Sustainability investments focused on community resilience: $10 increase to the ‘Green Fee’ establishes Carbon Management Fund

The Carbon Management Fund (CMF) was started in the Fall of 2012 in response to a student referendum supporting the addition of a $10 term bill line item to fund carbon offsetting projects. This term bill line item was approved by Student Senate in February 2014 as an increase to the ‘Green Fee’ and was also recently approved by the Board of Trustees in this year’s March meeting. The fee increase will generate ~$25,000 a year for local carbon offsetting projects effective FY15.

Oberlin College has pledged to become carbon neutral by 2025 through the American College and University President’s Climate Commitment (ACUPCC), and to become climate positive by 2050 through the Clinton Foundation: Climate Positive Development Program (CPDP). This means that as an institution the College’s effect on global atmospheric green house gas levels (GHGs) must be zero or actively improving atmospheric GHG levels. As we stand now, 11 years from our 2025 carbon neutral date, our future estimated annual carbon footprint is ~7,000 metric tons of CO2 or equivalent green house gasses (mtCO2e), down from ~40,000 mtCO2e currently. These expected emissions will result from our continued reliance on natural gas for heating buildings and fossil fuels for transportation. The projected emissions footprint in 2025 will prevent us from achieving carbon neutrality and fulfilling our commitment, unless we gather offsets in line with these commitments.

The ACUPCC Voluntary Carbon Offsets Protocol urges that offset “[p]rojects should also have other social and environmental co-benefits in addition to reducing emissions, and add value to the education, research, and service missions of higher education.” From the Climate Positive Framework: “Development Partners will not be able to earn Climate Positive credits through the purchase of external carbon offsets. Instead, credits represent an opportunity for Development Partners to make measurable improvements to their greater municipal landscapes and/or regions.”

CMF provides a needed solution to achieve carbon neutrality in line with our commitments while ensuring these investments remain within the larger Oberlin community and impact local farmers and homeowners. Without CMF and its investment in local carbon offsetting projects, the College would likely still achieve carbon neutrality through the purchase of carbon offsets on global voluntary markets. This “business as usual” scenario would most likely support massive renewable energy projects or the protection of standing forest somewhere in the world – wonderful projects, but isn’t it a better outcome to increase the resilience of our community, and impact local farmers and Oberlin homeowners as we work towards sustainability goals? Through local offsets we can maintain a connection to our investments, providing research opportunities for students and benefits for our neighbors.

If carbon offsets are purchased on the open market, Oberlin College may claim carbon neutrality, but it will not be in line with the ACUPCC recommendation, nor the CPDP carbon offset framework. Thus, this emissions gap (~7,000 mtCO2e), must be offset in accordance with the frameworks of our commitments. Below are the local pilot projects of CMF:

CFM Table

The cost to unlock these projects is not the entire cost of the project, rather funding acquired through the term bill line item will be allocated proportional to the amount of atmospheric GHGs reduced, on an annual basis for a contracted period of time, and only when project additionality and permanence can be proven. CMF will utilize the Green EDGE Fund’s financial structure and student approval process, to make funding allocation decisions: maintaining student control over this money and ensuring broad access to funding. The US Environmental Protection Agency and White House Office of Management and Budget have established a social cost of carbon equivalent to $37/mtCO2e for 2015. This price is not fixed, but rather as the dangers of climate change increase into the future, the price per ton increases responsively. The price CMF chooses will be closely informed by this social cost. The total cost of these carbon offset projects will be the number of mtCO2e needed to be offset, multiplied by the price that is decided per mtCO2e.

As this program progresses and establishes itself within Oberlin College we would like to encourage your input into this process. A website is currently under construction that will act as an information hub for CMF once finalized. If you are interested in getting involved in any way or discussing any aspect of this program please contact the current Carbon Management Fellow, Tani Colbert-Sangree at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..">tcolbertsangree@oberlinproject.org.

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The problems of climate change are human problems, requiring equally humane answers. The answers necessitate monumental changes in society; our task is to channel hope and take meaningful steps towards a sustainable future. As the Carbon Management Fellow for the Oberlin Project, I work to establish a local carbon offsetting program to accomplish carbon neutrality and climate positivity commitments for the College and the City of Oberlin.

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Guest March 15, 2017

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Tani Colbert-Sangree
The problems of climate change are human problems, requiring equally humane answ
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