Climate Action Plan

UofL is committed to reducing our net greenhouse gas emissions and achieving climate neutrality by 2050.

Carbon Commitment LogoThis work supports our CARDINAL principles: Community of Care, Accountability, Integrity & Transparency, Noble Purpose, Agility, and Leadership.

In 2008, UofL became a signatory to the American College & University Presidents’ Climate Commitment, which is now known simply as the Carbon Commitment. As a member of the Climate Leadership Network, the University of Louisville is committed to reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions with the ultimate goal of achieving carbon neutrality by 2050 at the latest.

After benchmarking our carbon footprint with our 2008 Greenhouse Gas Emissions Baseline Inventory, on September 15, 2010, UofL released its Climate Action Plan, a comprehensive roadmap for reducing our emissions down to net zero. A summary of the Plan and a link to the full document can be found here. The Sustainability Council coordinates UofL's Climate Action Planning as well as the reporting of our greenhouse gas emissions.

UofL Greenhouse Gas EmissionsOur efforts to implement our Climate Action Plan (CAP) continue to pay off. While we have made great strides in the last decade, our progress has stalled and without larger investments, we have not been able to achieve some of our key goals in the CAP, such as sourcing 20% of our energy from renewable sources by 2020. In fact, UofL’s renewable energy systems accounted for only 3.67% of our energy needs (excluding vehicle fuels) in 2020. Even with a 52% decrease in air travel, a 75% decrease in university-funded rental car mileage, and a 59% decrease in solid waste production due to the pandemic, UofL’s net emissions decreased only 3.5% from 2019 to 2020. While any reductions in emissions should be celebrated, the latest science on the global climate crisis suggests that we must take even more aggressive action to cut emissions if we are to avoid the worst effects of runaway climate change.

In May 2021, UofL released its 2020 Greenhouse Gas Emissions Report, which documents that, following several years of swift reduction in pollution, our emissions have essentially stabilized with little progress since 2017, when the Climate Action Plan implementation budget was slashed to a minimal operating level of $45,000/year (25% of historical funding levels). The good news is that we were able to exceed our first milestone goal of a 20% emissions reduction by 2020 from our 2008 baseline.

The lack of progress since 2017 is troubling, but it is not unfamiliar territory for UofL. We have been here before and we have righted our ship. In fact, we saw an increase in emissions from 2013 to 2015 and took action to reverse the trend. By continuing to invest in efficiency and behavior change, in 2016, the university was able to achieve a 15% reduction of carbon emissions in one year. This is a vital investment for the sake of our students’ futures, and, indeed, for our common future.

Per sq. ft.
of building space
Per Capita
(Students+Employees)
Per Operating
Budget Dollar
Emissions Reduction 2008-2020 49% 41% 45%

Given that the social cost of carbon is at least $40/ton of carbon emissions, UofL's emissions in 2020 were still responsible for no less than $5.7 million/year in damage to our planet and its people. It is not acceptable or in line with our CARDINAL principles to continue externalizing these costs and imposing such a debt on the future generations for whom UofL ought to be a source of hope and flourishing.

In 2020, we stood at an 35.35% reduction from the 2008 baseline. UofL decreased emissions by 77,261 metric tons of CO2 equivalent per year since 2008. According to the EPA's greenhouse gas equivalencies calculator, this translates to:

  • Taking 16,803 cars off the road, or over 194 million miles of driving, or 8.7 million gallons of gas burned;
  • 26,279 tons (or 3,754 garbage trucks) of waste recycled instead of landfilled;
  • Emissions from 9,304 average U.S. homes’ annual energy use;
  • 426 rail cars worth of coal burned;
  • Over 2.9 million incandescent lamps switched to LEDs; or the
  • Carbon sequestered by 94,658 acres of U.S. forests in one year (or 1.3 million tree seedlings grown for 10 years).

UofL Greenhouse Gas Emissions SourcesWhile this reduction is important and laudable, this is no time for complacency. Though the reductions to date are certainly worthy of note and should be celebrated, they still do not represent a steep enough decline to achieve our goal of climate neutrality by 2050. We must remain vigilant, committed, and willing to invest resources in order maintain our progress and to ensure a sustained effort toward our ultimate goal of climate neutrality by 2050. We must continue to invest in emissions reduction, to innovate solutions that work in our unique urban setting, and to prioritize efficiency, behavior change, transportation alternatives and renewable energy.

The most important steps that UofL needs to take in the near-term are:

  1. Invest in a new energy-savings performance contract for energy efficiency, renewable energy, and behavior change measures at the scale of our $52M 2009-2017 performance contract.
  2. Invest in large-scale renewable energy, both on-campus (as in an anaerobic biodigestor) and off-campus (as through a virtual power purchase agreement).
  3. Prevent a return to pre-pandemic levels of driving through a Transportation Demand Management Plan that incentivizes alternatives (including virtual), caps parking, and transitions UofL from subsidizing annual parking permits to market-rate, pay-per-use parking that subsidizes alternatives.

UofL Greenhouse Gas Emissions per capita

Kentucky colleges have lofty climate goals but struggle to cut greenhouse emissions (Courier-Journal, July 8, 2019)
University Of Louisville Falls Behind On Climate Change Goals (WFPL, July 2, 2019)
Carbon Commitment LogoCarbon Neutral (Sustain: A Journal of Environmental and Sustainability Issues, Issue 38, Spring/Summer 2018)
 - Shrinking Emissions & Expanding Minds at the University of Louisville, p. 16-25.
UofL study: Heat, health risks worsen by 2050 (Courier-Journal, Nov. 14, 2016)
Perspectives on Climate Change
(UofL Arts & Sciences, Oct. 2015)
UofL’s emissions down
(UofL Today, Jan. 27, 2014)
Interview: UofL energy report (WHAS-11 ABC TV, Mar. 18, 2014)
UofL Reports Reduction in Carbon Dioxide Emissions (WFPL, Jan. 24, 2014)
University of Louisville is on its way to carbon neutrality (Louisville Alternative Energy Examiner, January 31, 2012)

 For earlier trends, see our:

Climate Action Plan

UofL's target goals for university-wide reductions in greenhouse gas emissions from our 2008 benchmark estimate of 192,788 MT eCO2 are:

Goals

Timeframe

Reduction in net GHG emissions

Target maximum net GHG emissions

(MT CO2e)

Short Term

2010–2020

20%

154,230

Mid Term

2021–2030

40%

115,673

Long Term

2031–2050

100%

0

UofL's Path to Carbon Neutrality - Climate Action PlanOur plan for making progress toward climate neutrality is dynamic and multifaceted. We recognize that sustainability demands progress on multiple fronts and that lasting change cannot be achieved without coordinated efforts campus-wide. As such, we propose taking a variety of steps to lead UofL down a path toward climate neutrality with a focus on the following initiatives: green purchasing; energy conservation and efficiency; renewable energy; carbon sequestration; master planning; green building design; composting and horticultural practices; behavior change; recycling; transportation; food; and carbon offsets.

UofL employees & students are encouraged to offset emissions from university travel/business through a service such as Carbon Footprint Ltd, Native Energy, CarbonFund, or TerraPass.

A sample of projects from UofL's Climate Action Plan

Project

Estimated emissions reduction

(MT eCO2 per year)

Progress towards goal

(% reduction in GHG emissions from 2008 baseline)

20% renewable energy by 2020

22,284

11.5%

Implement phase 2 of energy savings performance contract on HSC & Shelby campuses

17,419

9%

Convert from coal to natural gas fuel at Belknap Steam & Chilled Water Plant

4,222

2.2%

Create dedicated bike lanes to connect campus to neighborhoods

3,283

1.7%

Increase fuel efficiency of the university fleet by 15%

136.3

0.7%

UofL's Climate Action Plan is designed to be a living document that we will continue to revisit and refine as we go through a four decade process of adaptive management on the road to climate neutrality. Engaging students, faculty, researchers, staff and the broader community in this process will be vital to its success and to our broader educational and research mission. This plan is a key element in our sustainability initiatives, and it involves many steps that will help us achieve our strategic goals as well as our climate commitment. It is also the right thing to do in a world of dwindling fossil fuel resources and worsening climate crisis.