As the nation’s flagship public university, UVA is committed to strengthening our community, promoting discovery, and deepening service. Addressing climate change is a critical component of this commitment.

Here are four powerful reasons why UVA has the opportunity and the responsibility to set a goal of becoming Carbon Neutral by 2035:

 

Leadership AND INNOVATION

As President Ryan said, “Universities should be a force for good in the world, and UVA is no exception.” A goal of Carbon Neutrality by 2035 will demonstrate UVA’s global leadership and propel environmentally-friendly innovation, while attracting and retaining students, professors and research dollars.

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RISK AND COST

Decarbonizing the university's operational emissions mitigates financial and reputational risk associated with inevitable regulation and mounting stakeholder concerns. It is also a smart, high-ROI investment that improves resource efficiency and lowers energy and water costs.  

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Environmental Impact

UVA’s energy choices have long term and significant real-world environmental impacts. UVA’s carbon footprint, even when the current 25% GHG reduction goal is met, is considerable – over 250,000 MTCDE, or equivalent to nearly TWICE the annual electricity used by all the homes in Charlottesville, combined

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ACHIEVABILITY

Carbon Neutrality is achievable. We know this from the experience of comparable universities and other large institutions, the falling costs of renewable energies like wind and solar, surging technological advances, and UVA’s own capabilities and achievements.   

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LEADERSHIP AND INNOVATION

A Carbon Neutrality 2035 goal will demonstrate UVA’s leadership and propel environmentally-friendly innovation, while attracting and retaining scholars, professors, and research dollars.

  • The Time is Right to Build on our Successes and Strengths. UVA has world class research and teaching assets on climate change across multiple schools and departments, from the new Environmental Resiliency Institute to a crack team of graduate students who just taught Patagonia how to decarbonize by 2025. However, leading in study is not enough. Now we must lead in practice.  
  • Leadership Requires UVA to Shift Perspective to the Long View. Climate science is clear that even “aggressive” targets such as an 80% reduction in climate emissions are not enough to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.  Furthermore, such a target leaves the hardest to remove 20% of emissions in place, thereby sidestepping the fundamental shift in perspective needed to achieve decarbonization. To achieve Carbon Neutrality by 2035, the University will need to shift its perspective from near-term budget forces to long-term strategic optimization, incorporating carbon and energy impacts into all of its energy and transportation decisions.
  • Vital to attracting, recruiting, and retaining talent. Increasingly, students and faculty are incorporating sustainability issues into their decisions about universities. Over 600 higher education institutions have set a Carbon Neutrality goal, and organizations like the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE), The Climate Leadership Network, The Sierra Club's Cool Schools project, and the Princeton Review Guide to Green Colleges have sprung up to help students and faculty differentiate sustainability performance among campuses.
  • A Natural Fit with President Ryan’s developing strategic vision. Actively addressing climate change and mitigating its risk through a Carbon Neutrality goal and investments in renewables greatly advances President Ryan’s long-term, collaborative strategic vision, Ours to Shape, to “strengthen our community, promote discovery, and enhance our commitment to service… with an eye toward our collective impact on the world.”  

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risk and cost

Decarbonizing the university's operational emissions not only mitigates financial and reputational risk associated with imminent regulation and mounting stakeholder concerns, it’s also a smart investment that improves resource efficiency and lowers energy and water costs.  

  • Managing climate risk through aggressive emissions reduction goals is becoming mainstream, with rewards for first movers. American corporations, investment houses, municipalities and higher education institutions are setting aggressive and transparent goals to mitigate the risk of a future carbon tax and changing consumer demands. (In fact, 50% of the Fortune 500 companies have a science-based carbon reduction goal). As a result, these organizations are not only sidestepping risk, but are leveraging clean tech and other innovations and enjoying greater competitive advantage.
  • Shareholders and Investors are increasingly demanding transparency. Investment professionals have been concerned about climate risks for several years, recently galvanized by BlackRock CEO Larry Fink’s letter to corporate execs, and have actively pursued better climate disclosure from the companies in which they invest—evinced in efforts such as the “Global Framework for Climate Risk Disclosure.” It follows that University donors and major partners will start demanding the same.
  • Reputational risk is real. Universities face a challenge to protect their “license to educate,” a reputational asset that increasingly references sustainability issues and performance – and a growing factor in how prospective students and faculty make decisions. In fact, 54% of the 10,000 Princeton Review college applicants recently surveyed said that having “a way to compare colleges based on their commitment to environmental issues” would “very much” or “somewhat” contribute to their decision to apply or attend. Sustainability is one of the largest special interest group among current UVA students, indicating that current students – the University’s future alumni – care about this issue and want their alma mater to lead.
  • Decarbonization is a Smart Investment. Energy efficiency is an investment with a proven 20%+ in annual returns, minimal volatility, and zero exposure to market and geopolitical risk, while costs of solar and wind energy continues to decline as production volumes increase -- driving a renewable energy industry boom in Charlottesville that’s developed over $6.5 billion in clean electricity in recent years.
  • Carbon Neutrality promotes the efficient and equitable stewarding of resources. With a Carbon Neutrality goal, the University will strengthen its decision-making lens on how financial – and natural – resources are responsibly stewarded.

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environmental impact

UVA’s energy choices have long term and significant real-world environmental impacts.

  • We’re Making Impact: Achieving the Board of Visitors' goal of a 25% cut in GHG emissions from 2009 levels would be equivalent to removing 17,650 cars from the road. And UVA is getting there – with 19% GHG emissions reduced as of 2018.
  • But We Can Do More: While admirable, this 25% reduction still leaves emissions equivalent to 53,533 cars on the road – which is more than one car for every person living in Charlottesville.  Shaving off emissions in incremental percentages cannot continue to outpace the growth of the University in square footage and population, nor the effects of a warming planet.  Further, it keeps the University trapped in a scarcity mindset – focused only on how to do more with less.  Embracing Carbon Neutrality opens up the opportunity to reframe the problem, innovate with leapfrog technologies, and find creative solutions.

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achievability

Carbon Neutrality is achievable. We know this from the experience of comparable universities, the falling costs of renewables, surging technological advances, and UVA’s own capabilities.   

  • Comparable Universities are Making Progress towards Strong Carbon Neutrality Goals. According to Second Nature, over 600 higher education institutions have set a Carbon Neutrality goal to date, many of them large, public institutions. Arizona State University is leading the pack with a comprehensive program and Carbon Neutrality goal of 2025, demonstrating that going neutral is actually the least expensive path forward.  Harvard University recently announced it would end its use of fossil fuels by 2050 with an interim goal to become Fossil Fuel Neutral by 2026. Support organizations, such as The Climate Leadership Network -- which currently represents 35.7% of all higher education students in the U.S., are providing best practices and resources to help universities set and achieve aggressive emissions goals. 
  • Falling costs of wind and solar, battery storage, and tech advances make Carbon Neutrality by 2035 realistic and achievable.  Today, we are at an inflection point where solar and wind energy are competitive without subsidies. According to the Lazard Cost of Energy Analysis, the cost of both continues to decline as production volume increases. In addition, the energy-storage industry is rapidly innovating and growing alongside solar, wind, and electric batteries, with capacity in the utility sector more than tripling since 2013. 
  • Benefits of this growth in renewables are felt locally and can be leveraged. From Charlottesville’s recent emergence as a the renewable energy hub of the Southeast to Dominion’s recent agreement to power Facebook’s $1B Virginia data center with solar energy, UVA’s home city and state provide fertile ground to develop a much larger renewable energy supply.
  • The Office of Sustainability has proven that emissions can be reduced, even during growth periods, with a self-sustaining return on investment. Through the Office of Sustainability and the Committee on Sustainability, UVA is working diligently towards its current, BOV-mandated GHG Emissions Reduction goal of a 25% reduction in climate emissions from 2009 levels by 2025.  The University’s Delta Force building efficiency initiative has yielded a simple ROI of 2.5:1 and reduced total emissions in 2018 by 19% from what emissions would have been otherwise, while successful pilot solar installations have been brought online.  The concept has been proven, and efforts are underway to plan for the next strategic goal. Now it’s time to put appropriate resources and prioritization behind this effort with a Carbon Neutrality goal by 2035.

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