Vanderbilt University stays two steps ahead of carbon

Vanderbilt University has long redefined the possibilities of environmental sustainability in its pursuit of a green campus. The university conducted its first greenhouse gas inventory back in 2005 and since then has never looked back—continuously improving its measurement and decision-making capabilities in order to verify that its actions will make real impacts.

We sat down with Andrea K. George, Assistant Vice Chancellor of Environmental Health, Safety, and Sustainability at Vanderbilt, to better understand the university’s approach to setting and achieving sustainability goals as a frontrunner in higher education.

Starting with data

The university’s initial greenhouse gas inventory—at a time when calculating carbon footprints was not standard practice—was intended to get a handle on the school’s sustainability data and set a baseline for future action.

“It’s difficult for an organization to manage something that they don’t measure,” Andrea says. “You don’t know where you start, and you don’t know how you’re making improvements. You can’t set goals if you don’t know where you are today.”

Plenty of actions both large and small followed that initial assessment, such as the transformational shift entirely away from coal in 2014.

Yet in the spirit of continuous improvement, the University aimed higher: in 2016, Vanderbilt conducted the Blue Sky Energy Study with hundreds of stakeholders in order to determine what sustainability achievements the university could aspire to, with engagement from everyone on campus.

The biggest goal to emerge from that study? Complete carbon neutrality by 2050. The six further subgoals are:

  • Investing in onsite green energy
  • Investing in offsite large-scale renewable energy
  • Decreasing carbon emissions from vehicles
  • Increasing green spaces on campus
  • Reducing consumption and waste
  • Investing in sustainable infrastructure

“We want our goals to be action-oriented, tangible, concrete, and objective,” Andrea says. “We pay a lot of attention to the metrics that we measure. And we want to have a way for people to understand them and engage with them in their everyday actions. That’s very important.”

Bold, immediate action

Carbon neutrality by 2050 is already an ambitious, if necessary, goal. And it’s one Vanderbilt has already achieved, starting in 2021 and on an ongoing basis ever since.

“We started focusing on our carbon neutrality goal and thinking about How can we get the biggest bang for our buck? How can we go carbon neutral as quickly as we can, as efficiently as possible, and make that big bold move?” Andrea says. “That’s where Climate Vault came into the conversation.”

She explains that Vanderbilt’s philosophy of taking action now and improving those actions over time aligned with Climate Vault’s model for immediately reducing and ultimately removing atmospheric carbon. This collaboration between Vanderbilt and Climate Vault is further grounded in a shared dedication to fostering new ideas and taking bold action.

In short: Vanderbilt continues to assess its carbon footprint and find ways to shrink its initial impact both on campus and off. The university then reduces its remaining carbon footprint with Climate Vault, which purchases emission allowances from regulated industries on Vanderbilt’s behalf and locks them up so no one can emit that carbon.

Climate Vault then leverages Vanderbilt’s allowances over time into support for the most promising carbon dioxide removal projects in the world today. An equal or greater amount of the university’s reduced carbon emissions will ultimately be removed from the atmosphere, forever.

“Part of why we’re a sustainability leader in the Southeast is because we are willing to step out there and do something big,” Andrea says. “I’m proud to be a part of that.”

Ongoing climate commitment

Vanderbilt University’s commitment to measuring and reducing its carbon footprint demonstrates the institution’s willingness to take decisive, credible action in the pursuit of a more sustainable future.

As Andrea reflects, “We’re always making incremental change. When my staff gets discouraged by how big the problem of sustainability is, I tell them it’s okay because even when we sometimes have to take one step back we’re still two steps forward.”


Even if you don’t yet have the data to get two steps ahead on your sustainability journey, Climate Vault has got you covered. Our measurement capabilities can assess whatever facet of carbon you want to reduce. You’ll know precisely what your impact looks like, so you can make the best progress. Get started with your free, bespoke carbon footprint estimate from Climate Vault today.

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