University of Richmond enrolls in carbon emissions offset program

A campus tour for prospective students at the University of Richmond. The university has recently launched a carbon offset program to mitigate the emissions created by prospective students’ travel to campus. (Photo courtesy of University of Richmond)

The University of Richmond wants to take the edge off the carbon footprint created by prospective students.

UR announced this week that it has launched a carbon offset initiative to mitigate the carbon dioxide emissions generated by would-be students when they travel to the university for campus tours.

The university recently started to collect prospective students’ travel data, such as origin point and method of transportation, which it then gives to Florida-based nonprofit We Are Neutral. The nonprofit calculates the equivalent in tons of carbon emissions. Based on that calculation, the university pays money to fund projects overseen by We Are Neutral to offset the environmental impact.

Carbon dioxide is created by the burning of fossil fuels, including those that power flights and car rides, and it’s the primary greenhouse gas created by human activity that contributes to climate change.

UR’s recent surveys of admitted students have shown a steady uptick in interest in sustainability and environmentalism, so the university has sought to match those student values ​​with relevant initiatives.

“Over the last few years, I’ve seen (interest in) the environment and sustainability climb up and up,” said Stephanie Dupaul, vice president of enrollment management. “By doing this, we want to demonstrate to our students our commitment to this but also to start a groundswell movement in the industry.”

UR gathers its travel data from the registration process for campus tours and open houses. The university tells prospective students the data is being collected for the purpose of buying carbon offsets.

Dupaul said the program was an appealing way to address interest in sustainability because it’s a tangible way to address climate challenges. We Are Neutral’s website says its projects include tree plantings, landfill methane capture and invasive species removal.

The hope is the program will help nudge prospective students closer to enrollment at UR, Dupaul said.

“You never know what the decision maker will be. I think for some students it will add to that stack of things that make it feel right for them,” she said. “We want to make sure we highlight things that are a little bit different.”

Initially, university officials played around with the idea of ​​encouraging prospective students to buy their own carbon offsets and creating a program that would facilitate that. Dupaul said they backed away from that idea because they decided costs might be a hurdle for some people.

The university doesn’t expect to spend more than $10,000 for the pilot period that runs through the spring, a university spokeswoman said.

The program, which was announced this week and has been ongoing since mid-March, is the latest of UR’s environmental sustainability projects. The university also runs an active pollinator program and the Spider Solar program.

The carbon offset program is a joint venture between the university’s enrollment management department and sustainability office.

We Are Neutral has a pool of verified carbon-offset credits from projects that have already been completed, and the university’s initial payments will go toward covering the costs of those projects. Eventually, the university will select the projects that it will pay for, the university’s Director of Sustainability Rob Andrejewski said.

Andrejewski said he learned of We Are Neutral through another university sustainability official in Florida.

“We looked at a bunch of different options out there and there are a ton of different organizations that will help you find offsets,” he said. “There was a level of shared goals and shared mission with that organization.”

Andrejewski said he wasn’t aware of any other higher-education institutions that operate a carbon offset program geared toward prospective students. He said that population isn’t commonly considered when universities think about their environmental impacts.

“This is something that has not been necessarily looked at because a lot of campuses don’t look at prospective student travel as something they’re responsible for,” he said.

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