Emissions graph

Image source: University of Illinois 2015 Climate Action Plan

Collecting data for emissions inventory

Once your college has established parameters for your net zero plan and emissions inventory (see emissions inventory basics), it's time to start gathering emissions data.

Here are some of the different data sources you may need, depending on the parameters of your study. In general, you should collect at least 12 months of data--several years of data if available. If you are only able to collect 12 months of data, make sure that all data for the various categories are for the same 12 months.

Institutional Data
  • Budget
  • Population (full and part time students, faculty, staff)
  • Physical size (building space)
Scope 1 emissions (direct emissions from sources owned or controlled by the college)
  • Natural gas. Collect utility bills
  • Propane. Collect utility bills
  • Gasoline fleet. Collect purchase receipts to identify gallons consumed
  • Diesel fleet. Collect purchase receipts to identify gallons consumed
  • Refrigerants, chemicals, fertilizer. Collect purchase receipts to identify pounds used
Scope 2 emissions (indirect emissions from sources that are owned or controlled by the college)
  • Purchased electricity. Collect utility bills
  • Purchased steam. Collect utility bills
  • Purchased chilled water. Collect utility bills
Scope 3 emissions (emissions from sources not owned or directly controlled by the college, but related to college activities)
  • Directly financed travel. Collect travel records, including transportation mode, miles traveled
  • Staff/student commuting. Conduct a transportation survey to identify days of the week on site, transportation mode, miles traveled
  • Solid waste. Complete a solid waste study to identify weight and composition of solid waste
  • Paper procurement. Collect records of pounds of paper purchased, type
  • Wastewater. Collect utility bills for wastewater
  • Food. Complete a food study to identify weight of items purchased, type
Offsets (Projects that avoid or reduce greenhouse gas emissions)
  • Renewables (offset). Estimate attributable electric kWh from on-site solar/wind, renewable energy certificates
  • On-campus composting. Measure short tons of wet organic compost
  • Forest preservation. Identify carbon sequestered from forest preservation offsets.
  • Vegetation (offset). Complete a tree inventory (age, type), or use iTree tools to estimate carbon sequestration
  • Retail offsets.  

Tools to create an emissions inventory and report emissions data

There are a number of tools and services to help organizations create emissions inventories and track emissions over time. Most follow the standards of the Greenhouse Gas Protocol, which is the most widely-used procedure for quantifying GHG emissions worldwide. Here are a few tools/resources to consider:

  • AASHE STARS, developed by Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education, provides a technical manual, reporting tool, benchmarking tool, and help center for tracking, assessing, and rating environmental data.
  • The SIMAP (Sustainability Indicator Management & Analysis Platform), developed by the University of New Hampshire Sustainability Institute, is a popular tool to help colleges conduct GHG emissions inventories. It "offers campuses a simple, comprehensive, and affordable online tool for measuring, calculating and reporting their carbon and nitrogen footprints." It has helpful data collection templates that are available on their website for free, as well as training resources. You can also buy an annual subscription that provides access to their web platform where you can import and export data, emissions factors, and results, and receive reports, interactive maps, data review, and more.
  • Second Nature, an organization that oversees the University Climate Change Coalition (UC3) and the Climate Leadership Network, has lots of helpful advice and resources to help colleges develop climate action plans. They have partnered with SIMAP to help colleges develop GHG emissions inventories.

How they did it

The College of Lake County recently completed a Sustainability Plan for 2019-2021, which included an inventory of Scopes 1-3 Greenhouse Gas Emissions from years 2009-2017. They used the Carbon Management and Analysis Platform (CarbonMAP) and the Clean Air-Cool Planet Campus Carbon Calculator (now SIMAP).

These tools helped them calculate current emissions and also project emissions into the future. They plan to use the SIMAP GHG analysis tool to track progress in subsequent years.