Campus Community / Society, Justice and Law

The Path Toward Carbon Neutrality

May 19, 2022

Image credit: Illustration by Vitoria Cassol (Digital Design '22)

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SU’s carbon offsets will support a local forestry preservation effort and energy-efficient stoves in Honduras.

As President Eduardo Peñalver shared during SU’s celebration of Earth Day last month, the university has committed to offset its remaining Scope 1 emissions. “We're currently developing a plan that will completely eliminate our (university’s) use of natural gas,” the president said. “Until that plan can be fully implemented, we will continue to take responsibility for our direct greenhouse gas emissions by purchasing high-quality carbon offsets that have multiple environmental and social benefits.”

What are Scope 1 emissions?

Scope 1 refers to direct greenhouse (GHG) emissions that occur from sources that are controlled or owned by an organization. For Seattle University those are operations and activities that use natural gas (for heating hot water and buildings), gasoline, diesel fuel (for vehicles and equipment) and fertilizer (for grounds maintenance). These emissions are responsible for approximately 2,750 metric tons per year and 20 percent of the university’s total carbon footprint. (What are the other scopes? Keep reading!)

What is the university’s commitment and how are the carbon offsets being invested?

To offset its Scope 1 emissions, the university will purchase $34,000 in carbon offsets. The funds will support two projects chosen by the university’s Carbon Offset Committee for their positive impact on climate change and, as important, the co-benefits they provide:

  • The King County Rural Forest Carbon Project permanently protects threatened forests in rural parts of the county that would otherwise be available for development or commercial timber harvest. In addition to providing climate benefits, these efforts also protect critical salmon habitat, water and air quality and recreational opportunities. The project will also provide opportunities for SU students, staff and faculty to visit the sites and engage in hands-on learning opportunities while demonstrating how offsets and other carbon mitigation efforts can make a difference close to our campus.
  • The Improved Cookstove Project in Honduras distributes fuel-efficient cook stoves to households to replace conventional firewood stoves, which contributes to forest preservation efforts by reducing the demand for wood fuel. Other critical benefits, particularly for women, include reducing fuel gathering, smoke inhalation and the associated health impacts.

How do we know these projects will reduce carbon emissions? 

Verified Carbon Standard (VCS), an independent, third-party organization, has confirmed that the reductions in carbon emissions are sustained in perpetuity, monitored, enforceable and would not  occur if business took place as usual.

So that’s Scope 1. What about the other scopes?

Scope 2 refers to emissions generated by the energy SU purchases. Because the electricity SU buys from Seattle City Light is carbon-neutral, the university has no Scope 2 emissions.

That leaves Scope 3 which account for 80 percent of our emissions and are primarily associated with activities such as commuting and air travel.

What is the plan going forward?

In addition to the plan to eliminate the use of natural gas, gasoline, and diesel fuel (Scope 1) by our campus operations, the Carbon Offsets Committee has recommended, among other measures, that the university develop a plan to address Scope 3 emissions and establish a target date for achieving carbon neutrality that is no later than 2030.

To learn more about Seattle University’s Climate Action commitments and goals, greenhouse gas emission reductions, and offsets, please visit www.seattleu.edu/climate.

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