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Greenhouse Gas Emissions Inventory

The Office of Sustainability conducts an annual inventory of all greenhouse gases that are released into the atmosphere as a result of American University's operations. These emissions, including carbon dioxide and methane, contribute to global climate change.

Annual GHG emissions reports are submitted publicly to Second Nature.

On the graph below, you'll notice that American University reached net zero greenhouse gas emissions in 2018, achieving carbon neutrality two years ahead of schedule. Reaching net zero emissions was the product of many programs including energy efficiency initiatives, renewable energy, green buildings, sustainable transportation programs, and zero waste efforts.

Emissions by Scope

Graph of AU emissions by scope.
bbbAU Emissions by Scope. Graph of AU Emissions by Scope. Scope 1 emissions, which are on-site emissions from natural gas and the university fleet have had slight fluctuations between 2005-2017, generally trending downward. Scope 1 emissions account for about a third of the university's total emissions in 2017. Scope 2 emissions, which are emissions from purchased electricity, accounted for approximately half of the university's total emissions from 2005 until 2010. In 2011, Scope 2 emissions are 0 as the university began purchasing renewable energy for 100% of emissions associated with purchased electricity. Scope 3 emissions, which are emissions from indirect sources, like commuting and waste, have maintained relatively constant levels, fluctuating only slightly in a general downward trend. In 2017, they account for roughly two-thirds of the university's total emissions.

Greenhouse Gas Emissions are measured in three categories:

On-site emissions from natural gas and the university fleet.

Purchased electricity for campus use.

All other emissions including commuting, study abroad travel, athletics travel, travel for conferences and meetings, emissions from waste that goes to landfill, and other small sources of emissions.

Scope 2 GHG emissions have been managed since 2010 by purchasing 100 percent renewable energy.

STARS Report

Greenhouse gas emissions reductions are only part of AU's sustainability efforts. To measure progress in the environmental, social, and economic aspects of sustainability, AU uses the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment, and Reporting System (STARS).

STARS was created by the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) to help colleges and universities track progress and set goals.

AU was a charter participant in STARS and has completed five assessments since 2010. AU completed its fifth STARS submission in the spring of 2020, earning a Gold rating.


Getting to Carbon Neutrality

How did we achieve carbon neutrality?

Scope 1

AU uses a number of energy saving technologies and water saving features to decrease the amount of natural gas used for heating and hot water. Solar thermal panels also allow us to use energy from the sun to create hot water and further decrease reliance on fossil fuels. AU’s campus also recently transitioned from a centralized steam plant to a decentralized low temperature hot water system which will decrease natural gas and electricity use substantially.

For natural gas that AU still uses, offsets are purchased. Scope 1 emissions are offset through investment in landfill gas capture and use. Landfill gas capture projects turn garbage into power. As organic waste breaks down without oxygen, it releases methane, a greenhouse gas 84 times more powerful than carbon dioxide. Through the installation of gas collection and control systems, these projects result in the destruction of powerful greenhouse gases, and the gas can be burned in a generator to create renewable electricity.

Scope 2

AU decreased electricity use per square foot by more than 20% from 2005 to 2017. This reduction was achieved through individual actions, like turning off lights and unplugging chargers, efficiency upgrades like using LED bulbs on campus, and by using a building automation system that allows Facilities management to monitor buildings for unusual activity. Scope 2 emissions are further decreased with on-campus solar and electricity from our solar farms in North Carolina. AU also purchases Green-e certified renewable energy credits to match the remaining electricity used on campus.

Scope 3

  • Reduction is the first priority for all emissions. Decreasing waste and offering alternative transportation options have helped reduce emissions in scope 3. For the remaining emissions AU uses several different offset projects. Study Abroad travel emissions are offset by energy efficient cookstoves in Kenya through the Paradigm Project. By distributing these cookstoves, they not only decrease the amount of greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere, but they also improve indoor air quality by reducing indoor cooking smoke and free up time for families.
  • Emissions from commuting are offset through local tree plantings in DC with the Anacostia Watershed Society and Urban Offsets. These local offsets align with the local commuting emissions being created by students, faculty, and staff traveling to and from AU. While the trees are growing large enough to become verified offsets, AU also uses offsets from wind power in India to match emissions from commuting.
  • University-related travel for athletics, conferences, or meetings is tracked and offset by efficient trucking technologies.
  • Emissions from campus waste that goes to landfill is offset through landfill capture and use.