How Campus Activities Affect the Environment | ISO LCA 14044

This study Assessing the carbon footprint of a university campus using a life cycle assessment approach (ISO LCA 14044)


  • A case study at Clemson University presents an efficient life cycle assessment approach to measuring the campus carbon footprint.
  • The life cycle stages and data assumptions for each source of greenhouse gas emissions are discussed as a basis for comparison with other universities.
  • Scope 1 emissions account for approximately 19% of the carbon footprint, while Scope 2 and 3 emissions contribute nearly 41% each to carbon footprint.
  • Applying a power plant-specific mix of power providers has a significant impact on the final carbon footprint
    ISO LCA 14044
    How Campus Activities Affect the Environment | ISO LCA 14044

The use of ISO LCA 14044

The aim of this paper is to evaluate the carbon footprint of the Clemson University campus using an efficient life cycle assessment approach.

The carbon footprint sets the basis for source-specific evaluation and future mitigation efforts at Clemson University.

Sources of greenhouse gas emissions that are presented in this carbon footprint include steam generation, refrigerants, power plants, electricity life cycles, various forms of transportation, wastewater treatment, and paper use.

This case study describes the approach used to quantify each source of greenhouse gas emissions, and discusses the data assumptions and life cycle stages that are included to improve the comparison of the carbon footprint with other higher education institutions.

Results show that the Clemson University carbon footprint for 2014 is approximately 95,000 metric tons of CO2 equivalent, and 4.4 metric tons of CO2 equivalent per student.

Scope 1 emissions account for approximately 19% of the carbon footprint, while Scope 2 and 3 emissions account for nearly 41% each.

The largest sources of greenhouse gas emissions are power generation (41%), automotive travel (18%), and steam generation (16%).

Coal generation is 29% of the power generation mix and accounts for three-quarters of Clemson University's GHG emissions related to electricity. c 2020 Elsevier Ltd.

This paper assesses GHG emissions from large universities, which can produce a GHG emission profile similar to a small city (Knuth et al., 2007).

As societies move towards reducing GHG emissions, universities can play an active role through education and by presenting themselves as models (Geng et al., 2013; Clarke and Kouri, 2009).

Each commitment requires a climate action plan, and two commitments require HEI signatories to complete a comprehensive inventory of GHG emissions and set a target date for achieving carbon neutrality (Second Nature, 2018a).

Currently, more than 400 agencies have signed the President's Climate Leadership Commitment, many of which report their GHG emission inventories using the Sustainability Indicator Management and Analysis Platform (SIMAP), (formerly the Clean Cold-Air Planet Campus Carbon Calculator) which others use their own specialized tools, or contract outside companies to create their carbon footprint (CF) (Second Nature, 2018b; UNH Sustainability Institute, 2018).

In an effort to calculate GHG emissions, some HEIs have also used a life cycle assessment (iso LCA 14044) approach (Lukman et al., 2009; Baboulet and Lenzen, 2010; Guereca et al., 2013).

As more HEIs calculate their GHG emissions, transparent models are needed to describe the carbon footprint approach and allow for clearer comparisons between HEIs.

Evaluating the similarities or differences in HEI's main GHG emission sources can help centralize goals, strategies, and policies for reducing emissions.

However, comparisons are difficult to make because agencies have varying population sizes, sources of GHG emissions, and variations in their CF methodology.

Comparison of HEI CFs can be challenging because the sources of GHG emissions that are included are not always consistent, especially in relation to the inclusion of Scope 3 emissions.

As a contribution to the GHG emission calculation efforts at HEI, this study evaluates Clemson University (CU), a university country in South Carolina.

This case study builds a CF from a CU using a simplified iso LCA 14044 approach to quantify the source of its GHG emissions.

In this case study, the GHG emission sources and life cycle stages included in the assessment are stated explicitly, along with assumptions, quantified flows, and data sources.

The authors hope that this study helps other HEIs to consider the impacts of the various GHG emission sources and phases included in their own CF, as well as highlight the data sources they may need.

Further, by describing each data source of GHG sources and system boundaries, this paper aims to allow a more accurate comparison between HEIs.

The university offers more than 80 majors, 75 minors, 110 undergraduate degree programs, and has recently achieved Carnegie R1 classification as the highest research activity doctoral university (Clemson University, 2017a).

Base on ISO LCA 14044, the main sources of GHG emissions associated with campus operations include electricity, steam generation, and transportation associated with the university.

Many of the energy-related processes are controlled by the CU Facility, including the on-campus gas-fired steam power plant.

To reduce its CF, the university has switched from coal to natural gas for steam generation, and has been working to improve the efficiency of electrical equipment and equipment on campus.

Base on ISO LCA 14044, indirect emissions from transport such as round trips and university-related trips are more difficult to control, so overall additional projects are needed for universities to achieve carbon neutrality.

This study is limited by sources of GHG emissions and buildings on or associated with CU's main campus, with the inclusion of the CU Youth Conference Center and Wastewater Treatment Plant, which is located near the main campus.

ACUPCC does not consider existing forests to be carbon offsets because they are not above normal operations GHG emission reduction measures, therefore the experimental forest area of 70 square kilometers CU was excluded from this study (Clemson University, 2017b).

Selection of greenhouse gases The carbon footprint attempts to capture the total GHG emissions directly and indirectly caused by human activities, including those that accumulate during the life stage of a product (Wiedmann, 2009).


Total CF for CU is estimated at 95,418 metric tons CO2- e. This includes Scope 1, 2, and 3 emissions, i.e. 18,041, 38,718, and 38,659 metric tons of CO2-e. The estimated emissions from each source are presented in Table 4, and their overall contributions are illustrated in Fig. 2, which does not include GHG emission sources of less than 1% for CF. Overall, de-minimis emissions together total 1,321 metric tonnes of CO2-e, and account for less than 2% of total CF.

ISO LCA 14044

Source: Journal from Raeanne Clabeaux 


Data unavailability is the biggest obstacle in this study as shown in the individual section. Future studies may wish to have the foresight to choose between an IO, PA, or HLCA approach and determine suitable GHG emission sources to suggest a more comprehensive listing at their university. 

Due to varying operations on the HEI, it is recommended that future CF studies report all their GHG emission sources, discuss data assumptions, and state the life cycle phases included in their evaluation. This will allow a more comprehensive comparison and comparison between the CF HEIs.

At the CU there are many sources of GHG emissions that can be evaluated for future CF, many of which are related to Scope 3 emissions that come from sources owned or controlled outside the university. 

Additional sources of GHG emissions that can be assessed include composting, agriculture, food, beverages, furniture, laboratory equipment, maintenance equipment, machinery, infrastructure, and construction activities. 

The sources of GHG emissions that have been evaluated in this study can be expanded to include additional upstream life cycle phases into Scope 1 GHG emission sources such as extraction of raw materials, processing, and transportation of fertilizers and fossil fuels used. 

Downstream impacts such as GHG emissions associated with landfilling and recycling, as well as disposal of construction and demolition materials would also be useful to add to CF CU. In addition, carbon inclusion such as credits purchased or forest management.


This paper base on ISO LCA 14044, shows that it is difficult to compare CFs for HEIs because each includes different sources of GHG emissions in its scope, has different population sizes, and often uses different methodologies. As discussed, even with normalization

the difference in the student population of metric tons of CO2-e per student varied from 2.13 up to 10.9 between the HEIs being compared. In some cases, similarities were found, such as between CU and the Norwegian University of Technology & Science which have comparable student and CF populations. Base on ISO LCA 14044, this case is in stark contrast to other HEIs such as the University of Illinois at Chicago as well

had the same student population, but reported CF was almost threefold greater. This example illustrates the importance of recording the GHG emission sources included so that HEIs are not unfairly compared.

Overall base on ISO LCA 14044, CF CU generates a more complete understanding of the impact of university operations and identifies significant sources of GHG emissions such as electricity generation and transportation. This information can help educate stakeholders about the impact of their day-to-day activities and the changing influence on campus operations. 

As anthropogenic GHG emissions continue, it seems that more HEIs are responding with commitments to reduce GHG emissions. Although the scope is limited, it is important to continue discussing CF HEIs in order to establish a baseline for future improvement and create a knowledge pool for comparative assessments. 

Source: Raeanne Clabeaux et.al. 2020. Assessing the carbon footprint of a university campus using a life cycle assessment approach. Elsevier

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