The Vassar College Board of Trustees in October 2019 declared their support for a $13 million energy efficiency project of major renovations and upgrades to the college’s heating system as well as other energy-saving projects. This was affirmed through further approval to issue bonds to support the project cost.
The renewable fuel oil (RFO) that Vassar plans to use is a biofuel derived from sawdust and tree trimmings from commercial timber operations, according to the Vassar College website. Instead of leaving these byproducts to release their embedded carbon through decomposition, the RFO process is able to convert the byproducts into an alternative to fossil fuels. While these still emit carbon dioxide through combustion, the net carbon footprint is considered significantly lower than alternatives like natural gas.
These byproducts come from trees in commercially managed plots, most of which meet Sustainable Forestry Initiative (or equivalent) standards. No clear-cut logging or other unsustainable logging practices can be used in the production of this fuel, per dictate of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Vassar’s finalized 2020 Climate Action Plan (CAP) outlines goals to bring Vassar closer to a climate-positive future. The Full Climate Action Plan can be downloaded here.
Over 200 students, faculty, staff, and administrators contributed their voice to the Climate Action Plan. The recommendations in the CAP touch on all aspects of Vassar’s operations, from how the College heats its buildings to how it treats its natural areas. Specific goals for Vassar included in the Climate Action Plan include:
A 40% reduction in combustion-based heating
A 25% reduction in waste sent to the landfill
A 20% reduction in emissions from campus fleet vehicles
Over 750 acres covered by Restorative Land Management Guidelines
Ultimately, implementing the Climate Action Plan will reduce Vassar’s carbon footprint by another 2,050 metric tons above and beyond the 10,200 reduced by the energy efficiency improvements already underway. By 2025, Vassar will emit less than 5,000 metric tons of greenhouse gas – less than a sixth of its 2005 baseline emissions. It also lays the foundation for Vassar to ultimately sequester more carbon than it emits, going beyond carbon-neutral to become climate-positive. Vassar’s sustainability journey is illustrated below:
For transparency and accountability, the Office of Sustainability has launched a dashboard to allow for ongoing tracking of progress toward all the goals and action steps outlined in the full Climate Action Plan. The Climate Action Plan Dashboard can be found here.
Vassar currently emits about 17,000 metric tons of greenhouse gases (GHG) each year. This is a significant reduction from our baseline year of 2005, when we emitted 30,550 metric tons. Most of the reductions we’ve achieved so far have come from incremental efforts like switching from fuel oil to natural gas for heating, building limited on-site solar, and purchasing greener electricity as the New York State Grid goes more renewable
Vassar’s Three-Year Partial Decarbonization Plan
In brief, Vassar will undertake a combination of facility upgrades for energy efficiency (including LED lighting), a conversion of our primary central boilers from burning natural gas to burning renewable fuel oil, and a switch to 100 percent renewable purchased electricity. Work on these projects is un
With the plan as endorsed by the trustees, our carbon footprint will fall another 10,200 metric tons per year to roughly 6,850 metric tons. This will leave about half of our emissions as lingering facility-based emissions and half coming from sources like travel and commuting. Current plans for decarbonizing facilities include the phased conversion of buildings to alternative heating technologies like geothermal, air-source, and solar-thermal heating combined with electrified systems using 100 percent renewable energy. These efforts are codified in both the 2020 Climate Action Plan and the Green Building Guidelines and are an integral part of all efforts moving forward.