To create a more sustainable campus and confront what scientists have declared an increasingly dire threat posed by global climate change, Brown University has set an aggressive goal to cut its campus greenhouse gas emissions by 75 percent by 2025 and to achieve net-zero no later than 2040.

In February 2019, the Corporation of Brown University approved the goals based on the strength of a phased plan that reflects the technical and financial realities of global energy markets, while also ensuring the flexibility demanded to respond to changes in technology and energy prices over the next two decades. The goals arose from the efforts of a series of committees charged by President Christina Paxson as Brown moved toward the successful fulfillment of a commitment made in 2008 to cut emissions nearly in half from 2007 levels by 2020. 

The scientific community has warned that, in order to have a reasonable chance of averting catastrophic climate change, the global community must reduce emissions of greenhouse gases to near zero in the next 30 to 40 years. Many environmentalists and climatologists believe that institutions in wealthy countries should lead the way. In 2017, as part of that recognition, President Paxson charged three committees to explore ways to lower Brown’s carbon emissions:

  • The first committee, the Transition to Renewable Sources for Electricity Committee, chaired by Stephen Porder, associate provost for sustainability, began and concluded work in fall 2017. The committee explored how to source Brown’s electricity from renewable sources and, in January 2019, announced new solar and wind projects the University is undertaking that are expected to offset 100 percent of Brown’s on-campus electricity use. 
     
  • The second committee, the Longer-Term Sustainability Study Committee, began work in fall 2017 and concluded in spring 2018. This committee, chaired by Porder and Leah VanWey, associate provost for academic space, conducted a larger-scale campus study to assess pathways toward net-zero carbon emissions. As a result of the committee’s work, in February 2019 Brown announced the aggressive goal to cut its campus greenhouse gas emissions by 75 percent by 2025, and to achieve net-zero no later than 2040. 
     
  • Finally, in response to a proposal from the Advisory Council on Corporate Responsibility in Investment Policy (ACCRIP), the President convened the third committee, the Climate Change and Business and Investment Practices Task Force, chaired by Amanda Lynch, director of the Institute at Brown for Environment and Society, and Ed Steinfeld, director of the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs. This task force worked during the 2017-18 academic year and came to preliminary internal recommendations on responsible investing and procurement decisions, such as those related to purchasing. 

To further study and thoroughly account for campus carbon emissions, in fall 2018 the president charged a new group, Brown’s Committee on Indirect Greenhouse Gas Emissions (Scope 3). Chaired by Porder, the committee has examined how Brown can accurately measure and quantify Brown’s indirect emissions resulting from purchased goods and services; student, faculty and staff travel and commuting; leased assets, etc.  

With its pledge to reach net-zero, and with a plan that is ambitious, yet technically and financially feasible, Brown seeks to be a leader in addressing a defining challenge of the 21st century.