December 2011, Emory University adopted a Climate Action Plan that chronicles the University’s sustainability efforts to date and sets forth a series of goals and recommendations for reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the future. Two presidentially appointed committees – the Climate Action Plan Committee made up of faculty, staff, and students, and the Carbon Reduction Task Force made up of Campus Services staff – studied the issues, assessed feasibility, and conducted extensive outreach to develop ambitious and achievable goals for Emory’s greenhouse gas emissions reduction. Those efforts produced the following Climate Action Plan Goals from 2005 baseline levels:

  • By 2020: a 20 percent reduction in total emissions; 35 percent square foot
  • By 2036 (Emory’s 200th anniversary): a 36 percent reduction in total emissions; 50 percent square foot
  • By 2050: a 50 percent reduction in total emissions; 85 percent square foot

The plan proposes a comprehensive approach to reach these goals and recommends emission reduction strategies in a number of categories. These areas include sustainable building and construction, energy, transportation, waste management, food, procurement, academic programs and individual action.

“The Climate Action Plan builds on a strong base of institutional support and grassroots action, “says Ciannat Howett, director of the Office of Sustainability Initiatives, “Increased awareness of the institutional and individual behavior changes that help to reduce atmospheric carbon and the connection to ethical living, ecological citizenship, and intergenerational equity are the most important contributions of the Climate Action Plan.”

This philosophy permeates the spirit and language of the Plan, which emphasizes Emory’s reliance on the commitment of each academic unit to plan for and implement innovative carbon reduction strategies. Following this Plan recommendation, in 2012 each academic unit developed its own Climate Action Plan Committee, which spent the last year developing an implementation plan specific to the unique culture and operational structures of that unit. For instance, because so much of the faculty work in the Rollins School of Public Health relies on international research travel, this unit’s Committee worked hard to develop strategies for overseas trip consolidation and to reduce carbon emissions in other areas to make up for this necessary carbon expenditure. “We have been impressed by the seriousness and creativity shown in these unit reports,” says Dr. Peggy Barlett, Goodrich C. White Professor of Anthropology, member of the University’s original Climate Action Plan Committee and a current member the College of Arts and Sciences committee.  “Units have looked not only at travel, but also at computer and server use, building retrofit opportunities, and new curriculum initiatives.  We are seeing discussion of strategies to encourage shifts in daily behaviors as well as long-term accountability metrics.  These plans are evidence of emerging cultural change that will help Emory do our part to address the global climate crisis and provide students with a better understanding of the issues and the tools necessary to replicate Emory’s strategies wherever they go.”

Carbon offset purchases are not a tactic that is included in the climate action goals, and, unlike some peer institutions, the scope of the Plan and its carbon reductions goals includes Emory’s healthcare facilities on its main campus.

For the full text of the Climate Action Plan and progress toward Emory’s sustainability goals, click here.