The College of the Holy Cross is committed to achieving carbon neutrality by 2040. Presently, over 60 percent of the College’s carbon footprint comes from heating, which is primarily fueled by natural gas. Renewable natural gas (RNG) and carbon offsets are potential assets in fulfilling this commitment. RNG emits significantly less carbon than traditional natural gas does. This gas is fully interchangeable with conventional natural gas and thus can be used in existing natural gas systems, such as Holy Cross’ physical plant. RNG is essentially biogas (the gaseous product of the decomposition of organic matter) that has been processed to purity standards. RNG can be extracted from landfills, livestock operations, and wastewater treatment plants.
Other colleges and universities are utilizing RNG and carbon offsets in a cost-effective manner to achieve carbon neutrality. My proposed plan of action for Holy Cross is to contract with a major in-state energy or waste management firm to access RNG at a competitive and stable rate. The University of New Hampshire has achieved carbon neutrality by utilizing RNG. UNH partnered with Waste Management to develop a landfill biomethane plant, which now fuels most of the campus. UNH sold renewable energy certificates to finance the capital costs of the project. Similarly, with its own RNG plan, Duke University is approaching carbon neutrality. Duke partnered with Google and Duke Energy to develop a livestock biogas plant.
Meanwhile, Allegheny College and American University have achieved carbon neutrality through carbon offsets, which are voluntary offsite investments made to negate emissions. For Allegheny and American, these measures included investing in responsible trucking, forestry, international energy sustainability, and further insulation on their campuses. To reduce its carbon footprint and as an alternative to converting to RNG, Holy Cross could maintain its traditional natural gas system while increasing its portfolio of carbon offsets.
There are commercial RNG facilities within proximity of the Holy Cross campus. These locations are listed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as sellers of biomethane, a form of renewable natural gas. Some Massachusetts locations include Westminster, New Bedford, Haverhill, Hadley, and Rutland. Holy Cross can explore contracting opportunities with these locations individually, or through a major energy or waste management partner.
In accordance with the Jesuit tradition, Holy Cross is committed to active engagement with the world. The Society of Jesuits’ Universal Apostolic Preferences call us to act urgently on today’s environmental crisis, “whole nations and peoples need an ecological conversion if we are to be honest custodians of this wonderful planet.” By reducing its carbon footprint through renewable natural gas and carbon offsets, the College is dedicating itself as an honest custodian of this planet. We gain new strength to care for others and for creation when we replenish our common home.
I see three major steps in reducing the College’s carbon footprint through RNG. First, Holy Cross should continue building efficiency projects to minimize heating demand, and consequently, natural gas usage. Second, the College should contract with a major in-state energy or waste management firm to access RNG at a competitive and stable rate. Finally, Holy Cross should replace conventional natural gas purchases with RNG from a new contract. These measures will lead to significantly reduced carbon emissions, advancing the College’s mission to be carbon neutral by 2040.