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Understanding Northwestern's Carbon Footprint

Northwestern is committed to minimizing the University’s environmental footprint, and understanding the current impact is the first step in this process. An annual comprehensive greenhouse gas emissions inventory is developed to track the University’s emissions dating back to 2012. 

Northwestern calculated the emissions inventory with support from Sightlines, a consulting group that helped with data analysis and reporting using the Sustainability Indicator Management and Analysis Platform (SIMAP). The SIMAP carbon and nitrogen accounting calculator was developed by the University of New Hampshire to help institutions track their emissions and measure progress toward achieving campus sustainability goals.

Greenhouse gas emissions are divided into three categories, or scopes, based on the sources of the emissions.
  • Scope 1 includes direct emissions from sources that are owned or controlled by Northwestern. This scope includes emissions from the combustion of natural gas used for heating and cooling campus buildings.
  • Scope 2 emissions are indirect emissions from sources upstream from the University. This includes emissions associated with the generation of the electricity consumed on campus.
  • Scope 3 emissions come from sources that are not owned or directly controlled by Northwestern but are related to Northwestern activities. This includes emissions from commuting, business travel, and waste disposal.
Collecting the information to quantify the University’s greenhouse gas emission is truly a campus-wide effort. The data collection process takes several months and involves more than 15 different University departments. For example, the Study Abroad Office provided airline mileage, Procurement and Payment Services offered information on goods shipped to campus, the Transportation and Parking Office provided gas usage by campus shuttles. Thanks to these many contributors, it is possible to gather the data needed to complete the annual emissions inventory.

The University will utilize the results of the greenhouse gas emissions inventory to create a strategic approach to reducing emissions. Ongoing measurement will make it possible to evaluate the impact of our campus community efforts and adjust our strategies as needed until we reach our goal of zero net emissions by 2050.