University of Virginia Climate Goals - Frequently Asked Questions

What are UVA’s climate goals?

UVA will be carbon neutral by 2030 and fossil fuel free by 2050.  For more details on goals and progress, see the UVA sustainability website.

What is the difference between these goals?

Carbon Neutral:  All carbon emissions are mitigated to zero. 

Fossil Fuel Free:  No fossil fuels are used on Grounds to support UVA operations, including heating and cooling, electricity sources, and transportation.

What does UVA’s carbon neutrality goal include?

UVA’s carbon neutrality includes emissions related to the functional operation of the University. This best aligns with The Climate Registry’s Protocol and Operational Control Approach, which includes emission sources UVA has the authority to affect through operating policies and initiatives. UVA’s GHG emissions are generated from four distinct sources:  Fuel, Transportation, Electricity, and Operations Support. Fuel includes coal, natural gas, distillate oil, and propane used on Grounds. Transportation includes direct emissions from UVA-owned buses, fleet vehicles and jet.  Electricity emissions are the result of electricity purchased from the electrical grid.  Operations Support includes greenhouse gas emissions from fertilizer and refrigerants. 

In greenhouse gas inventory terms, this means that UVA’s carbon goal includes all emissions for Scope 1 (fuel, fleet transportation, fertilizer, and refrigerants) and Scope 2 (purchased electricity).

What are the boundaries for the goals?

The carbon neutrality and fossil fuel free goals include all UVA-owned properties in the vicinity of Main Grounds in City of Charlottesville and Albemarle County, which are both Academic and Health System properties (approximately 550 buildings).  These buildings use purchased electricity, both utility scale solar and non-renewable electricity and thermal energy provided from one of UVA’s heating or chilled water plants. UVA’s climate goal includes all Scope 1 and Scope 2 emissions within this boundary.

As UVA Real Estate Foundation properties contiguous to Main Grounds are acquired by UVA they are added to the inventory and considered growth.  UVA Real Estate Foundation, University Physicians Group, College at Wise, leased properties, and satellite properties are not currently included in the goal because they are either outside of UVA’s operational control or utility data is not available.

What about UVA’s Scope 3 greenhouse gas emissions?

UVA tracks Scope 3 greenhouse gas emissions such as faculty, staff, and student commuting, business air travel and study abroad travel are also tracked.  This inventory tracking continues to improve as more data over a broader scope continue to be collected.  As this information improves and becomes available, UVA is partnering with the City and the County to develop strategies to address those impacts.   For example, commuting is currently included in Albemarle County’s greenhouse gas inventory and strategies to reduce those emissions are addressed through a regional approach.

What about UVA’s properties that are not located in the Charlottesville area?

UVA is actively expanding data sets to develop a larger inventory.  As data availability increases for properties outside of the properties already included, UVA will seek to include additional owned North American properties in the GHG inventory, in alignment with Climate Registry Operational Control methodologies.  Though these properties aren’t currently calculated, emissions reductions strategies are still actively assessed and implemented when possible.

How are these goals calculated and how is progress assessed?

UVA’s greenhouse gas inventory is calculated each calendar year, measured against a 2010 baseline, using the web-based Sustainability Indicator Management & Analysis Platform (SIMAP) developed by the University of New Hampshire. The methodologies in this third-party tool are aligned with the recommendations of the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment (ACUPCC) guidance, which refers to The Climate Registry’s General Reporting Protocol and the World Resource Institutes’ Greenhouse Gas Protocol Corporate Accounting and Reporting Standard.  The calculation includes the metric ton of carbon dioxide equivalent for internationally-recognized greenhouse gases CO2, CH4, N20, and HFCs. For more detail see the annual UVA GHG Inventory reports.

What happens between now and 2030?

UVA will prioritize strategies which aggressively reduce carbon emissions.  By reducing our carbon footprint, we minimize the expenditure necessary for renewable energy credits and carbon offsets in 2030 and beyond.

What is the role of carbon offsets and RECs?

UVA is committed to meeting its GHG reduction goal by prioritizing internal emissions reductions and is examining the potential role of carbon offsets and RECs.  As 2030 approaches, UVA’s Committee on Sustainability will continue to evaluate GHG offset approaches aligned with the Second Nature Carbon Markets & Offsets principles. These principles “ensure that all offsets are of the highest quality as they (universities) make direct investments in carbon offsets or participate in voluntary carbon markets.” Second Nature’s guidance is used by over 600 colleges and universities.  Starting in 2030, if there are any unmitigated Scope 1 and Scope 2 emissions, UVA may need to purchase renewable energy credits or carbon offsets to achieve carbon neutrality for the emissions categories described in the goal boundary. In the meantime, UVA will not prioritize financial resources to purchase offsets.

Offsets cannot be used to meet the 2050 fossil fuel free goal.

What are the next steps and how can I get involved?

In 2020 UVA will develop a new climate action plan for these goals, including further analysis on energy sources, existing buildings, new construction, transportation, equity, engagement, and including working with UVA schools and business units, William & Mary, and with the city and county through Climate Action Together on specific strategies, particularly with a climate justice and equity focus.  Please contact sustainability@virginia.edu to share ideas or to get involved in the process and subscribe to the UVA Sustainability newsletter for updates.