College Hits Goal for Being Carbon Neutral in 2020

Nathaniel McCloud ’23, Associate News Editor

Dickinson College is net carbon neutral in 2020 after over a decade of work. The college first agreed to go Carbon Neutral in 2008 and created the first climate action plan in 2009. Dickinson College is joining just six colleges who were carbon neutral before 2020. Seven other schools are also becoming carbon neutral this year, such as American University, according to the Dickinson College website. 

Dickinson College was one of the first 20 colleges to sign the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment in 2008, which is often called the Carbon Commitment. With the agreement the college targeted a 25 percent reduction in emissions by the 2019-2020 fiscal year and uses offsets to cover the other 75 percent reduction. Moving forward the college will look to reduce the amount of carbon offsets while remaining carbon neutral, said Neil Leary, Director of the Center for Sustainability Education.

“The progress has been up and down,” said Leary. The biggest challenge for the college has been a 10 percent increase in the total square footage of Dickinson facilities. According to Ken Shultes, associate vice president for facilities and sustainability planning, that was especially challenging because some of the buildings that were built are the most energy intensive on campus, like Rector Complex, the Greenhouse at Kaufmann Hall, and the Kline Center. Shultes said that it was important that the colleges agreed to meet the neutrality goals despite any increases in facilities because “it forces campuses to add buildings that are efficient.”

While the College has made serious investment into sustainability, often it is cost-effective to adopt sustainable policies. Shultes noted that 70 percent of the college’s emissions came from the use of electricity and natural gas. “We can save money and reduce emissions,” he said.

One of the largest efforts was the move to switch to LED lights across campus. “We did a blitz of the whole campus,” Shultes said. Though the LED lights cost more than traditional bulbs, the electricity savings were over $150,000 per year. “It’s not like it’s a one-time savings,” Leary said, “That project has a 15-year window [for return on investment].” 

They’ve also upgraded the insulation of the small houses to keep the temperature more consistent. Efforts like that are important, even though “that’s something people think about as boring,” Shultes said

While hitting the initial goal of carbon neutrality has been the focus for the college, Leary said that “there is more we can do and more we will do.” The major effort over the next decade will be to “try to reverse that ratio so we are offsetting only 25 percent,” said Shultes. “Offsets are the least favorable way to getting our targets,” Shultes added, “but they play an important role in our climate action.” 

Other upcoming projects include a further look at the rooftops of buildings to see where the college could install solar panels. A group of Pennsylvania colleges have also joined a virtual power purchasing agreement. When Drayer Hall is renovated in 2022, the college will put in “very efficient and sustainable utilities,” Shultes said.  Willow Huppert ’20, who is a sustainability fellow, said that she is working on training students as carbon neutrality student ambassadors with Teressa Healy ’20. “It’s more complicated than ‘we’re emitting nothing,’” Huppert said.  

The Center Sustainability will also be running an Eco Challenge starting on April 3 where students can compete against other students at other colleges to adopt sustainable behaviors. The challenge is three weeks long, and the results will be announced on Earth Day, April 22.

“The Borough [of Carlisle] is looking at developing a climate action plan,” Leary said, and noted that he and students will be working with the Borough to develop the plan. Cumberland County has also expressed interest in developing a climate action plan. 

Shultes said that it is “great for our students to be at a college that’s taking it seriously – not just making a commitment but making sustainability a part of the curriculum.” He feels that the most important part of Dickinson’s climate efforts is helping educate “students going out into their communities, into their businesses, into their houses.” Sustainability “is a skillset that they will have to have.” 

 “I feel like that’s a marketing ploy. As much as their dedicated to the proposition of becoming carbon neutral, I really don’t think that’s true,” said Mia Romano ’22