Lawrence resolves to be carbon neutral by 2035, planning begins

The Carbon Neutral Resolution, aiming to have Lawrence completely eliminate carbon emissions by 2035, was approved by Lawrence University Community Council (LUCC) on Oct. 6. Currently, the Sustainability Steering Committee is reviewing the resolution and will be passing its recommendations regarding the next step to President Laurie Carter in the next few weeks, according to Relena Ribbons, Assistant Professor of Geosciences and the co-chair of the Sustainability Steering Committee. 

The Carbon Neutral Resolution states that by 2035, Lawrence will become a net zero campus, which produces enough renewable energy, such as geothermal or hydro power, to meet its own energy consumption needs and delivers a less or equal amount of energy to the on-site renewable exported energy.  

In addition, according to the resolution, LUCC will ask President Carter to charge the Sustainability Steering Committee with developing a carbon neutrality plan and presenting the plan to the Board of Trustees, with the support of the President and the President’s cabinet, by the end of the next academic year.  

In the next few weeks, the Sustainability Steering Committee will continue discussions on the Carbon Neutral Resolution until the committee reaches more than half of the members in agreement, said Ribbons.  

As it is for now, the committee needs to gather and disseminate information, such as the greenhouse gas budget created for various buildings on campus and other facts, to determine what it looks like for Lawrence to become carbon neutral, according to Ribbons.  

The committee will also need to engage in fact-finding, Ribbons said, such as feasibility studies for specific areas where Lawrence can take steps towards carbon neutrality and how to maintain carbon neutrality as a priority while also considering the logistics of putting a carbon neutrality plan into action. 

There are many things to consider in achieving carbon neutrality by 2035, Ribbons said; it requires understanding of the longer time scale of planning on campus, in areas such as routine building management and facility operations, budgetary concerns, financial planning and other constituencies, that all need to function together.  

The idea for the Carbon Neutral Resolution is the result of a collaboration between students, staff and faculty. During this academic year, the Sustainability Steering Committee proposed the idea to President Carter, according to Sustainability and Special Projects Fellow Grace Subat. In the past, Subat said, President Carter had signed the Second Nature Climate Commitment, a collective action taken by the president or chancellor of colleges and universities to pursue carbon neutrality and climate resilience goals, at her former workplace, Shippensburg University. 

“We knew that many of our peer schools had signed the Second Nature Climate Commitment and hoped Lawrence could join that cohort,” Subat said. “Around the time we were having those discussions, I was connected with some students who were interested in the same thing. These students are now on the LUCC Sustainability Committee.” 

After the Sustainability Steering Committee worked with the LUCC Sustainability Committee, where the former works on a university level and the latter works on a student government level, it was decided that there should be a carbon neutral resolution proposed through LUCC so that the student body is involved in carbon neutrality at Lawrence, Subat said. Subat was in the discussion about drafting the resolution and was able to provide feedback. 

The Carbon Neutral Resolution was proposed during a LUCC General Council Meeting. Sophomore Anders Hanhan, co-chair of LUCC Sustainability Committee and the author of the resolution introduced the resolution and answered questions from faculty and class representatives. After the presentation, the majority of class representatives voted to pass the resolution, promising to work on and endorsing the Carbon Neutral Plan.  

However, there are some challenges in achieving carbon neutrality at Lawrence. Lawrence is almost 175 years old and many buildings on campus cannot easily be converted to use renewable energy, Subat said.  

“Thinking through how to completely revamp the operations of so many campus buildings while still being able to use them will be a major challenge,” Subat said. “But we are up for it!” 

Though there are many challenges in achieving carbon neutrality at Lawrence by 2035, there is also a foreseeable future of the collaboration between the student body and the administration on campus, according to Ribbons and Hanhan. 

“Having these discussions to see what the pathways to get to carbon neutrality are is a great way of demonstrating there’s a lot of community … [supporting] this initiative,” Ribbons said. “There’s students who are interested, there’s staff … and faculty. Everyone is actually on board with working towards carbon neutrality and greater sustainability.”