Colorado College Goes Carbon Neutral

After more than a decade of work, CC becomes the first educational institution in the Rocky Mountain West to achieve the noteworthy goal of carbon neutrality.

Worner solar panels at Colorado College that helps reduce the institution's carbon footprint
Solar panels on top of CC's Worner Center. Photo courtesy Colorado College.

Colorado College has achieved carbon neutrality, the school announced this week. After more than a decade of work, the achievement makes CC just “the eighth institution of higher education that has reached it,” says Ian Johnson, CC’s director of sustainability.

The move toward becoming a carbon neutral campus had its official start in 2009. With support from the Board of Trustees, then-CC President Dick Celeste signed the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment alongside more than 400 institutions of higher education, and pledged the college to reaching carbon neutrality by 2020.

Reaching this goal also makes CC the only carbon neutral institution of higher education in the Rocky Mountain West. The other seven are American University in Washington, D.C.; Colgate University in New York; Middlebury College in Vermont; the University of San Francisco; and Bowdoin College, Bates College and Colby College in Maine.

The accomplishment is significant in another way as well. While CC has needed to invest in carbon offsets to account for certain emissions, such as air travel for study abroad, the college has purchased fewer offsets than any of the other seven institutions. Instead, CC has focused on making steep reductions in its carbon footprint on campus.

“Since the college’s baseline year in 2008, CC has reduced on-campus emissions by 75%,” a press release says. This was achieved through a variety of initiatives, ranging from building renovations and efficiency upgrades to campus engagement. And it was achieved despite CC expanding its physical footprint by 10% in its 2017 alliance with the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center. “Between the Fine Arts Center and the Bemis School of Art, CC added more than 142,000 square feet to its building footprint,” the release says.

Honnen Garden at Colorado Co
Colorado College has taken another step to being carbon neutral by 2020 with the planting of nearly 13,000 plants on an unused space of Honnen Ice Arena. Several students and staff members participated in the installation of the first green roof on campus. Photo courtesy of CC.

Johnson says there were a lot of people both behind-the-scenes and on the front line doing the work, and adds that those people were not only on campus. 

“If we’re going to address the climate challenge, it’s going to take collaboration, partnerships and a collective effort,” Johnson says. “This is the reality in the United States and across the world. This has been a very real exercise in negotiating with and partnering with local utilities. And it’s really exciting to see it all come to fruition at this point.”

Of course, don’t expect CC to check “carbon neutral” off its to-do list and relax. Johnson says it’s an ongoing process: “We’re moving full speed ahead.”

Read more about Colorado College’s carbon neutrality efforts and timeline. 

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