We help universities achieve carbon neutrality.

Urban Offsets develops community tree planting projects for Climate Leadership universities committed to reducing Scope 3 emissions.

It has been 10 years since university presidents and chancellors made history by signing The American College & University Presidents' Climate Commitment (ACUPCC), now Second Nature, becoming climate leaders by voluntarily committing to make their schools carbon neutral. Over that decade, universities across the U.S. invested billions of dollars into reducing their on-campus energy consumption. They made their heating and cooling systems more efficient, switched to cleaner sources of energy, and purchased hybrid vehicles for their fleets. By making reductions the first step toward their climate commitments, these universities have eliminated an average of 14,000 metric tons of C02 emissions each.

With such an impact, carbon reductions have become the standard first step on a school’s path to neutrality. They are easy to budget and provide clear financial returns while lowering a school’s overall footprint. But what happens when a university wants to grow? Develop new programs? Enhance the impact of high value departments? Or build a new campus?

Growth initiatives come with increased carbon emissions that can cause your carbon footprint to stop shrinking - or worse, start rising again. Travel related emissions grow more quickly when universities expand because they increase students’ commute. Expanding study abroad directly increases emissions with every extra mile flown.

Addressing Scope 3 emissions is a challenge that every Climate Leadership college and university in the U.S. faces today. And unlike Scopes 1 & 2, Scope 3 emissions can’t be addressed with reductions alone. Carbon neutrality is impossible without carbon offsets.

Travel related emissions are responsible for 30-35% of every university and college footprint.

Carbon offsets are an obvious solution to the unique problem presented by Scope 3 emissions, but the relationship many schools have with offsets is… well… complicated. And for good reason! It’s not you, it’s them. When we talk to universities it’s easy to understand why better offset options are needed today:

“Wait, why would we account for our travel emissions if they increase our footprint by 35% and there’s no real solution in place?”
Measuring your Scope 3 emissions allows you to address them. They’re also the only emission type at your university that directly ties your climate commitment to your students. The more they drive, the more they fly, the more they bus, the higher your scope 3 emissions will climb. But engaging your students in the problem can be part of the solution. Students overwhelmingly (65% according to Gallup ) choose to work and invest their time and money in problems they can make an impact in solving.

“The projects that sell offsets aren’t viable for us. They’re too risky and don’t provide clear benefits to the environment or to our students, alumni, faculty, and staff.”
We agree. There are too many examples of double accounting, double dipping, offsets that don’t really exist, and even those that pass all of these tests fail to add any benefit to the environment. These types of carbon offset projects are risky and schools are right to avoid them or risk damaging their brand and reputation. (See “More feel good PR that does nothing.”)

“Why rush? We’ve got plenty of time! Our carbon neutrality date is 30 years away. Why would we buy offsets now?”
About 100 colleges and universities will become carbon neutral in 2030. The schools that reach their commitments first will create a new segment of higher education in America: Sustainable Education. The remaining 500+ schools aiming for 2050 will face an important decision: to accelerate their climate investments or fall behind. The students you will admit in 2030 are already born and their world is one of climate change and political inaction. These students will certainly drive positive change on campus, but change takes time.

The schools that reach their commitments first will create a new segment of higher education in America: Sustainable Education.

We believe carbon offsets should be better. Universities tell us that to be a viable option, carbon offsets must:

  1. Come from local projects they can see and prove. Projects that provide volunteer opportunities for students and alumni, and can support faculty research and coursework are bonuses.

  2. Provide verified carbon offsets registered with a high quality exchange. The top exchanges in the US voluntary carbon market are the Voluntary Carbon Standard, the Gold Standard, and the Climate Action Reserve. Their scientifically grounded standards produce offsets in a variety of domestic and international projects that are validated and verified by neutral third parties according to the ISO 14065 industry standard.

  3. Clearly benefit the environment and their source community. This is a tough one. Until now, every verified carbon offset produced domestically has come from a project outside of a city. While most of them produce a net benefit to the general environment, their benefits to any community is negligible.

Our mission is to help Universities find local climate solutions that meet these criteria. We develop community-based tree planting projects that engage students and faculty, demonstrate climate leadership, and provide clear benefits to the people and environments of each community.

Investment in community tree planting projects provides many benefits:

  • Carbon offsets produced by project trees that are retired at the end of the project. Second Nature refers to these as Innovative and Peer Reviewed carbon offsets and can be applied to your Scope 3 climate action plan.

  • Verified carbon offsets from top carbon exchanges that can be immediately applied to lower your Scope 3 emissions.

  • Tangible projects for students and faculty to engage with, volunteer for, and access to conduct research.

  • Local, visible impact on communities, public schools, and tree-poor neighborhoods.

In addition, our community projects can offer unique characteristics not found in typical offset projects, such as planting fruit bearing trees in community gardens, planting around public schools to provide shade and windbreaks, and reforesting historically significant sites. You can learn more about how community projects work here.

We believe that every community can make a difference.

Urban Offsets was founded in 2015 in response to the needs of our local community. A healthy urban forest cannot flourish with a limited municipal budget for planting and maintenance and without the right tools for monitoring and planning. We saw an opportunity to build partnerships between cities and universities to support their common goals and provide the resources needed to grow and maintain healthy urban trees.

As more trees are planted every day in cities across the country, we are excited by the possibilities. We know that universities will play a crucial role in mitigating the effects of climate change. By partnering with their communities, Urban Offsets helps them create local change with global impact.

Community tree planting projects across the country need your support and can offer the carbon solutions your school needs.

Ready to get started?

Recent Projects

2,000 TREES / 72,000 CREDITS
Louisville , KY 40203
250 TREES / 2,500 CREDITS
500 TREES / 7,500 CREDITS