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Climate Action: Track Our Progress

Wanting to reduce our impact and take action against climate change is all well and good, but how do we begin to actually make a difference? Set some real goals!

In 2009, NOLS set Carbon Reduction Goals for the school as a whole. We want to reduce our carbon at aggressive levels sooner rather than later to prevent more emissions from ever entering the atmosphere to begin with. So, in keeping with the spirit of our 2013 Strategic Plan goals, we set stretch goals and interim targets—big enough to energize us, but not so high that they’re out of reach.

We settled on two interim goals:

  • a 10% reduction from our 2006* carbon levels by 2010
  • a 30% reduction by 2020

*Our 2006 carbon levels were determined in a sustainability audit performed in 2007 by Pure Strategies, Inc.

We are happy to note we exceeded our 2010 goal in 2009—a year early! While we expect numbers to fluctuate in our 2010 footprint as we grow more consistent in our data collection, we feel this is an accurate representation of our sustainability efforts and energy use in fiscal year 2009.

We based our goals on a number of recommendations and standards set by other institutions of higher education. Most of these were based on the 2% Solution, that recommends reducing absolute carbon emissions 2% annually until the year 2050, for an overall carbon reduction of greater than 80%. This recommendation came about as a result of general consensus in the scientific community that this reduction will keep the parts per million (ppm) of atmospheric carbon below catastrophic levels.

These goals are absolute, meaning they reflect the total actual carbon emitted by school operations within our carbon footprint boundary. While we decided to set our carbon reduction goals in absolute terms, we also decided that reporting them in both absolute and normalized interpretations was important.

Normalized carbon reporting will show us how much carbon we use per student day. In other words, it will illustrate our carbon “efficiency.” This will be especially helpful if the school grows in leaps and bounds for a period, making it a challenge to reduce our carbon emissions during the same period of time. We will be able to look at the normalized information and see that while perhaps we didn’t hit our absolute goal, we did reduce the amount of carbon we use for each student day we have in the field.


We want to reduce our carbon at aggressive levels sooner rather than later to prevent more emissions from ever entering the atmosphere to begin with.
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