Washington University in St. Louis has set an ambitious goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020 through on-site energy conservation, representing a reduction of 51,300 metric tons of CO2.

In 2010, the university set a goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020 without purchasing carbon offsets. Five years into this effort, we updated the goal to make it even more ambitious. Our new goal is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020 including all campus growth, which requires reducing emissions by 51,300 metric tons of CO2 by 2020. This new goal nearly doubles the reduction required by the previous goal.

As of July 2015, we are 14 percent of the way to meeting our new goal. We continue to identify and invest in projects that provide a positive financial return and help us further reduce energy use and emissions.

The university has been very successful in its campaign to reduce energy use over the last 25 years, with energy use remaining flat despite a near doubling of building square footage from 1990 through 2015. With the updated 2020 goal, we are sharpening our focus on reducing carbon emissions. Our experiences to date have demonstrated that projects that result in energy and cost savings do not always reduce carbon emissions due to different levels of emissions from different energy sources. For example, the grid electricity in our region is among the most carbon intensive in the entire US, and projects that reduce overall energy use, measured in British thermal units (Btu), through high-efficiency electrically-powered equipment may actually increase our emissions.

One way to address such a concern would be to procure lower-carbon electricity. Since WashU is located in a regulated utility market, we are unable to procure lower-carbon electricity sources. Moving forward, emissions reduction will be an explicit focus of decision-making to ensure projects contribute to our greenhouse gas reduction goal in both the short-term and long-term.