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How Carbon Footprint Can Be Reduced Through Higher Education

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Reducing carbon footprint is one of the best responses to mitigate climate change. Carbon footprint is roughly defined as the amount of greenhouse gas emitted by an individual or population over a certain period of time. The greater the amount of greenhouse gas emissions, the worse it is for the environment. A higher education institution successfully demonstrates sustainability if it conducts direct reductions of on-campus emissions.

Carbon Management Hierarchy

A carbon management hierarchy is a great tool to use in planning for efforts in carbon footprint reduction. Academic literature has provided various examples about it. “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” is a waste reduction hierarchy. A carbon management hierarchy has similarities and it outlines broad categories of mitigation strategies. One of the common phrases is “Reduce what you can, Offset what you can’t.”

Efficiency and Conservation To Avoid or Reduce Emissions

The most cost-saving and low-cost efforts are through efficiency and conservation. Efficiency is improvements and enhancements to equipment and infrastructure viz technology. The benefit of efficiency work is that has a high return on investment and does not require great modifications in the behavior of a community. However, it does require a huge up-front capital in order to have savings over the lifespan of the project. A Green Revolving Fund can be used to solve this setback.

Conservation work is advantageous as these do not require large capital investments. It is not true to declare that this is a ‘no-cost’ work as it requires significant modifications in the behavior of the community. Significant shifts in behavior need to be addressed by investing time in outreach and education of the staff as well as those new students and existing students.

Switching To Renewable (Zero Carbon) Sources of Energy

It requires significant advanced planning when colleges and universities shift to low-carbon sources of energy. It is best to work through these changes by coinciding with the termination of existing campus energy infrastructure. Campuses can employ additional strategies by using accumulated revenues generated from lower-cost efficiency efforts to fund larger projects as components of a Green Revolving Fund (GRF). Another is to use the sale of Renewable Energy Credits (RECs) from the project for a set time span to reduce project costs.

Offset or Sequester Remaining Emissions

Carbon offsets are reaching the goal of reducing emission. In simplest terms, it is helping another decrease their GHG emission because it is more cost efficient than to reduce the same amount of GHG at the home institution.

GHG emissions are not geographically centered as these are easily dispersed around the globe. Thus, these emissions have a global cumulative impact. Offsetting has been considered as mitigation mechanism as it is cost-effective to help another offset the reduction of GHG compared to one’s own backyard.

This concept is highly criticized. Different advocates for the environment argue that it is a must that each organization must reduce their GHG emissions directly. They fight out that it is not just right to buy out one’s GHG emissions by just helping another reduce their own GHG emission.


Carbon footprint is a great measure of how a person or a community contributes to global warming and climate change. Higher education institutions, just like any other organization, have great potential in helping in the fight against this impending global catastrophe by doing their share in combating through reduction of their GHG emissions.

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