Report: Options for Achieving a Carbon Neutral Campus by 2035

Analysis of options to guide future decision making on campus neutrality and energy

Cornell University released Options for Achieving a Carbon Neutral Campus by 2035 - Analysis of Solutions in September 2016 to better inform decision-making on reaching the campus goal of achieving carbon neutrality by 2035. The report focuses on solutions to reducing energy demands and providing low carbon energy supply. It was produced by the Senior Leadership Climate Action Group.

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Supplemental Guidance

Options for Achieving a Carbon Neutral Campus summarizes the findings of campus energy solutions' analysis outlined in the Climate Neutral Campus Energy Alternatives Report (CNCEAR).  CNCEAR can be considered the detailed technical background for assumptions and models outlined in the Options report.  Further supplemental guidance is provided in the CNCEAR report Appendices.

The report also builds and references prior reports, memos, and ongoing updates on carbon neutrality, which can be seen in the left-hand navigation bar under 'Resources.'  Additionally, the following two memos are included as supplemental guidance:

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Options for Achieving A Carbon Neutral Campus Report

October 31st, 2016 5-6pm | Lewis Auditorium, Goldwin Smith Hall

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The community forum will feature a panel of report authors and contributors to present the report, and answer questions and encourage dialogue from the Cornell community.  All members of the campus are encouraged to attend.

Options Report: Executive Summary

In March 2016, Provost Michael Kotlikoff charged the Senior Leaders Climate Action Group (SLCAG) to analyze viable energy alternatives for the Ithaca campus to achieve carbon neutrality by 2035. Reducing energy demand while adapting to renewable energy sources will require innovative technological solutions, a significant increase in capital investment in renewable energy sources, and broad support and engagement from all members of the campus community.

Sustainability is a signature area of excellence at Cornell University. Its faculty, students, staff and alumni have a wealth of knowledge, and tapping into their expertise will be critical to meeting these ambitious campus goals. The choices Cornell makes today to power a carbon-neutral campus tomorrow will involve real costs. These investments would insulate Cornell from unknown future volatility in fossil fuel markets and associated carbon fees. Nevertheless, they must be carefully considered in the context of the University’s need to advance its full academic mission, including the ability to offer the best and most cost-effective education for its students, and the creation of new knowledge that advances society and serves the citizens of New York state. It is a delicate balance.

In addition to assessing the single bottom line of proposed solutions, this report uses social costs as a measure of the true impact of University carbon use in Ithaca and beyond. It also introduces a new greenhouse gas assessment to account for the impact of methane leakage from natural gas purchased by Cornell. On the time scale for achieving our carbon neutrality goal, reducing the impact of leaked methane has the highest impact on reducing climate change.

It is important to note that this report is not a definitive plan of action; rather, it is a set of recommendations for discussion, and will require input from the campus and the surrounding community. Proposed solutions include:

  • Invest immediately in reducing energy demand through support for and advancement of our energy conservation programs;
  • Make preliminary investments in transitioning to a low-carbon campus energy supply;
  • Set goals and explore options to secure external funding;
  • Pursue energy solutions in partnership with local and regional entities;
  • Adopt rigorous building energy standards and project approval processes during retrofits, deferred maintenance projects, and new construction to create only “high-performance buildings” on campus;
  • Prioritize development of infrastructure to support a campus fleet of clean-fuel vehicles and replace existing fleet accordingly;
  • Evaluate Earth Source Heat and Ground Source Heat pumps as heating solutions;
  • Strive for 100 percent of the campus electric supply to come from renewable sources;
  • Seek campus-wide behavioral change through programs such as Think Big, Live Green and other campus engagement programs; and
  • Ensure all students graduate with a basic understanding of climate literacy.

Potential timeline for implementing options discussed in this report:






Energy conservation
Building standards
Campus engagement
Climate literacy
Fleet solutions

Earth Source Heat (ESH) test well
Heat pump evaluations
Renewable power projects

Begin full ESH, if viable or alternate GSHP option
Revise Climate Action Plan, including new energy path forward

Fully implement campus heating solution
Advance other carbon reduction efforts

Reach carbon neutrality
with full participation
from the campus

We believe the campus, local community and region are partners in helping to reduce our carbon footprint, and we must consider and pursue solutions that ensure a thriving, resilient and sustainable future for Ithaca, New York state, and, where possible, the world.



* A previous version of this report incorrectly stated that $350 in external CAPEX in Table 8, page 16.  The correct amount of external CAPEX needed is $480. This change was made to reflect the change in commitment from 50% to 100% renewable energy resources for campus electric supply, as stated in the executive summary and recommendations.