID-19, we must continue to take steps to address the climate emergency,” she said. “I applaud the decision of the Climate Action and Sustainability Committee to create a plan that will advance us toward our goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2030.” 

Sustainability Director Micah Kenfield said the new plan builds on steps the College has taken since it adopted its first Climate Action Plan four years ago. “The 2016 Climate Action Plan codified Vassar’s commitment to making our campus carbon neutral by 2030,” Kenfield said. “With the 2020 CAP, we’re broadening our scope to place Vassar’s efforts within a global context. Our plan is rooted in the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals to ensure that our response to the Climate Crisis doesn’t leave anyone behind. And as the newest signatories to Second Nature’s Climate Leadership Commitment, we’ll be reporting on our progress annually in the hope that others can learn from our successes.”

The $13-million expenditure approved by the Board of Trustees last year includes the following components:

  • $3.8 million for the completion of an ongoing program to retrofit all lighting fixtures with LED devices;
  • $3.65 million to upgrade the central boiler system to enable the College to shift primarily to using renewable fuel oil;
  • $1.6 million to upgrade heating systems in four to six buildings;
  • $4 million to upgrade the heating and air conditioning system in Chicago Hall and other sites on campus;
  • expansion of educational efforts on campus about common-sense energy-saving practices that would further reduce Vassar’s carbon footprint.

Kenfield noted the new five-year plan contains a broad range of initiatives. “Vassar’s sustainability strategy certainly takes advantage of cutting-edge, high-tech solutions to reduce our carbon footprint,” he said. “But what’s most exciting to me is how we balance that with one of the oldest tools for carbon reduction—trees and the natural world. As Vassar continues to cut emissions through building upgrades while investing in invaluable assets like the Vassar Farm and Ecological Preserve, we’ll eventually reach a point where we sequester more greenhouse gases than we emit. The 2020 Climate Action Plan gives us a clear path to go beyond carbon neutrality. The Vassar of tomorrow isn’t just carbon neutral; it’s climate positive.”


The Climate Action and Sustainability Committee (CASC) promotes and supports the College’s climate action and sustainability agendas and advances the College’s efforts to achieve carbon neutrality by 2030. It presents changes related to education policy to the faculty for approval and is advisory to the president on administrative policies. The committee reports annually to the president, trustees, and the Vassar community at-large on progress achieved and future action items.

The Committee consists of the Dean of Strategic Planning (Chair), the VP and Assitant VP of Finance and Administration, the Executive Director of Facilities Operations, the Director of Sustainability (co-chair), three faculty members (one of whom is the Faculty Sustainability Coordinator; the other two are elected), and four students.