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Meeting to discuss Carbon Offsets

Posted by Stacy Gloss on November 18, 2021


Present: Morgan White, Meredith More, Eric Green, Tony Mancuso, Stacy Gloss

Gloss provided an overview of the local carbon offset objective as described in the iCAP. There was discussion that there are two sides to the issue. 1. The funding mechanism. 2. What projects are funded by off-setting faculty & staff travel impacts?

The team was asked to review the carbon offset programs by the University of California System and Duke University as two different models. The first is a campus-system internal model where funds are used to develop projects on campuses throughout the system. A university-system advisory board receives applications for projects and approves the projects that meet program requirements.  The Duke carbon offset initiative involves a portfolio of offsets including a methane capture waste-to-energy at an industrial farm,  urban tree planting program, avoided conversion, wetland restoration, and a pilot program for residential energy efficiency piloted in 2012 --- these programs happen off-campus.

We agreed that there is an economies-of-scale issue with local off-sets to overcome. For local-community-based projects, the cost per off-set is going to be higher than aggregating funds into one industrial scale project or program. An carbon-off-set company, for example, might contact a city and offer $1.00 per tree for off-sets, but it costs over $400 to install and maintain a tree.  (A program like this appears to generate a very small added value to the paid organization.)

U of I campus renewable energy & energy efficiency projects can be tracked by the campus energy office. For community off-sets, an agency (university or otherwise) would need to set up a mechanism to collect and distribute funds for community-based projects, perhaps through a non-for-profit interface. Projects can include urban tree-planting, renewable energy, energy efficiency, prairie restoration etc. 3rd party verification is needed.

As a next step, this team and others must define "local" in "local offset program" in order to meet this objective in the iCAP. Is the program going to be internal to campus, or include the local community as recipients of funds community projects?

This team must also interpret what the iCAP is saying to off-set. 

  • Annual business air-travel by faculty & staff? 
  • Vehicle miles driven by faculty & staff on University business?
  • All electricity & heat generated by carbon sources for the University of Illinois?

These questions are fundamental to designing and implementing a local-carbon-offset program.