Emissions Reductions Goals
In 2019 & 2020, Williams College engaged Integral Group to develop and evaluate viable pathways to modernize its energy system and create a carbon neutral campus by 2050. The college committed to further reducing its emissions by 15-30% by 2035 in its report of the working group on sustainability during the college wide strategic planning effort in 2019-2020. The college continues to explore possibilities for decarbonization.
Successful strategies must 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 2.5 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 $1,000,000 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 we 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 fuel combustion. For Williams that is mostly emissions 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 become ubiquitous on 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 goals. Williams College has adopted a Digital Signage policy to ensure that screens and monitors are used when and where appropriate.
Williams is committed to producing and procuring 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 Williams Inn, the College Bookstore, the South Science Center, Horn Hall, the Center for Developmental Economics, and the Library Shelving Facility.
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, ME sized to generate enough electricity to power about 5,000 New England homes. The five colleges form 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. Williams contracted to offtake 11% of that, representing 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 this approach to carbon neutrality uses (i) avoiding and replacing emissions first through energy conservation and efficiency measures and the substitution of fossil fuels with carbon-free renewable fuels 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 to serve 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. We place particular focus 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 $170,000 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 (often toxic) 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 is currently being prepared.
The Zilkha Center recommends that the plan incorporate strategies for reducing square footage in some areas of campus as a way to offset some of the projected growth resulting from the new Davis Center and museum.
The campus framework plan should also take into consideration the landscaping plan developed based on a study by landscape architects and planning firm Reed-Hilderbrand and the college’s sustainability goals articulated in the Strategic Plan.
Williams publicly reports its GHG emissions and progress towards goals on an annual basis. Emissions are calculated by fiscal year (July 1-June 30), rather than academic or calendar year. The reports are finalized and shared every fall. Please note that data collection methods, emission factors, and other aspects of compiling an annual GHG emissions inventory continue to evolve. As a result, emissions comparisons over time should be made with care and it is advised to read the reports carefully and to reach out to the Zilkha Center with questions.
- Emissions Report for Fiscal Year 2006-2007 (FY07) (pdf)
- Emissions Report for Fiscal Year 2007-2008 (FY08) (pdf)
- Emissions Report for Fiscal Year 2008-2009 (FY09) (pdf)
- Emissions Report for Fiscal Year 2009-2010 (FY10) (pdf)
- Emissions Report for Fiscal Year 2010-2011 (FY11) (pdf)
- Emissions Report for Fiscal Year 2011-2012 (FY12) (pdf)
- Emissions Report for Fiscal Year 2013-2014 (FY14) (pdf)
- Emissions Report for Fiscal Year 2015-2016 (FY16) (pdf)
- Emissions Report for Fiscal Year 2016-2017 (FY17) (google doc)
- Emissions Report for Fiscal Year 2017-2018 (FY18) (google doc)
- Emissions Report for Fiscal Year 2018-2019 (FY19) (google doc)
- Emissions Report for Fiscal Year 2019-2020 (FY20) (google doc)
- Emissions Report for Fiscal Year 2020-2021 (FY21) (google doc)
- Emissions Report for Fiscal Year 2021-2022 (FY22) (google doc).