To help answer that question, Johnson worked with several nonprofit organizations to develop a tool that helps universities calculate what he calls science-based emissions performance. The tool
compares a university’s greenhouse gas emissions to a global emissions scenario — called a representative concentration pathway — that is most likely to keep global warming below two degrees centigrade. The output represents a new style of sustainability metric that benchmarks emissions against a university’s fair share of the global carbon budget.
Measuring sustainability performance relative to thresholds in natural systems is simple and intuitive, Johnson says, yet is seldom practiced. His research builds on work done in the corporate sector, where companies like Ford and Ben & Jerry’s are turning to science-based targets as the next phase of sustainability management.
“It's a pretty innovative tool and provides an interesting way to look at sustainability initiatives on college campuses," said Robert Bailis
, an associate professor at F&ES and Johnson's project advisor. “You still want to consider certain circumstances, like the climate where they are located, the size, and whether students commute to school. But this provides a view of what universities are doing in a more balanced and systematic way. I think it will be valuable for universities to look at.”
Other members of the project team include Mike Bellamente
from the Carbon Disclosure Project and Mark McElroy
from the Center for Sustainable Organizations.
Johnson hopes the new tool will help universities start to think about their emissions and broader sustainability performance through a more scientific lens. “We’ve got the science,” Corey says. “Let’s use it.”