Energy Consumption on College Campuses Down 8% Since 2007, According to Sightlines-UNH Report

“State of Sustainability in Higher Education” Report Focuses on Environmental Impacts of College Facilities Across Entire Lifecycle of Buildings

GUILFORD, Conn., Feb. 09, 2017 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- The amount of energy consumed in the operations of higher education institutions in the U.S. has declined by 8 percent and related emissions per square foot are down 14 percent from a 2007 baseline, according to a new report released today by Sightlines and the University of New Hampshire (UNH) Sustainability Institute.

“We are pleased to see that the data shows continued progress by institutions of higher education in reducing the sector’s contribution to climate change,“ said Nancy Targett, UNH’s Provost. “Leadership in sustainability has always been important to UNH, both in our practice and in helping other institutions—so we’re excited about the ways in which the report’s findings can advance a vital conversation about how to rapidly accelerate that leadership to achieve greater sustainability across higher education.”

The report, “State of Sustainability in Higher Education 2016,” is the second annual study produced in collaboration by the two organizations. Sightlines is a Gordian company and leader in facilities intelligence and analysis for higher education institutions. The UNH Sustainability Institute integrates diverse perspectives, disciplines and knowledge to address sustainability’s grand challenges.

The study was based primarily on data from the 377 colleges and universities that provide information to Sightlines, the largest third-party verified database of higher education facilities data in North America. These institutions represent different Carnegie classes, representing all geographic regions of the U.S., and have a collective 1.5 billion gross square feet (GSF) of facilities assets. The database is comprised of 59% public institutions and 41% private institutions.

Key findings from the study included:

*        Currently, campus carbon footprints may be under-reported by more than 30%

Current international carbon reporting standards, to which campuses generally adhere, have traditionally given an incomplete and inconsistent representation of an institution’s carbon emissions, by making the reporting of all “upstream” and “downstream” emissions voluntary. Most campuses currently report few if any emissions associated with purchased goods, construction, capital reinvestment or demolition. Data in the study suggests that this may lead to under-reporting of carbon emissions by as much as one-third—which means significant lost opportunities for leadership and impact when targeting institutional greenhouse gas reductions.  New tools and standards are evolving to encourage and support collection of this missing data—and the report argues that higher education is in a position to help lead a shift globally, across sectors, by engaging in this challenge.

*        Sustainability policies are lacking when it comes to entire building lifecycle

Formal policies that promote sustainability and help minimize environmental impact are common for new construction projects, but the study found these policies are largely absent for other phases of the building lifecycle. For instance, 80 percent of Second Nature Carbon Commitment institutions have committed all new construction to a minimum of LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Silver. Such formal policies, however, are not yet widely adopted for the daily operations, capital reinvestment or demolition of buildings.  This represents a missed opportunity to control costs while adding value.

*        Opportunities abound for further gains in sustainability

Sustainability performance has improved sector-wide, but the report notes that significant potential remains. For example, there is opportunity to pay greater attention to sustainability during capital reinvestment and demolition phases, as the need to invest into existing buildings is projected to increase substantially in the coming years. Moreover, limiting net space growth may be an important approach to managing the campus impact and increasing overall institutional sustainability—from both environmental and financial perspectives.

“Over the past two decades, colleges and universities have embraced numerous programs to minimize their environmental impacts, and campus sustainability leaders have made great strides,” said Mark Schiff, president of Sightlines. “Our State of Sustainability report aims to quantify and celebrate the sector’s progress, as well as outline specific and actionable opportunities for continuous improvement. To that end, this year’s report analyzes the available data concerning campus efforts to reduce environmental impact during each phase of the building lifecycle—from construction to operation to capital reinvestment to demolition.”

Representatives from Sightlines and UNH will host a free webinar on February 21, 2017, at 1:00 p.m. Eastern Time. This webinar will give attendees the opportunity to hear from experts as they explore these issues in greater detail, provide an in-depth analysis of the trends that comprise the report, and answer audience questions. To register for the webinar, please click here.

About Sightlines

Founded in 2000, Sightlines, a Gordian company, gives colleges and universities the independent data and perspective they need to make critical decisions about their most valuable assets—their facilities. Sightlines stewards the industry’s most extensive verified database, allowing more than 450 institutions across the U.S. and Canada to benchmark an institution’s facilities against universities and colleges across the nation. Sightlines’ flagship offering for members is ROPA+, a fully integrated solution for facilities intelligence that leads members through a comprehensive process of facilities benchmarking and analysis. Other Sightlines solutions provide higher ed executives with insights to assist with capital planning, space management and campus sustainability initiatives. For more information, please call 203.682.4952, go to or email

About UNH Sustainability Institute

The UNH Sustainability Institute facilitates integration of diverse perspectives, disciplines and knowledge to address sustainability’s grand challenges. As a university-wide institute, it supports innovation across curriculum, operations, research and engagement. The institute acts as a cultivator and champion of sustainability on campus, in the state and region, and around the world, and is recognized for its unique, creative approach and thought leadership.  Learn more at


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