Auburn's Climate Action Plan



Why is Auburn doing a carbon inventory and a Climate Action Plan?

In October 2008 Dr. Gogue signed the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment, committing Auburn to performing a greenhouse gas emissions inventory and a plan to ultimately reduce the university's carbon emissions. By signing, President Gogue joined the leaders of more than 650 universities (total signatories as of Sep 2009).


What tool was used to compile and calculate Auburn's carbon inventory?

We used the campus carbon inventory calculator developed by the non-profit Clean Air Cool Planet. This calculator is generally accepted to be the standard for higher education. The data collection, input, and analysis was completed by staff of the Office of Sustainability. The campus carbon inventory calculator User's Guide provides a great deal of detail about the general process. The specifics of how AU compiled the campus carbon inventory will be included in the final report released in Oct 2009.


What greenhouse gasses (GHGs) are part of Auburn's carbon footprint?

Determining who "owns" a greenhouse gas is actually a bit tricky. As a result, a global standard has been developed that is adopted for businesses, governments, and other large institutions. The Greenhouse Gas Protocol's web site can provide detailed answers to why certain decisions are made (e.g. emissions from a student's daily commute to and from campus is considered "Auburn's", but travel from their hometown to the Auburn area is considered "theirs").


What is meant by Direct and Indirect emissions?

Direct GHG emissions are emissions from sources that are owned or controlled by Auburn University (e.g. our on-campus hot water plants)

Indirect GHG emissions are emissions that are a consequence of the activities at Auburn University, but occur at sources owned or controlled by another entity (e.g. the AL Power powerplants that produce the electricity we purchase on campus).

(adapted from the GHG Protocol Initiative FAQ)


What is meant by Scope 1, 2, or 3?

Direct and indirect emissions are further categorized using three broad scopes:

Scope 1: all Direct GHG emissions (campus hot water and steam generation, campus owned vehicles, accidental refrigerant releases, fertilizer applied on campus, agricultural animals housed around main campus (not outlying units))

Scope 2: For Auburn this is only Indirect GHG emissions from consumption of purchased electrcity.

Scope 3: "Other" Indirect emissions. This is the category that can be difficult to delineate. Some activities result in clearcut, indirect emissions that are linked to a university function (emissions from managing campus waste, transportation paid for with campus funds - travel by campus employees for University business: research, meetings, recruitment...

Other activities are not so clearcut, but are also emissions that are specifically produced for the "normal operations fo the university" (e.g. daily commuting of all employees and students, study abroad - even if paid for by the student because of the academic reason for the travel

(adapted from the GHG Protocol Initiative FAQ, and The Clean Air Cool Planet User's Guide v.6, 2008)


What emissions are not considered to be part of Auburn's carbon footprint?

Much like the Scope 3 category above, it can be a little confusing delineating what emissions are "owned" by Auburn because of our activities, and what emissions are owned by the students, employees, and organizations/businesses that interact with the unversity. Some examples of emissions that are not counted in Auburn's total carbon footprint include: student travel to and from home over breaks, the emissions associated with delivering goods to campus (e.g. Tiger Dining to-go cups, campus purchasing a product that has a lower manufacturing emissions footprint than another - this is considered an "upstream emission", and is the responsibility of the company that produces the good).

Decisions about which emissions to include as part of Auburn's carbon footprint and what to exclude were made based on what other campuses around the country have done when calculating their own emissions.


What are the major sources of Auburn's GHG emissions?

The full Carbon Inventory for Auburn University will be released in October 2009.


What are the standard units for discussing GHG emissions?

The standard unit for discussing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and reductions is "Metric Tons of Carbon Dioxide Equivalent" (MTCO2e).

To explain, there are lots of GHG pollutants (e.g. carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), nitrous oxides (NOx), Hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs)). Each kind of molecule has a different potential for trapping heat (i.e. a molecule of CH4 traps 13 times more heat than a molecule of CO2). However, CO2 makes up ~84% of US GHG emissions (Emissions of Greenhouse Gasses Report 2008, US Department of Energy, Energy Information Administration). Because it is the largest component, all other greenhouse gases are standardized by converting them into CO2 equivalents (e.g. methane is multiplied by 13 to convert it to CO2e). The metric ton is used because that is the standard unit for most of the globe and allows ease of comparison. As a guideline, a metric ton is about 10% heavier than a short ton (the US standard measurement unit).


Can I directly compare Auburn's carbon footprint to another university?

In general, no.

Even though most U.S. campuses use the Clean Air-Cool Planet Campus Carbon Calculator, there are still differences in how rigorous the data collection was, how much effort was made error checking the raw data, what data was available to be included (e.g. air travel is very difficult for most campuses to incorporate, for Auburn it is as well), how much of the campus physical space was included (e.g. Auburn's carbon inventory is only for activities and facilities on the main campus. AU-Montgomery, Agricultural experiment stations, Alabama Extension system are NOT included), and regional differences in Emissions factors that are used to calculate the footprint.


What kinds of actions are the AU CAP working groups going to be considering?

In general the Auburn working groups will be focusing on actions and solutions that will specifically reduce Auburn's carbon footprint.

There are some solutions that will be considered by the CAP working groups which will not affect Auburn's carbon footprint (because of the "ownership" of emissions), but are related and would reduce the overall global emissions levels (e.g. preference for purchasing goods from a local producer, to reduce the emissions associated with transporting that good from the point of manufacture to Auburn).


What is the baseline that we will be using for considering carbon reductions?

Rather than arbitrarily pick a year, or set of years, to be the baseline, the standard used nationally is the projected future emissions level for the university. Basically, we know what the emissions level was for the university in past years, and we know how Auburn has grown (in terms of physical building space, student numbers, and research intensity). If Auburn continues to grow at this same rate (or if we can estimate whether growth will increase or shrink), what would we expect the emissions levels to be? All potential solutions will be considered by their potential to allow Auburn to AVOID the projected MTCO2e emissions.

As examples, here is a figure illustrating the future emissions projection from UC Berkeley, and here is a figure from Cornell University illustrating how different actions might contribute to avoiding the projected emissions (the top line is the projected level).


What is the time frame we are talking about?

Some universities are planning for climate neutrality in the span of a decade, others are on 50-year timelines. For Auburn, once the individual working groups have come up with a list of potential recommendations, there will be an examination of: the financial cost, the payback period, the total emissions reduced by any activity, the appeal of the activity to the Auburn community, whether the technology is mature enough to be implemented, and other potential factors. With these considerations in mind, the Climate Action Plan Task Force will develop a set of target dates and make recommendations to President Gogue.





If you have any questions about Auburn's Climate Action Planning process, please feel free to email