Cornell Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Measuring our progress towards carbon neutrality by 2035

About the Inventory

Cornell University measures emissions in line with the Second Nature Carbon Commitment which uses the GHG Protocol developed by the World Resources Institute. The University measures emissions from the Ithaca campus. Cornell is committed to achieving carbon neutrality by 2035.

For consistency in reporting, GHG emissions are reported in the following three categories for our ongoing emissions inventory in comparison with our peers:

  1. Direct and fugitive emissions including on-campus electrical generation, heating, cooling, and fleet vehicles.
  2. Indirect emissions occurring as a result of purchased electricity consumption.
  3. Indirect emissions occurring as a consequence of an entity's activities, including emissions from employee and student commuting, and air travel paid for by the institution.

For full details and to compare Cornell's progress with other campuses working towards neutrality, visit the Second Nature Reporting System.

FY 2016 Greenhouse Gas Emissions

In our most recent inventory, emissions were estimated at 212,000 metric tons of CO2-equivalent (CO2-e), making our progress a 33% reduction towards the carbon neutrality goal when compared to our original 2008 baseline of 319,000 metric tons CO2-e. This significant reduction is the result of many initiatives and the work of hundreds of people across campus to create a culture of sustainability. Some key initiatives include: 

Figure 1: Cornell University Ithaca Campus Greenhouse Gas Inventory

Published 12.13.17

Ithaca Campus GHG Inventory

MT CO2e Units 2008 2016 Change in Emissions
On-Site Fossil Fuel Combustion
176,700 175,600 (1,100)
Purchased Electricity 87,000 5,000 (82,000)
Commuting(2) 29,000 28,100 (900)
Air Travel 27,000 30,500 3,500
Exported Electric - (25,900) (25,900)
Solar PV Remote Net Metering - (600) (600)
Totals 319,700 212,700

(107,000) decrease

Notes: Cornell's fiscal year is from July 1 to June 30th of the following year (2) projected based on 2006 commuting mode survey and 2016 population adjusted for exported electric

New Upstream Accounting

Cornell University recently introduced a new area of greenhouse gas measurement from the impact of purchasing natural gas, and related "upstream" methane leakage that occurs during the extraction of natural gas, and from pipeline distribution. Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas. Details on this protocol are outlined in the 2016 Options for a Carbon Neutral Campus Report. Cornell has adopted methane leakage as a "shadow inventory," as has our surrounding Tompkins County, and will continue to separately measure these and other emerging indirect or 'scope 3' emisisons.

Figure 2: Cornell University Greenhouse Gas Inventory with Scope 3 Upstream Methane Emissions from Natural Gas

Published 12.13.17

When we fully account for these new, additional sources, we further underscore what we have known for years – that we must transition as quickly as possible away from fossil fuels, as the additional shadow footprint this illuminates adds well over 600,000 MT of co2e.

Regardless, our ultimate goal is to reach carbon neutrality by 2035, and power the campus with 100% renewable energy in that same time frame. We will continue to aggressively pursue those goals through Earth Source Heat, efficiency projects, wind, water and solar power procurement, and with your help engaging in living laboratory research and helping change behavior to create a sustainable culture on campus.