Carbon Neutral Travel Policy

Encouraging reduced business travel and purchase of offsets when travel is unavoidable...

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A Carbon Neutral Travel Policy is a Leadership goal in the Cornell Climate Action Plan(CAP).

Establish a university-wide Carbon Neutral Travel Policy that fosters zero-footprint travel through purchase of carbon offsets.

Goal: University-funded air travel and individual commuting emitted roughly 59,000 tons of carbon into the atmosphere in 2012, a nearly 10% increase since the Climate Action Plan was initiated and the only emission category that did not improve. Cornell’s commitment to climate neutrality cannot be achieved without some offsetting actions to mitigate these travel related emissions. Putting a price on GHG emissions via carbon offsets is an effective strategy to raise awareness about travel-related emissions and presents an excellent opportunity to invest in high impact local sustainability initiatives.

The Climate Team is evaluating options to prepare a recommendation for review by senior administration. The Climate Team is also partnering with departments that generate significant university related travel, to develop and integrate carbon offsets within their operations on a voluntary basis, and to improve the tracking and reporting of air travel.

The Finger Lakes Climate Fund (FLCF) is a local carbon offset program intended to promote greenhouse gas emission reductions in the Finger Lakes region. Though the current capacity of the FLCF cannot accommodate all of the university’s unavoidable travel related emissions, a partnership with FLCF presents an excellent opportunity to invest in a local sustainability initiative that is aligned with the university’s mission. High impact carbon offsets can be purchased locally through FLCF for as little as $3 per trip. Donations are used to fund energy efficiency projects for low to moderate income households in our region. FLCF grants help these households pay for insulation, air sealing, energy efficient heating equipment, and other upgrades to reduce energy use and greenhouse gas emissions. A typical FLCF energy efficiency project yields a saving of ~100 tons CO2 per year – an amount equivalent to the carbon sequestration provided by 82 acres of forest or to the annual emissions of 20 passenger vehicles A partnership with FLCF could result in community-based carbon offsets of 300-500 tons per year.

Next Steps

  • Promote a voluntary program for employees to offset their carbon generated from daily commuting via FLCF. Add offsetting links to existing travel procurement and employee commuting websites.
  • Integrate offsetting options within the Campus to Campus Bus online reservation process.
  • Design and implement a Study Abroad student travel offset program.
  • Establish a university-wide Carbon Neutral Travel Policy encouraging reduced business travel when possible and purchase of offsets when travel is unavoidable.


In order to properly account for carbon offsets purchased through FLCF, collect and transmit accurate travel data to FLCF and obtain third-party verified “certificates” or other proof of offsets purchased.