In 2019, the university set a goal to power its campus entirely through renewable energy and achieve carbon neutrality by 2050. Several large efforts are already underway to make significant strides toward this goal. While the university continues to push action and innovations on several fronts, it has identified a near-term opportunity to work with Climate Vault and use the cap-and-trade market—which is designed to limit harmful emissions—to accelerate its impact, allowing it to become the first member of the Association of American Universities to achieve carbon neutrality.
The university plans to meet its 2050 commitment by:
- Investing in on-site clean energy
- Investing in off-site large-scale renewable energy
- Increasing green spaces across campus such as more pedestrian-friendly walkways and parks
- Reducing energy consumption and waste
- Decreasing the university’s carbon footprint from transportation and commuting
- Investing in sustainable infrastructure
The university’s sustainability goals, a collaborative effort among administrators, faculty, staff and students, fall under FutureVU, Vanderbilt’s holistic planning process for developing spaces on campus and investing in initiatives that support the people who live, work and learn in them. The university comprises over 330 acres of real estate and as one of the largest employers in the region, has more than 10,000 commuters daily.
The sustainability efforts also align with the university’s core missions of teaching, research and discovery through the Academic Strategic Plan.
To achieve its goal, the university commissioned multiple comprehensive operational studies to better understand and develop the solutions needed to address the university’s environmental impact:
- The BlueSky Energy Vision Study, a 10-month study carried out by the BlueSky Vision Executive and Advisory Committees, a mix of diverse stakeholders across campus, studied the implementation of a comprehensive renewable energy plan through energy conservation, production of on-site clean (without combustion) and renewable energy, procurement of off-site renewable energy to mitigate campus greenhouse gas emissions, and sufficient storage of clean energy to provide the campus with energy resilience.
- The Large-Scale Renewable Energy Study, conducted with input from the Large-Scale Renewable Energy Study Advisory Committee, a mix of diverse stakeholders on campus, explored potential options for off-campus, large-scale renewable energy sources, including solar and/or wind projects.
- MoveVU, the university’s mobility and transportation strategy, developed with engagement from across the campus community, will help prioritize the best use of Vanderbilt’s limited land. The transportation and mobility strategy calls for a comprehensive, layered and connected ecosystem that serves the Vanderbilt and wider Nashville communities. It recommends a decrease from around 68 percent to 47 percent in drive-alone commuters and an increase in use of more sustainable modes of transportation, resulting in a reduction in carbon emissions.
- The Zero Waste Study, a diverse group of campus stakeholders including many students, was been charged with developing a plan to reduce consumption and landfill waste across campus. Priorities included addressing food waste through Campus Dining and eliminating single-use plastic water bottles across campus.