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Illustra­tion by
John S. Dykes

illustration of carbon neutrality at AU

Not only are we the first to do it—we did it two years ahead of schedule.

On April 25, AU achieved carbon neutrality, becoming the only university in the United States with a net-zero carbon footprint. AU is also the first urban campus and research institution to meet the guidelines established by Second Nature, the Boston-based nonprofit that’s spearheading sustainability efforts in higher education. 

Simply put, carbon neutrality is achieved when an organization or individual removes as much carbon dioxide from the atmosphere as they put into it. This can be done by reducing and offsetting emissions and using renewable energy. AU’s approach is innovative in that it focuses on measures that directly shrink our carbon footprint, rather than relying too heavily on offsets.

According to President Sylvia Burwell, the milestone represents a years-long, campus-wide effort. “We wanted to demonstrate leadership and innovation in addressing the serious social, economic, and environmental issues associated with global warming. Having a net-zero carbon footprint reflects our commitment to acting on our values and leading into the future.”

Eight years ago, AU pledged to become carbon neutral by 2020 as part of the university’s first Climate Action Plan. AU doubled down on that ambitious goal in 2016 as a charter signatory to Second Nature’s Climate Commitment. 

“AU is truly raising the bar for the country,” says Timothy Carter, president of Second Nature. “With this type of leadership and innovation, we can meet our shared climate goals faster than anyone expects.”

And while it feels good to be living the green American dream, there’s still more work to be done. The university is in the midst of a two-year hot water and heat conversion project that will drive down fossil fuel use. Underground steam lines are being replaced with low-temperature hot water lines—a system that will provide AU with reliable energy and carbon savings well into the future. 

“We have to model the behavior we want to see in the world around us,” says Kiho Kim, AU environmental science professor. “We will continue to lead by example.” 

To learn more, visit our Office of Sustainability.

What is it equivalent to?

  • Removing 10,000 cars from the road for one year.
  • Taking 5,254 homes off the grid for one year.
  • Switching 1.6 million incandescent light bulbs to LED.
  • Planting 1,253,460 trees
illustration of how AU became carbon neutral