Carbon Neutrality

Wesleyan has committed to going carbon neutral by 2035 and tracks its carbon footprint annually. The Sustainability Strategic Plan includes objectives to achieve carbon neutrality, including a utilities carbon neutrality plan and air travel offsets.

Utilities Carbon Neutrality Master Plan

A utilities carbon neutrality master plan creates a roadmap to reduce campus energy use and power 100% of heating, cooling, and electricity needs within the campus microgrid (central campus) through renewable energy sources by 2035.  

Carbon Pollution Footprint

The data below details Wesleyan's carbon pollution footprint in metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (MTCO2e), which includes emissions of carbon dioxide, methane, and other greenhouse gases that are responsible for warming the atmosphere.  In the % change from 2008 column, emission sources are color coded: 

  • Green = significant emissions decrease (>5% decrease)
    • Dark green = very significant emissions decrease (>50% decrease)
  • Yellow = no significant change (-5% to +5% change)
  • Red = significant emissions increase (>5% increase)
    • Dark red = very significant emissions increase (>50% increase)

The table below shows the most recently available information and is updated annually as inventories are completed. Note that the FY 2022 waste footprint is significantly higher than in past years due to the closure of the South Meadows trash-to-energy incinerator; waste is now trucked to out-of-state landfills.

Carbon Offsets

In 2019, Wesleyan began a pilot program to offset carbon emissions associated with Wesleyan-funded air travel by levying a 5% surcharge on air travel. 

  • Phase 1: Due to COVID-19, the pilot program with the President's Office purchased only 155 tons of offsets in 2019-20, and no offsets were purchased in 2020-21. 
  • Phase 2: Expanded to include the Investments Office and ​certain components of Academic Affairs for 2021-22. 
  • Phase 3: Expand to all Wesleyan-funded air travel for 2022-23.

Learn more about carbon offsets and Wesleyan's air travel offsets program below.  To reduce your travel carbon footprint, check out our handy guide to sustainable travel and download this calculator to measure your transportation carbon footprint based on different modes of transportation.  

  • Why is Wesleyan purchasing offsets?

    In 2007, Wesleyan signed the Presidents' Climate Leadership Carbon Commitment, committing to carbon neutrality by 2050.  This goal was revised in 2022 to accelerate carbon neutrality to 2035

    Second Nature, the organization behind the carbon commitment, advocates for addressing greenhouse gas emissions following this hierarchy: 

    1. Avoiding or reducing emissions through efficiency & conservation
    2. Eliminating emissions through switching to renewable (zero carbon) sources of energy
    3. Sequestering or offsetting any remaining emissions.

    The carbon section of Wesleyan's sustainability strategic plan focuses primarily on the first two pillars of this hierarchy and accordingly aims to purchase as few offsets as possible.  Approximately 20 percent of Wesleyan's carbon footprint can be attributed to more difficult-to-reduce sources, including air travel and commuting. 

    Wesleyan has determined that a robust program of air travel offsets purchased from reliable sources will address this component of its carbon footprint in the medium-term.  We will continue to investigate ways to effectively reduce emissions to reduce or eliminate the need for future offset purchases.

  • How are carbon offsets generated?

    An offset is an action or activity that compensates for the emission of greenhouse gases (GHGs), usually by storing carbon or preventing carbon emissions.

    According to Second Nature, "Carbon offsets can be generated by any type of project that reduces or eliminates greenhouse gas emissions beyond a business-as-usual scenario. Common types of offset projects include reforestation and improved forest management, methane gas capture and destruction, fuel switching, clean cookstoves, and energy efficiency."  

    Duke University's Carbon Offsets Initiative has done extensive research on carbon offsets.  Learn more about offset basics via their Guide to Carbon Offsets and Co-benefits

  • Are carbon offsets "real?"

    According to Second Nature, "all credits issued from any of the major carbon standards (CAR, VCS, ACR, GS) will have undergone a robust verification process by an ISO accredited third-party verifier. These credits are also all tracked on registries to ensure emissions reductions are not double counted. Credits from standards not discussed above should be scrutinized carefully to confirm that they have been verified, are the result of a real project, have not been sold or retired previously, and are otherwise legitimate."

    Recent research has revealed that even third-party-verified offsets may not be sufficiently scrutinized. Wesleyan is continually investigating opportunities for vigorously verified offsets.

  • Where does Wesleyan purchase its offsets?

    In 2020, Wesleyan purchased carbon offsets from the Massachusetts Tri-City Improved Forest Management Project, operated by BlueSource and certified by the American Carbon Registry, a verified third-party certification. 

    Through the Tri-City project, three cities—Holyoke, Westfield, and West Springfield—launched a joint Improved Forest Management project on approximately 17,000 acres of public forest land in central MA. The properties are managed for watershed services, timber production, and recreation and this carbon project enables them to generate increased revenue without aggressive timber harvesting. The cities will achieve Forest Stewardship Council certification of their forests for the first time, helping further ensure long-term environmental and economic sustainability.

    Wesleyan plans to purchase offsets for FY 2022 emissions in Fall 2022 and will notify the community of the offset project here.

  • How was Wesleyan's air travel offsets fee set?

    Currently, the price for carbon offsets ranges from about $1 to 50 per ton, with the average of $3 to $6 per ton reported by Second Nature.  Wesleyan has prioritized the purchase of local/regional offsets to support local economies and ecosystems; the average price per ton of local offsets ranged from $10 to $20 per ton in 2022.  

    To account for this current market price, Wesleyan determined that a flat 5% surcharge on air travel would roughly correspond to a $15 per ton offset price.  With average carbon offset costs expected to increase to $20 to $50 per ton by 2030, Wesleyan will regularly assess its air travel offsets charge to ensure that it keeps pace with the carbon offsets market.

  • Who pays for the air travel offsets?

    The air travel offsets surcharge applies to anyone traveling on Wesleyan business when funded by the University.  Finance has added 5 percent of FY 2019 airfare spend to all operating budgets to account for this charge.

    The air travel offsets fee shall in most cases be charged to the traveler’s department or will be centrally charged per each Cabinet unit's discretion. 

  • Will the air travel offsets fee apply to students?
    The air travel offsets surcharge will apply only to Wesleyan business travel paid via operating budgets.  The surcharge will not apply to GISOS-funded, grant-funded, study abroad, or student personal travel.  We are investigating options for offsetting these emissions.


Utilities Carbon Neutrality Master Plan: Andrew Plotkin, Facilities Project Engineer
Greenhouse Gas Inventory: Jeff Murphy, Facilities Business Manager
Air Travel Offsets: Jen Kleindienst, Sustainability Director