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Exeter College and carbon neutrality

Exeter College is supporting four carbon emissions reduction projects this year, including preventing deforestation and land degradation in Peru and providing people with fuel-efficient cookstoves in Malawi. You can find out more about our plans to reduce our carbon footprint and offset outstanding carbon emissions from our day-to-day operations below.

A step towards carbon neutrality

Reducing emissions of greenhouse gases is essential if we are going to prevent potentially catastrophic climate change.

Exeter College is determined to be part of the solution. We are stepping up to the challenge by working with students, Fellows and staff to select carbon offset projects from around the world that the College will support.

Each project removes, reduces or avoids greenhouse gas emissions while assisting local communities.

What is carbon neutrality?

Our carbon footprint is the greenhouse gas emissions we cause, expressed as carbon dioxide equivalent. To achieve carbon neutrality we must reduce our carbon footprint and offset any outstanding carbon emissions. Carbon emissions can be offset by removing the equivalent amount of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere or preventing the equivalent amount of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere in the first place.

We recognise that it is important to prioritise reducing emissions, which minimises the need for offsets. Equally, offsetting emissions can be an important part of an environmental strategy, particularly where reducing emissions is challenging or will take time, as is the case given our historic buildings.

A step change

Exeter College is reducing its carbon footprint by using renewable energy sources as well as cutting direct and indirect energy consumption. But we acknowledge that we are facing a climate emergency and we must do more, now.

That is why we have teamed up with AlliedOffsets to offset the carbon emissions from the College’s day to day operations. With their help and input from Exeter’s students, Fellows and staff we are supporting a number of emissions reduction projects around the world.

Emissions reduction projects

Earlier this year a panel of undergraduate and postgraduate students, Fellows and staff selected four projects that will help prevent climate change. The projects are registered and the potential emissions reduction figures for each project have been verified and accounted for to ensure they are additional (i.e. they represent an emission reduction or carbon removal that would not have taken place without the offsetting activity). The projects were selected not only to deliver meaningful reductions in greenhouse gases, but also to provide socioeconomic benefits for local communities. You can view the projects here.

Exeter’s students, Fellows and staff have now helped to decide how the College should allocate support between the four projects:

  • Recover methane from landfills in Ecuador and convert it into electricity: offset 193 tonnes of CO2
  • Protect indigenous communities in Peru by reducing deforestation and land degradation: offset 550 tonnes of CO2
  • Distribute fuel-efficient stoves to households in Guatemala to replace inefficient open-fire cooking: offset 124 tonnes of CO2
  • Invest in improved technologies in Malawi including clean cook stoves and promote better and more efficient kitchen and firewood management practices: offset 183 tonnes of CO2

Find out more about the projects.

How is Exeter College reducing its carbon footprint?

As a college and a community we are cutting our direct and indirect consumption of energy in many ways. We are already on a green energy tariff that uses electricity generated from renewable sources of energy. And whether it’s using smart radiator valves that switch the heating off when windows are open or composting food waste responsibly, the College is finding ways to further reduce its impact on the environment. By working together these small changes start to make a big difference.

But we recognise that we must do more. As a historic institution with buildings dating back to the fifteenth century, the challenge of reducing carbon emissions is tough. The projects that Exeter College is supporting will allow us to offset a significant portion of the College’s carbon emissions and take a step in the right direction to help prevent climate change. Equally, we recognise and embrace our responsibility to continue to reduce the College’s underlying carbon footprint over time.

How much of the College’s emissions are we offsetting?

As a first, but important, step we have:

This year we have offset 1,050 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions from the College’s day to day operations, roughly equivalent to the carbon absorbed by a forest of 50,000 trees each year. We know this will not offset the entirety of our carbon footprint, but we also know it’s a significant step in the right direction.

Reaching net zero carbon

Before talking about being carbon neutral, or reaching ‘net zero carbon’, we believe it is important to understand what those words really mean. How big is our carbon footprint? How much can we reduce it? And how quickly? These are difficult and complex questions that we are already exploring.

Meanwhile it makes sense to start cutting and offsetting carbon emissions straight away. Preventing catastrophic climate change tomorrow means taking action today.

We embrace our responsibility to do that, and also acknowledge that offsetting carbon emissions in no way diminishes the need to cut our carbon footprint as quickly as possible.

Research and education

Research and education are vital to preventing climate change and we are proud that so much is being done across the University of Oxford to improve our understanding of climate change and to create innovative solutions.

A crisis such as the climate emergency should be tackled in as many ways as possible. We believe that cutting and offsetting carbon emissions are crucial actions we should take, alongside research and education, to prevent irreversible climate change.

Accountability and impact

Detailed information is available about the four projects Exeter College is supporting and each is carefully audited to ensure that they meet their objectives. You can find out more about the projects here.

Further reading

The UK government is the first major economy to pass net zero emissions law. There are a number of websites where you can read about the legislation and more about the details and challenges of reaching this goal.

You can find out more about carbon offsetting in general from climatecare, carbonfootprint.com, voluntarycarbonmarket.org, smithschool.ox.ac.uk and onetreeplanted.org.