Duke University has committed to becoming climate neutral, reducing its contributions to the atmosphere’s levels of greenhouse gases to zero or below, by 2024. Internally, Duke University is switching to cleaner fuel sources and improving energy efficiency to reduce emissions, but Duke estimates it will still need to offset 185,000 tons of carbon dioxide equivalent-emissions per year, starting in 2024. Understanding that carbon offsets will play a significant part in reaching climate neutrality, the Office of the Executive Vice President established the Duke Carbon Offsets Initiative (DCOI) in June 2009.
The DCOI is responsible for developing and implementing the University's strategy for meeting its neutrality commitment by 2024, and focus on projects that both reduce emissions levels in the atmosphere and provide significant local, state and regional environmental, economic, and societal co-benefits. In pursuit of this goal, the Duke Carbon Offsets Initiative strives to showcase Duke University as a model for achieving climate neutrality and pass along the lessons learned through project successes and failures, implementation tools, and educational resources to ease project development within the academic community.
DCOI’s Approach to Offsets
The DCOI engages in purchases of offsets from existing projects as well as implementing and documenting projects for which it acts as the project manager. Carbon offset projects are evaluated based on their ability to definitively document their climate impact, to provide economic, social and environmental co-benefits beyond greenhouse gas reductions, and their replicability throughout North Carolina and within the academic community. Operating within an academic research institution, the DCOI prioritizes the creation of academic value through its projects and collaborates extensively with students and faculty to produce meaningful reports that expand general carbon offset understanding and facilitate easier project implementation.
The DCOI has developed a portfolio approach to generating and purchasing carbon offsets, featuring methane destruction offsets from landfills and swine farms within North Carolina, residential energy reduction through efficiency upgrades and rooftop solar, and urban forestry. A portfolio approach is appropriate as different offset project types involve differing levels of risk to the project’s continuation. Similar to financial investments, a diversified portfolio provides insurance to achieve climate neutrality even if one type of project fails to impact climate as stated.