Lafayette College’s Climate Action Plan 2.0 proposes achieving carbon neutrality by or before 2035. It is a continuation of the College’s ongoing commitment to academic excellence and social responsibility. In January 2008, College President Dan Weiss signed the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment (ACUPCC), which initiated the College’s commitment to eventually achieve carbon neutrality. To track progress toward the goals set out in the first version of the Climate Action Plan (CAP), the College agreed to conduct an annual inventory of its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and re-evaluate its CAP every five years. This updated plan is a product of the most recent evaluation of the College’s CAP and process.
Achieving carbon neutrality is an ambitious goal, but Lafayette’s unique identity as a small liberal arts college with a robust engineering division makes the College enormously well-situated to become a recognized leader in campus sustainability. Having a strong Climate Action Plan will play an integral role in establishing Lafayette’s reputation as a forward-thinking, enterprising leader in higher education.
A Lafayette education provides rigorous academic preparation and research training within an environment that cultivates original, creative thinkers who have an understanding of the broad cultural, political, and social influences that shape our world. This is vital because the problems of the future will not be solved by individuals in isolated disciplinary silos. Environmental challenges will require collaboration among teams of people with different expertise. Having a robust Climate Action Plan not only provides strong affirmation of the College’s articulated commitment to sustainability. It also provides a wealth of educational opportunities. The projects and initiatives proposed in the plan will bring students, faculty, and staff together to use the campus and surrounding community as a living laboratory, to explore and test new models of sustainable systems. In this way, the CAP will enhance the Lafayette educational experience, giving students the knowledge, skills, and confidence to help solve environmental challenges of the future.
Integrating sustainability into the curriculum, operations, and culture of Lafayette and demonstrating best practices to our students, neighbors, and future prospects isn’t just the right thing to do. It’s the strategic thing to do. Many of our peers have already recognized the benefits and opportunities of leadership in this sphere. Colby, Colgate, Bowdoin, Dickinson, Hobart & William Smith, Bucknell, Gettysburg, and Middlebury, for example, have already achieved carbon neutrality or are on the path to do so in the near future. Joining this collective effort will enable us to remain competitive in the ever-shifting landscape of higher education and also build upon Lafayette’s legacy of integrating academic excellence with social responsibility.
Since the College drafted its inaugural CAP, Lafayette has made significant strides. We have reduced our emissions by more than 20 percent—even as the College has expanded enrollment, programming, and building spaces. We have formally embraced our commitment by declaring sustainability one of Lafayette’s three core institutional values, by establishing an Office of Sustainability, and by signing the “We’re Still in Pledge” in support of climate action to meet the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement. We have enhanced our curriculum by creating degree programs in Environmental Studies and Environmental Science and positioning sustainability as a core theme in our classrooms. In 2018, the faculty approved an academic plan that identified “environment and sustainability” as one of six key focal areas. We have engaged our community by actively working with several student-led campus groups who promote environmental responsibility and demonstrate best practices to their peers in an effort to foster an ethos of sustainability on Lafayette’s campus.
A Call to Action
Lafayette’s Climate Action Plan 2.0 is designed to serve as the framework for the College’s ongoing efforts to reach carbon neutrality by 2035. Through climate action planning, we aspire to use our campus as a living laboratory that enables transformational learning experiences for our students and teaches them to live within environmental bounds. The following is a brief overview of the key elements of the proposed Climate Action Plan.
Reach Carbon Neutrality by 2035: This updated Climate Action Plan provides a road map for reaching carbon neutrality by 2035, with an emphasis on the initial steps for implementation. In addition to annual greenhouse gas reporting, the College will continually invest in and assess progress toward carbon neutrality and also update the Climate Action Plan every five years.
Phase 1: Immediate Opportunities for 2019-2020
Reduce Energy Emissions: While reaching carbon neutrality is a long-term goal that will require a consistent commitment through 2035 and beyond, we have an immediate opportunity to make a significant change to our carbon footprint by reducing our heating and electric energy consumption through efficiency and conservation. Through these projects, from optimizing or replacing existing HVAC systems to installing occupancy sensors, Lafayette can reduce carbon emissions while saving money.
Establish a Green Revolving Fund: Making an initial investment in tools and resources with quick payback periods will enable Lafayette to reduce energy use on campus. That energy savings—and its resulting cost savings—can enable the College to create a green revolving fund to provide capital for projects that reduce the College’s environmental impact and operational costs. So called “green revolving funds” are well-established at many institutions. As a number of our peers have done, including Penn, Bucknell, and Cornell, we propose the establishment of a green revolving fund that will allow us to undertake higher-cost capital projects that will be crucial to achieving our goal of carbon neutrality (i.e., Phases 2 and 3 below).
Investigate Renewable Energy Options: Though many emissions can be avoided with energy efficiency, energy conservation, and on-site use of renewable energy sources, a portion of the College’s emissions from purchased electricity could be addressed through partnering with other local educational institutions to enable construction of a large-scale off-campus renewable energy project like solar, wind, or small-scale hydroelectric. Teaming with other local colleges or universities would allow the College to take advantage of economies of scale for purchasing components like solar panels and to share costs for retaining a renewable energy advisory firm. In the near term, the College would like to partner with Lehigh Valley Association of Independent Colleges (LVAIC) institutions to investigate options for purchasing off-site renewable energy that, if implemented in the near term, would allow the College to capitalize on existing but soon-to-expire incentive programs. In vetting renewable energy projects, projects should clearly add additional renewable energy capacity to the grid. Ideally, these projects should be local enough to provide curricular benefits.
Secure Financial Support: The success of these initiatives is dependent on financial support. External funding assistance, including grants, incentives, and donations, can be explored to offset costs. Lafayette’s Office of Development will be a key strategic partner in this effort. The Office of Sustainability plans to collaborate with the Office of Development to identify possible fundraising opportunities related to sustainability initiatives in capital projects and across campus.
Phase 2: Recommendations for 2021-2025
Achieve Carbon Neutrality at Metzgar Fields Athletic Complex: Because of the significantly higher cost of electricity at the Metzgar Field complex relative to the main campus, the College has a unique opportunity to achieve on-site carbon neutrality at the athletic complex site in Forks Township. By installing a solar array sized to match the annual electricity consumption at Metzgar Fields and planting and maintaining a forest on a portion of the surrounding farmland to offset emissions from on-site heating loads, we can rapidly achieve a carbon neutral athletic complex at a modest cost. A solar- powered and afforested Metzgar would be an early and highly visible symbol of Lafayette’s emergence as a sustainability leader while also providing students and educators with firsthand access and ongoing exposure to a living laboratory for sustainability.
Enhance Visibility and Emissions Reductions through On-Site Solar: Lafayette can reduce emissions from purchased electricity by producing electricity with on-site solar arrays. Small solar projects in locations like Allan P. Kirby Sports Center or Buck Hall would provide a visible sign of the College’s commitment to sustainability and a host of curricular benefits.
Phase 3: Recommendations for 2026-2035
Transform Campus Heat and Hot Water Generation: Lafayette can maximize emissions reductions from on-site combustion of fossil fuels by making several key improvements to campus infrastructure. The Office of Sustainability will partner with academic departments to research, analyze, and recommend strategies for achieving carbon-neutral on-campus heat and hot-water generation. Infrastructure changes, including installing a combined heat and power plant to boost efficiency, changing the steam plant energy source to a biogenic carbon-neutral fuel, and converting from steam to a more energy- efficient hot-water district heating system, would enable the College to dramatically reduce or even eliminate emissions from on-site fossil fuel combustion.
Partner with Others to Offset Remaining Emissions: As noted above, some of the College’s emissions will need to be addressed through carbon offsets. We plan to partner with institutions throughout the Lehigh Valley to implement carbon sequestration offset projects. We want to prioritize offsets that come from the development of sustainable energy projects or carbon sequestration projects. In addition, all offset projects must depend on the College’s participation to occur and be local enough to contribute to the educational mission of the College.
Lafayette College’s unwavering commitment to excellence has made it an outstanding undergraduate institution that attracts talented, high-achieving students, faculty, and staff. The College’s efforts to build upon that reputation and position it for future success were at the heart of the recently concluded Live Connected Lead Change campaign—and the Climate Action Plan. Climate action planning puts the mission and goals of the campaign into action. The steps outlined in the plan will advance our aspirations to lead in innovative teaching and learning, promote interdisciplinary connections, be environmentally responsible, and prepare our students to confront challenges they will face as citizens of the world. It also will enable us to remain competitive among our peers, many of whom have already achieved carbon neutrality or are on the path to do so. By leveraging the strengths of the College–rigorous academics, experiential learning opportunities, collaborative work–and positioning the College as an environmental leader, climate action planning embodies living connected to lead change. This is an opportunity to solidify the College’s legacy as an institution of excellence where academic excellence and social responsibility are intertwined, and ensure our students graduate with the knowledge, experience, and passion to be tomorrow’s leaders.