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Op-Ed: University carbon emissions

Stanford is paving the way for college campuses to become more sustainable and environmentally friendly, yet the university neglects to address a large portion of its carbon emissions that are released beyond its borders.

We’re talking about Scope 3 carbon emissions. These emissions come from sources not directly controlled by Stanford but related to Stanford functions. This includes business air travel, commuter emissions, and purchased goods and services. There are a total of 15 categories of Scope 3 emissions, but Stanford currently only tracks two of these categories: business air travel and commuter emissions. The university does not presently have a plan to reduce or offset the 15 categories of Scope 3 emissions.

Business air travel and driving commuters accounted for over 47,000 metric tons of Stanford’s carbon dioxide emissions in 2018. In 2017, these two sources alone measured 38% of total carbon emissions Stanford accounted for.

Stanford historically sets an example with its sustainability initiatives. It established Stanford Energy Systems Innovation (SESI), which helped reduce campus emissions by 68% from peak levels. Just last year, Stanford committed to reaching 80% net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2025. It is ironic, nearly hypocritical, that we have an entire school dedicated to studying the Earth, yet we do not take all the necessary measures to reduce our climate impact and become a true institutional leader. As a top-tier university, we have the resources necessary to mitigate our Scope 3 emissions and set an example, but we are currently falling behind. Ignoring Scope 3 emissions prevents Stanford from taking a comprehensive approach to climate change mitigation.

In order to tackle this issue, Stanford must first conduct a more complete analysis of all 15 sources of Scope 3 emissions, such as investments, purchased good and services, waste generated in operations, and student air travel for personal and athletic purposes. The 15 recognized sources of Scope 3 emissions does not include student air travel, but Stanford should still measure these emissions, learning from schools like Barnard University.

The next step is reducing and offsetting these emissions. Stanford should implement a department fee on all domestic and international business-related flights — a program already in existence at the UCLA. Other universities also plan to address Scope 3 emissions, and Stanford can follow in their footsteps. For example, UC Berkeley, aims to achieve Scope 3 emissions neutrality by 2050, and Yale formed a Carbon Offsets Task Force in spring 2017 to guide the use of carbon offsets.

If Stanford wants to label itself a leader in sustainability, it must first catch up to other universities by addressing Scope 3 emissions. Right now, we are falling behind. Stanford won’t ever truly lead until it broadens its scope of climate action. Students for a Sustainable Stanford urges Stanford to pledge to reach net-zero Scope 3 greenhouse gas emissions by 2035. Further, we ask students to sign our petition in support of our pressures on the university to address Scope 3 emissions.

— Jayne Stevenson ’21 and Lindsay Filgas ’22

Contact Jayne Stevenson at jsteve ‘at’ stanford.edu. Contact Lindsay Filgas at ljfilgas ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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