The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
Since 1888
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.

Vanderbilt releases fiscal year 2023 Sustainability Report, notes significant drop in greenhouse gas emissions

The report highlights a 35% drop in emissions since 2016, with notable achievements in commuting emissions, carbon neutrality initiatives and sustainable transportation.
Abby Hoelscher
Zeppos Tower landscape through the trees, photographed on Sept. 7, 2023. (Hustler Multimedia/Abby Hoelscher)

Vanderbilt announced an 11% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions during fiscal year 2023, making progress towards its sustainability objectives to be carbon neutral by 2050. According to the latest annual sustainability report released by the Environmental Health and Safety Department, the reduction in emissions builds upon its 35% drop since 2016, when the university began reporting emissions independently from Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

In 2021, Vanderbilt achieved carbon neutrality in advance of its original target, thanks to a partnership with the nonprofit Climate Vault. This collaboration enabled the university to offset its entire carbon footprint for the fiscal years 2019–20 and 2020–21. The report highlights the university’s significant decline in commuting emissions, which decreased by 64% during FY2023. The decrease was attributed to the adoption of telecommuting practices and enhanced insights into commuting behaviors.

Senior Jack Williams, president of Students Promoting Environmental Awareness and Responsibility, emphasized the significance of greenhouse gas reductions on campus.

“Any greenhouse reductions are very important,” Williams said. “I think the large decrease from 2016 to today is a testament to how much stock the university has put into environmental issues, which they should continue to do. The success of the MoveVU initiative and the conversion of Vandy Vans to electric vehicles appears evident, given that a significant portion of the 11% reduction in emissions from last year can be attributed to Scope 3 emissions.”

Williams also praised MoveVU’s electric VandyRide fleet as a primary contributor to the 11% emissions reduction.

Senior Geena Han, chair of Vanderbilt Student Government’s Environmental Affairs and Facilities Committee, said it is “vitally important” for schools like Vanderbilt to take responsibility for the sustainability of their campus.

“College is a transformative time and I believe that universities like Vanderbilt have a duty to show their students how they take accountability for their impact on the environment and show dedication in providing a clean, safe environment for future generations,” Han said.

Achieving carbon neutrality 

A key component to Vanderbilt’s sustainability strategy is its pursuit of carbon neutrality, which it has maintained through strategic collaborations and investments such as its partnership with Clearloop and the inauguration of the Vanderbilt I Solar Farm in Bedford County, Tenn.

Clearloop, a provider of carbon solutions to diverse organizations, partnered with Vanderbilt to offset its carbon footprint through solar energy projects. This collaboration targets a solar farm in Panola County, Miss., benefiting around 1,000 homes and providing carbon offset credits to Vanderbilt for the project's duration. 

The university also launched the Vanderbilt I Solar Farm last year, offsetting 70% of its yearly indirect greenhouse gas emissions from electricity purchased from Nashville Electric Service. The farm’s energy output could power over 6,000 homes annually.

In an email to The Hustler, the EHS department indicated continued interest in collaborating  with numerous organizations.

“While the university continues to innovate over time in many ways to reduce emissions, the near-term opportunity to work with organizations like Clearloop and collaborate on projects like the Vanderbilt I Solar Farm allow Vanderbilt to accelerate its impact now,” EHS said.

Transportation and mobility

Vanderbilt’s MoveVU program, an integral part of the comprehensive campus planning initiative FutureVU, aims to enhance transportation and mobility while aligning with sustainability goals. By promoting greener modes of commuting such as walking, biking, public transit and carpooling, MoveVU seeks to reduce the drive-alone rate to campus. MoveVU was honored with the Tennessee Sustainable Transportation Award in 2022. 

Vanderbilt experienced an 89% decrease in commuting emissions compared to levels in 2016. However, air travel emissions saw a rise compared to levels during pandemic-induced travel restrictions. Despite this, air travel emissions for the fiscal year of 2022-2023 remained lower than pre-pandemic levels.

Campus Dining

Campus Dining has engaged in sustainability efforts by expanding its reusable container program and prioritizing local purchasing. They also partnered with HydroHouse Farms, a local vendor founded by Hassan Sharaff (B.E. ‘07). Specializing in year-round hydroponic production, the farm employs sustainable practices, reducing water consumption by 90% compared to conventional farming methods.

Williams emphasized the importance of Campus Dining’s contribution to Vanderbilt’s overall sustainability goals.

“Waste reduction in dining halls is definitely important,” Williams said. “When you think about it, the most waste students regularly produce would be from food or food packaging. Efforts like these have driven down Vanderbilt’s Scope 3 emissions from the greatest share of its emissions to the lowest — which is great!”

Though appreciative of the reduction in Scope 3 emissions, Williams urged Vanderbilt to direct its focus on Scope 1 emissions, which refers to direct greenhouse gas emissions produced by sources that are owned or controlled by an organization, such as emissions from on-site combustion of fuels like natural gas or diesel, as well as process emissions.

Similarly, Han stressed the importance of focusing on reducing carbon emissions to enhance Vanderbilt's sustainability goals in the future. She highlighted the significance of divestment and suggested that Vanderbilt should prioritize carbon reduction efforts over the current cap and trade system implemented through Climate Vault.

Something that cannot be ignored when mentioning sustainability goals is divestment,” Han said. “I think Vanderbilt should work more towards reducing carbon emissions, rather than employing the cap and trade system that is currently in place through Climate Vault. It is great to see these sustainability reports and see how far the school has come, however, sometimes, I stop and ask ‘myself how ambitious is Vanderbilt really being with their sustainability initiatives?’”

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About the Contributors
Salma Elhandaoui
Salma Elhandaoui, Staff Writer and Photographer
Salma Elhandaoui (‘27) is from Brooklyn, N.Y., and is majoring in neuroscience and medicine, health and society and minoring in environmental and sustainability studies in the College of Arts and Science. When not writing for The Hustler, you can find her playing the guitar, writing endless poems, curating strange Spotify playlists and exploring the virtual world. She can be reached at [email protected].
Abby Hoelscher
Abby Hoelscher, Photography Editor
Abby Hoelscher (‘27) is from St. Louis and is an aspiring elementary teacher currently studying in Peabody College. She previously served as Deputy Photography Director. Outside of writing, she enjoys performing, learning Taylor Swift songs in American Sign Language and trying the seasonal lattes from the campus coffee shops. She can be reached at [email protected].
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