Emissions Reductions Goals

Decarbonizing Campus

In 2019 and 2020, Williams College engaged Integral Group to develop and evaluate viable pathways to modernize its energy system and facilitate the path to net zero emissions.

Successful strategies were asked to be:

• Cost effective from a life-cycle cost perspective

• Technically sound and reliable—providing long-term and flexible zero-carbon solutions

• Resilient to a multitude of external risks, including climate change, the availability and affordability of zero carbon fuels and energy sources, and economic and policy factors

Integral’s work focused on the district energy system that supplies most of the heat and cooling to the campus’s 2.7 million square feet of real estate. At present, the college’s thermal needs are largely met by a natural gas fired cogeneration plant. Because natural gas has a fixed carbon content and greenhouse gas intensity, successful solutions need to either reduce the amount of fuel burned through electrification (combined with renewable electricity) and/or switch to burning a carbon neutral fuel.

Integral Group’s Decarbonization Summary Report

Integral Group’s Decarbonization Full Report


  • Williams’ scope 1 and 2 GHG emissions* come largely from heating, cooling, domestic hot water, lighting, powering large equipment, and ventilating our campus buildings. The college has been investing actively in energy conservation and efficiency in campus buildings since 2007, and will continue to do so using a designated sustainability project fund of approximately about $1 million annually. Investments from the fund go towards a variety of projects, including improving building envelopes—air sealing, insulating, weatherizing, and replacing windows—lighting retrofits, EV charging station installation, new sub-metering capabilities and more. The college is also integrating sustainability screening into other campus improvement projects so that all maintenance, upgrades, and retrofits are reviewed through a sustainability lens, among other criteria. 

    Another significant contributor to Williams’ GHG emissions is travel—especially air travel. Educating and raising awareness of travel-related climate impacts is the objective of a new program that was launched in fall 2022 following two years of study and stakeholder engagement. 

    Based on climate goals articulated in the college's 2021 strategic plan, the Climate Action Plan outlines goals, strategies, and progress to-date of campus climate-related policies and initiatives.

    *Scope 1 GHG emissions refer to an organization’s direct emissions from fossil fuel combustion and emissions of other greenhouse gases, including certain refrigerants. For Williams scope 1 emissions arise mostly from fossil fuel combustion at the central plant and fuel used by our vehicle fleet and other mobile equipment. Scope 2 emissions refer to indirect emissions from purchased electricity, steam and hot water. Williams only purchases electricity. Lastly, scope 3 emissions refer to indirect emissions arising from activities or assets not owned or controlled by the organization such as food purchases, procurement, and employee commuting.

  • Digital signage has grown substantially on many college and corporate campuses. They promise easy and engaging ways to communicate and share information with stakeholders. However, they consume energy and research has shown that digital displays often fall short of achieving their viewer engagement goals. Williams College has adopted a Digital Signage policy to ensure that screens and monitors are only used when and where appropriate.

  • Williams is committed to procuring and producing 100% renewable, carbon-free electricity, which will contribute significantly to reaching our emissions reduction goals. Part of this plan is to further increase on-campus solar power generation. Solar panels have been installed on the roofs of several buildings, including the Williams Inn, the College Bookstore, the South Science Center, Horn Hall, the Center for Developmental Economics, and the Library Shelving Facility as well as on the ground such as in the vicinity of the Class of 1966 Environmental Center.  

    Considering the college’s electricity needs and available usable space, on-campus solar will likely never account for more than 10-15% of annual campus electricity use. Thus, in 2018, Williams, Amherst, Bowdoin, Hampshire, and Smith partnered with a subsidiary of NextEra Energy Resources to construct a utility-scale solar power facility in Farmington, Maine that is sized to generate enough electricity to power about 5,000 New England homes. The five colleges formed the New England College Renewable Partnership (NECRP) and purchase a third (25MW) of the 76MW total generation capacity, which translates to an estimated 46,000 megawatt hours (MWh) of solar electric power annually. Williams contracted for 11.33% of the facility's total capacity, representing approximately 71-73% of our purchased electricity consumption and reducing our scope 2 GHG emissions by about the same percentage. Read more in the press release.

  • Williams has committed to purchasing carbon offsets to “neutralize” the remainder of its GHG emissions beginning in fiscal year 2020 (FY20) to reach carbon neutrality. We note that Williams overarching approach is to (i) avoid and replace emissions first through energy conservation and efficiency measures and the substitution of fossil fuels with carbon-free renewable fuels before purchasing offsets and (ii) is based on the emissions tabulated in our annual GHG Emissions report, which follows standard reporting practices used by the University of New Hampshire’s SIMAP reporting tool but does not represent a full scope 3 accounting.*  

    The Campus Environmental Advisory Committee (CEAC) in 2018-2019 established initial criteria and strategies for carbon offset purchases and a first set was purchased in September 2019.  The Carbon Offsets Working Group further studied  the monitoring and verification documents for each project and selected Cool Effect as the college’s carbon offset broker.  The final report and recommendations for the college offset projects is linked on the college’s offsets webpage.  The strategic planning report on sustainability commits the college to continue to achieve carbon neutrality through offset purchases, though it, like CEAC, proposes that the college’s reliance on carbon offset purchases should decrease over time.

  • In addition to reducing GHG emissions on campus, Williams invests in projects that reduce emissions in local and other communities. Williams partnered with the Center for EcoTechnology, an environmental non-profit based in Pittsfield and Northampton, to identify projects that have multiple positive impacts such as reducing energy costs and improving health and wellness. Particular focus is on weatherization, energy conservation, and renewable energy projects that benefit local low-income residents, non-profits, and educational institutions.  Through the Community Climate Fund, the college has invested over $100,000 annually since 2019 in projects that recover building materials, support healthy homes, provide heating system upgrades, and install solar PV and solar thermal systems.

  • One of the most important factors driving growth in campus GHG emissions is the expansion of building square footage. Construction also generates large volumes of waste and debris and the building materials used come with their own “carbon burden.”

    The college intentionally seeks opportunities for minimizing the growth of its built environment but net square footage has nonetheless grown by approximately 2.5% over the last several years due to programmatic demands and opportunities. 

    The Built Environment working group initiated as part of the Strategic Planning effort recommended that the campus produce a campus framework plan, which was subsequently developed with Sasaki. 

    The campus framework plan also takes into consideration the landscape study developed by landscape architects and planning firm Reed-Hilderbrand and the college’s sustainability goals articulated in the Strategic Plan.