Purchase sufficient carbon offsets to achieve carbon neutrality by the end of 2020
In order to compensate for the emissions generated during the 2020 fiscal year, the college committed to purchasing high quality carbon offsets. Offsets allow organizations to neutralize some or all of their greenhouse gas emissions by investing in emission avoidance projects elsewhere. They are, however, controversial because they allow the organization to continue to emit and are difficult to verify, often not permanent and hard to prove that the carbon offset project is “additional,” i.e., would not have been implemented without the financing from the organization.
Therefore, in preparation for making those purchases, the Campus Environmental Advisory Committee (CEAC) led extensive discussions and research between 2017 and 2019, which resulted in articulating principles to inform subsequent decision-making regarding offsets. Using those principles as a guide, the college purchased a small set of trial-run offsets in September 2019 and made those purchases public so they could be studied by the campus community and incorporated into classes.
The Carbon Offsets Working Group spent a year examining the monitoring and verification documents for each project and engaging in discussions about other potential projects in which to invest. In late 2020, Williams purchased offsets to cover the college’s tabulated scope 1-3 emissions for fiscal year 2020 in order to achieve carbon neutrality.
While emission avoidance through energy efficiency measures, behavioral change and replacement of fossil fuel combustion with renewable energy generation will continue to be at the forefront of campus climate actions, offset purchases will also continue to play a role in maintaining carbon neutrality for the time being. However, they will always be seen as a last resort and hopefully will decline over time as the college implements and improves upon all of its climate action goals.