Carbon Neutrality

Wesleyan has committed to going carbon neutral by 2050 and tracks its carbon footprint annually. The Sustainability Strategic Plan includes objectives to move campus closer to carbon neutrality including through infrastructure changes and air travel offsets.

Utilities Carbon Neutrality Master Plan

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

Carbon Footprint

The data below details Wesleyan's carbon 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 in November as inventories are completed. 

Carbon Offsets

In 2019, Wesleyan began a pilot program to offset carbon emissions associated with faculty and staff business air travel by levying a 5% fee on air travel. 

  • Phase 1: Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, 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: Expands to include the Investments Office and ​certain components of Academic Affairs for 2021-22. 
  • Phase 3: Planned to expand to all offices and departments for 2022-23.

Learn more about carbon offsets and Wesleyan's air travel offsets program below.

Learn how to choose a flight with the lowest emissions and how to fly more sustainably when you choose to fly.

  • Why is Wesleyan purchasing offsets?

    In 2007, Wesleyan signed what is now the Presidents' Climate Leadership Carbon Commitment, committing to carbon neutrality by 2050.  Second Nature, the organization behind this 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.

    Wesleyan's carbon neutrality 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 will address this component of its carbon footprint while we investigate ways to effectively reduce these emissions so that in the future fewer offsets can be purchased.

  • How are carbon offsets generated?

    An offset is defined as an action or activity that compensates for the emission of carbon dioxide or other greenhouse gases to the atmosphere. Offsets are typically used to address emissions that the institution itself cannot eliminate. 

    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. There are many more types of projects that can generate carbon offsets however. To get a feel for what project types exist, visit the methodologies page for the standards mentioned above."

    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."

  • 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.

    In the short term, Wesleyan expects to continue purchasing offsets via the Tri-City project.  In the longer term, Wesleyan is investigating the creation of a local offsets program, likely via forested land preservation, with Middletown and other surrounding municipalities. 

  • 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 $15 per ton in 2020.  

    To account for this current market price, Wesleyan determined that a flat 5% fee on air travel would roughly correspond to a $10 to $15 per ton offset prices.  With average carbon offset costs expected to increase to $20 to $50 per ton by 2030, Wesleyan will regularly assess its air travel offsets fee to ensure that it keeps pace with the carbon offsets market.

  • Who pays for the air travel offsets?

    When the campus wide pilot of air travel offsets launches in July 2022, air travel offsets fees will apply to anyone traveling on Wesleyan business when funded by the University.

    The air travel offsets fee shall in most cases be charged to the traveler’s department (most departments), or will be centrally charged to Cabinet units (Academic Affairs), per each Cabinet unit's discretion. 

  • Will the air travel offsets fee apply to students?
    The air travel offsets fee will only apply to Wesleyan business travel, not to student personal travel.

Contact

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