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.