In Brief:

  • Over 1,000 higher education institutions worldwide have committed to achieving carbon neutrality by 2050 or sooner 1. While that number is promising, there are significant challenges associated with decarbonizing a campus. Our survey of 252 sustainability professionals 2, students, and faculty members sought to dive deeper into what the most common challenges are.

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Our survey results indicate that the primary barrier to achieving carbon neutrality is financial – 66% of respondents indicated that their institution either lacks the financial resources to achieve carbon neutrality or has other priorities for those resources. Based on follow-up qualitative interviews, the financial effects of the COVID-19 pandemic continue to present issues for budgeting and financial resources.

Perhaps not surprisingly, 63% of respondents indicated that their administration is experiencing pressure from their student population, mostly around divestment (32%), more on-campus renewable energy (25%), and/or a more aggressive carbon neutrality goal (18%).

When asked which sector of emissions was the most daunting, 47% indicated Scope 3 emissions in some shape or form. These emissions are typically the most difficult to measure accurately, and consequently reduce or eliminate.

8 of the 10 survey respondents who indicated their institution had achieved carbon neutrality noted that there is still a commitment to further reduce on-campus emissions.

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1 EUAC, Race to Zero: Universities & Colleges, https://www.educationracetozero.org

2 Nelnet Renewable Energy surveyed 252 sustainability professionals, students, and faculty members through an anonymous questionnaire from May through July of 2022. The population included respondents from 38 US states and 17 countries.

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AUTHOR

Scot Bearss, PMP

Project Leader, Net Zero

Scot Bearss is the Project Leader for Net Zero. Prior to coming to Nelnet, he worked at Yale University for four years, the majority of which was in the sustainability office leading communications and outreach, as well as developing department-specific sustainability action plans. He earned his Project Management Professional (PMP) certification in May of 2022, with over 7,500 hours of project management experience. Scot can be reached at scot.bearss@nelnet.net | 714.421.1287