Colleges and universities will soon need to recognize carbon-related costs and liabilities on their income statements and balance sheets, said Joseph Grasso, the ILR School's assistant dean for finance and administration, in addressing 250 college and university presidents from across the nation in Chicago last month.
Speaking at the Climate Leadership Summit of the American College and University Presidents' Climate Commitment, Grasso focused on the financial implications of neutralizing campus greenhouse gas emissions. Grasso, who is chair of the National Association of College and University Business Officers' Committee on Sustainability and was involved in developing Cornell's Climate Action Plan, outlined Cornell's Climate Action Plan to achieve climate neutrality by 2050.
The plan addresses the recommendations of the United Nation's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, he said, along with domestic standards set by the American Clean Energy and Security Act approved by Congress in June.
The legislation calls for an 83 percent cut in carbon pollution from large sources by 2050 and other compliance measures, such as 50 percent more energy efficiency for new buildings by 2016, he said.
Clean energy on campuses, Grasso said, "is moving from a voluntary goodwill inItiative to mandatory compliance -- the landscape has changed."
Grasso told his audience that Cornell emits 319,000 metric tons of carbon every year, although the new combined heat and power facility, which will go online this fall, will reduce total carbon emissions by 20 percent. Proposed federal legislation, such as cap and trade, would assign a cost to the remaining carbon output that will cause Cornell to alter the way it purchases, uses and produces energy, he said.
The Cornell Climate Action Plan, to be formally announced Sept. 15, includes efforts to directly reduce emissions from the Ithaca campus. One idea that goes beyond the campus, still in the conceptual stage, is that Cornell would participate in a countywide carbon offset program currently under development. Such a local offset program would fund such projects around the community as low-interest loans to home owners for improving home energy efficiency. Grasso described similar carbon offset programs, such as the statewide Colorado Carbon Fund.
Grasso's presentation also addressed financing renewable energy projects on campus and assessing and measuring financial risk from new climate legislation. He also discussed how existing federal tax credit programs could be extended to nonprofit organizations to accelerate the use of renewable energy sources.
Mary Catt is a staff writer for the ILR School.