Greenhouse gases

Follow us

Northwestern University recognizes that climate change is one of the most pressing issues facing the planet and has made a commitment to reduce our GHG emissions through efficiency, investments in alternative energy and engaging our students, faculty and staff and the communities around us.

Northwestern recently completed an initial greenhouse gas inventory, assessing the emissions from our two utility plants in Evanston and Chicago which burn natural gas and from the purchased electricity supplying the two campuses. We are in the process of assessing the Scope 3 GHG emissions from the commuting of our students, faculty and staff so the University can continue to facilitate programs that support the use of clean and efficient methods of transit like cycling, rail and bus transit.

As a leader and model for sustainability, Northwestern University has recognized the need to set challenging goals for the reductions of our emissions to catalyze the actions and investments across the University from our operations to our occupants. University leadership has set an initial goal of a 30% absolute reduction in GHG from our 2005 baseline of 156,550 Metric tons CO2 equivalent and we have put in action several aggressive programs to achieve this goal.

1)      Alternative energy – Northwestern University has made a significant investment in clean, GHG free energy through the purchase of 74,000kWh annually of Green-E certified Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs), offsetting 30% of our purchased electricity. After assessing the various methods of generating or purchasing clean energy, the University selected RECs as the most effective investment based on our location’s poor solar regime and land constrained urban environment which makes on-site generation untenable. However the University did support the installation of a 16.8kW solar array in partnership with Engineers for a Sustainable World (ESW) as a demonstration project and to feed clean energy to our Ford Engineering labs.

2)      Energy Efficiency – Recognizing the poor return of onsite renewables, Northwestern has instead chosen to make significant investments in improving the efficiency of its buildings and of its central utility plants. Northwestern has committed over $40M as a part of the NERF (Northwestern Energy Retrofit Fund) to projects across our two campuses. This commitment to energy efficiency has decreased the amount of electricity purchased from the grid by almost 5% even as our square footage of occupied space has increased.

3)      Behavioral Change – Northwestern University’s has created a number of programs to engage students, faculty and staff to encourage behaviors that conserve energy in the classroom, offices and in on-campus residences. An example of this is Northwestern’s annual Green Cup, a one-month competition in on-campus residences, resulted in a reduction of 73,375 kWh of electricity and we have expanded programs to include our offices and administrative space.

As a result of these efforts, Northwestern is on track to achieve our 30% reduction goal by 2012 and our Sustainability Council will explore setting more aggressive targets, balancing our desire to demonstrate continued leadership with the addition of five major new facilities, during our planning process and the creation of our ten year Strategic Plan for Sustainability.

If you have any questions regarding Northwestern University's energy conservation policies, please email Facilities Management at

Summary of Northwestern University GHG emissions 

GHG emissions