Sustainability & Climate Action Plan

The Plan

The Office of Sustainability is currently developing the University’s first ever institutional Sustainability & Climate Action Plan, which will be released in 2021. When paired with the University’s Strategic Plan and Campus Master Plan, the Sustainability & Climate Action Plan will work synergistically to enhance the operational sustainability of the University, while also fostering a culture of environmental awareness and appreciation. The Plan will align with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals and will integrate metrics from the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education’s (AASHE) Sustainability Tracking, Assessment and Rating System (STARS) framework. The Sustainable Development Goals provide a path forward for addressing global and local challenges such as poverty, inequality, climate change and environmental degradation, with the goal of making significant progress toward all goals by 2030. The STARS framework is a methodology that colleges and universities around the world can use to capture the full spectrum of their sustainability activities and measure advancements over time and across institutions. Beyond integrating with the SDGs and STARS, two very valuable and widely recognized international efforts, the Plan will also include comprehensive internal initiatives across the University’s research, academic, and operational sectors.

The Office of Sustainability believes that the Sustainability & Climate Action Plan is a critically important tool to assist the University of Arizona in reducing its greenhouse gas emissions while advancing progress in other sustainability metrics in a cost-effective yet robust way. Such a plan will offer a clear path forward toward carbon neutrality and broader sustainability, with incremental goals and many opportunities to celebrate advancements and progress along the way. We intend to engage a sizeable cross-section of campus to gain input and feedback on our action planning process and various drafts of the plan. Please keep an eye out for opportunities to get involved in this planning process, if you are interested.

Stay tuned to this page, as our finalized Sustainability & Climate Action Plan will be published here once complete.

What is Climate Neutrality, and What Are Scope Emissions?

First, allow us to distinguish between carbon neutrality and climate neutrality. These are similar but distinct concepts. According to the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP 21), these are defined as follows:

  • Carbon neutrality means zero net anthropogenic (human caused or influenced) carbon dioxide emissions - or, neutrality - achieved by a certain date. Thus, carbon neutrality is attained when every ton of anthropogenic carbon dioxide, or CO2, emitted is compensated for with an equivalent amount of carbon dioxide being removed (e.g. via carbon sequestration).
  • Climate neutrality is the same concept as carbon neutrality, but rather than solely focusing on carbon dioxide emissions, it extends to zero net anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions (i.e. including emissions beyond just carbon dioxide).

The University of Arizona monitors both its carbon and climate footprints as we work toward our neutrality goals. One way we track the increases and decreases in campus energy and resource use over time is through the University’s Greenhouse Gas Inventory. Greenhouse gases are gases that trap heat in the atmosphere, thus contributing to global warming and, as a result, climate change.

Carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and fluorinated gases such as hydrofluorocarbons and halons are the primary greenhouse gases of concern. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the three critical measures that determine the harmful impacts of greenhouse gases are the length of time the gas remains in the atmosphere, the atmospheric concentration of the gas, and the amount of energy the gas can absorb (the more energy absorbed, the more detrimental warming effect the gas has). Generally, greenhouse gas emissions are categorized into three “scopes”, depending on the source from which they are produced, described below.

Scope 1 GHG emissions

Direct emissions from sources that are owned or controlled by an organization. These include on-site fossil fuel combustion and fleet fuel consumption.

Scope 2 GHG emissions

Indirect emissions from sources that are owned or controlled by an organization. These include emissions from the generation of electricity, heat, or steam purchased by an organization from a utility provider.

Scope 3 GHG emissions

Indirect emissions from sources not owned or directly controlled by an organization, but related to the organization’s activities. Scope three emissions include emissions from employee travel, including air travel and daily commuting, as well as waste disposal, wastewater treatment, the embodied GHG emissions of purchased products, and more.

Many large corporations and institutions of higher education now track and report transparently on the emissions generated from their direct operations, and most are beginning to now account for scope three emissions as well. The University’s Facilities Management department leads the development and publication of the institution’s full inventory of greenhouse gases, in close partnership with the Office of Sustainability, Financial Services, Parking & Transportation Services, and other departments on campus. These departments participate in a collaborative effort to aggregate and analyze all of the necessary data for the Greenhouse Gas Report, which is published annually. The most recent report for FY 2015 - 2019 can be accessed below. The FY 2020 Greenhouse Gas Report is in progress and should be finalized in Spring 2021.

FY 19 Executive Summary

Second Nature and Our Commitment to Climate Neutrality

Second Nature is a non-profit institution committed to advancing climate action in, and through, higher education. The organization offers a wealth of resources for colleges and universities, including information on carbon offsets and tools for climate action planning. One of Second Nature’s central goals is to achieve a 50% decarbonization of the U.S. economy by the year 2030, primarily through the activation of more colleges and universities as climate leaders.

The University of Arizona has been working extensively with Second Nature to advance its climate adaptation and mitigation efforts. In 2018, under the University Strategic Plan, the University moved up its climate neutrality goal date from 2050 to 2040, understanding the need to lead in the promotion of a climate neutral economy. The University also set a goal of reducing its scope two emissions by 100% by 2025, a goal that will be achieved on January 1, 2021 through the large-scale renewable energy agreement with Tucson Electric Power.

The University has a long history of engagement in sustainability initiatives, and first demonstrated its commitment to building a more sustainable future by becoming one of the charter signatories of the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment (ACUPCC) in 2007. In 2015, Second Nature launched a new set of Presidents’ Climate Leadership Commitments for higher education institutions, offering the Carbon Commitment (formerly the ACUPCC), the Resilience Commitment, and the Climate Commitment, a combination of the former two commitments. Maintaining and expanding upon our original commitment, the University of Arizona became one of 93 charter signatories of those new commitments by then signing Second Nature’s Climate Commitment, pledging that the University would not only reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2050, but also would integrate climate resiliency in partnership with the Tucson community, positioning the University to be a profound and dynamic force in southern Arizona with relation to climate change education, research, and preparedness. Under the 2018 Strategic Plan, the University of Arizona moved its climate neutrality goal date up from 2050 to 2040.

In tandem with the University’s recent UC3 efforts, President Robert Robbins also joined Second Nature’s President’s Climate Leadership Steering Committee. The Committee is composed of high-level university and college administrators, including chancellors, presidents, provosts, and CFOs, and is the chief oversight body of the Presidents’ Climate Leadership Commitments, responsible for advising on its policy and direction. In this capacity, Dr. Robbins represents and elevates the voice of the University of Arizona, while providing leadership and advocacy to address the global climate crisis.