The Drive for Carbon Neutrality: CC Vehicles and Carbon Offset Prices

The opening of the net-zero Tutt Library in 2017 served as a reminder of Colorado College’s goal to achieve carbon neutrality by 2020. However, the Office of Sustainability had other initiatives during 2017 as well. The Buildings and Grounds Intern with the Office of Sustainability at the time, Cory Page ’18, worked with the Office of Facilities and Transportation to develop the idea of purchasing carbon offsets for CC fleet vehicles. At the beginning of this year, the carbon offset price for all CC fleet vehicles was officially instated. This year’s Buildings and Grounds Intern with the Office of Sustainability, Benjamin Swift ’21, shed some light on the newly instated policy.

Photo by Daniel Sarché

CC fleet vehicles include any vehicles owned by the Office of Transportation — vans, SUVs, buses, etc. — and all of these fleet vehicles now have an included carbon offset price. The vehicles are often used for department or class field trips, Priddy trips, First-Year Outdoor Orientation Trips, Outdoor Education trips, and sometimes even Block Breaks. Vehicles owned by specific departments do not have a carbon offset price attached to them.

The carbon offset price for CC fleet vehicles is one cent per mile. For example, if a class is taking two 12-passenger vans to the Baca Campus, they will be traveling approximately 320 miles round-trip, not including any trips while at Baca. The normal rate for 12 passenger vans is 50 cents per mile, but with the carbon offset price, it turns to 51 cents per mile – making the final price of a trip to and from Baca $326.40 rather than $320.00, with $6.40 going into the fund to purchase carbon offsets. While it may not seem like a lot, one can understand how this could add up to a fairly large sum over the year.

Swift addressed an issue that concerns many about the purchasing of carbon offsets: “CC wants to minimize offsetting as much as possible because it can become problematic to purchase offsets out of state or country [by being] disruptive to local lifestyles and cultures,” Swift said.

In an ideal world, the Office of Transportation would have the ability to transition to a fleet composed entirely of electric vehicles, but this is expensive and has a longer timeline to achieve than one would expect. Swift said that the carbon offsets were the “second-best thing” the Office of Sustainability had the power to do. To limit the harm that can come from purchasing out-of-state or out-of-country carbon offsets, CC purchases offsets that are regional or local projects focused on offsetting or renewable energy.

Monday, Nov. 5, the Office of Sustainability and the Office of Facilities and Transportation met to put bumper stickers on all CC fleet vehicles. The bumper stickers are green and say, “This vehicle’s carbon emissions are offset,” as a form of publicizing the offices’ commitment to CC’s philosophy surrounding sustainability. Moving forward, Swift said the Office of Sustainability is working to develop an accessible online option through Summit that will allow students to easily purchase offsets for flights back home over breaks, flights to off-campus blocks, field trips, or any other form of travel. Swift said that he hopes in the future the offsets will be instated into the price of school-related travel rather than voluntary — taking one step closer to CC’s carbon neutrality goals.

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