Carbon Neutrality by 2030
At a meeting on the campus on October 19, the Vassar College Board of Trustees agreed in principle to a decisive plan to move Vassar toward its goal of carbon neutrality by the year 2030. The trustees declared their support for a $13-million package of major renovations and upgrades to the college’s heating system as well as other energy-saving projects.
Vassar’s current carbon footprint
Vassar currently emits about 17,000 metric tons of greenhouse gases (GHG) each year. This is a significant reduction from our baseline year of 2005, when we emitted 30,550 metric tons. Most of the reductions we’ve achieved so far have come from incremental efforts like switching from fuel oil to natural gas for heating, building limited on-site solar, and purchasing greener electricity as the New York State Grid goes more renewable
Vassar’s Three-Year Partial Decarbonization Plan
In brief, Vassar will undertake a combination of facility upgrades for energy efficiency (including LED lighting), a conversion of our primary central boilers from burning natural gas to burning renewable fuel oil, and a switch to 100 percent renewable purchased electricity. These projects are tentatively scheduled to occur from summer 2020 through summer 2022.
With the plan as endorsed by the trustees, our carbon footprint will fall another 10,200 metric tons per year to roughly 6,850 metric tons. This will leave about half of our emissions as lingering facility-based emissions and half coming from sources like travel and commuting.
By next heating season alone, Vassar can reduce its carbon footprint by almost 5,000 metric tons. This would amount to the largest single-year reduction in our carbon footprint in Vassar's history.
Renewable Fuel Oil
The "Renewable Fuel Oil" (or RFO) that Vassar plans to use is a biofuel derived from sawdust and tree trimmings from commercial timber operations. Instead of leaving these byproducts to release their embedded carbon through decomposition, the RFO process is able to convert the byproducts into an alternative to fossil fuels. While these still emit carbon dioxide through combustion, the net carbon footprint is considered significantly lower than alternatives like natural gas.
These byproducts come from trees in commercially managed plots, most of which meet Sustainable Forestry Initiative (or equivalent) standards. No clear-cut logging or other unsustainable logging practices can be used in the production of this fuel, per dictate of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Vassar’s Plans for Carbon Neutrality Moving Forward
Our current plans include the phased conversion of buildings to alternative heating technologies like geothermal, air-source, and solar-thermal heating combined with electrified systems using 100 percent renewable energy. We’re also committed to reducing our carbon footprint from travel and commuting, and are investigating options like expanded on-campus forestry and increased electric vehicle (EV) charging.
We’re just starting development of a Climate Action Plan that will holistically address our sustainability plans from 2020–2025, and all members of the campus community are invited to participate in this process.
The 2020 Climate Action Plan
The 2020 Climate Action Plan will outline aggressive goals and concrete action steps toward Vassar’s emission-free future. We are seeking engagement from students, faculty, staff, administrators, community members, and alumnae/i through our open feedback form. This feedback will be collected and refined into the goals and objectives of our full Climate Action Plan.
The Office of Sustainability is also hosting a series of public Climate Action Forums to allow for in-person brainstorming and exchanging of ideas. These are being held on the following dates and times:
- Monday, November 18, 11:00am–noon, Villard Room (Main Building)
- Tuesday, November 19, noon–1:00 pm, Villard Room (Main Building)
- Wednesday, December 4, 3:00–4:30pm, Villard Room (Main Building)
The Office of Sustainability can also host smaller forums for campus units and student organizations upon request (pending availability). Please contact Micah Kenfield at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information or to set up a time.
Finally, Vassar students, faculty, staff, and administrators are encouraged to lend their voices to the Climate Action Plan drafting process directly through participation on a Climate Action Team. Climate Action Teams will meet for two to four hours per month throughout the spring semester to create concrete goals and recommendations informed by the forums and feedback above.