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William & Mary first U.S. university to launch in-house carbon offset program

The College of William & Mary now offers its faculty, staff and students the opportunity to contribute personally to an in-house carbon-offset program. Carbon offset programs offer individuals and institutions ways to contribute money toward carbon reducing projects that counterbalance, or offset, their personal carbon producing lifestyles (e.g. taking an airplane flight) that contribute to excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

“As far as we are aware, William & Mary is the first U.S. institution to create its own carbon offset program where 100% of the funds go toward energy reductions on campus,” said John Swaddle, director of the College’s environmental science and policy program and professor of biology.

Swaddle said keeping the funds on campus is a key component to the program.

“By directing donations to campus projects, our program will add a level of transparency absent from many other programs,” added Lynda Butler, co-chair of the College’s Committee on Sustainability. “Long-term, participation in the program will be greater and consequently the offsets higher if participants are confident the money raised is going directly to carbon-reducing projects.”

Examples of offsets include $23 for each 1,000 miles driven in and SUV, truck or minivan; or $9 for a one-way airplane flight to or from Williamsburg on the east coast of the U.S.

In the first year of the program, funds raised through the offset project will go toward any one of our planned energy-saving projects in Swem library, Washington Hall, William & Mary Hall, Adair Hall and Trinkle Hall. Examples include the installation of occupancy sensors and fan drive upgrades in Swem and heating and cooling upgrades in Washington Hall.

The program includes a user-friendly web interface which features a contribution calculator. Through the website, participants can contribute to energy saving programs underway on the William & Mary campus. The calculator utilizes a tabbed menu to guide users toward the standard offset for the activity they select. Participants also have the option to calculate their own offset for any activity they deem appropriate.

Both the calculator and the offset projects will be revised every five years. In addition to the offset calculator and the project list, the web site offers many tips on how to live more sustainably.

While the short-term goal of the program is to generate significant carbon offsets, the long-term aim is to modify behavior.

“It’s all about following the ‘three R’s,” Swaddle noted. “We want people to reduce, re-use and recycle; but if they can’t then they can offset.”

Additional information and offsets may be viewed online.