Greenhouse gas emissions result from fuel combustion, refrigerant leaks and other fugitive emissions, and waste management. In order to manage these emissions it is necessary to measure them, using data to drive mitigation projects and education initiatives.

  • Total Emissions: Total GHG emissions have decreased by 58,146 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalents (CO2e) since the 2007 baseline year, which is a reduction of more than 10 percent. Furthermore, since 2008 when the University’s greenhouse gas emissions peaked, total emissions have decreased by 114,216 metric tons of CO2e, a reduction of nearly 19 percent.
  • Scope 1 & 2 Emissions: Scope One and Scope Two emissions decreased by 19 percent from the 2007 baseline year, or 85,131 metric tons of CO2e. Since emissions peaked in 2008, Scope One and Two emissions have decreased by 26 percent, a reduction of 127,365 metric tons of CO2e.
  • Scope 3 Emissions: Scope Three emissions have increased by 26,984 metric tons of CO2e from the 2007 baseline year, an increase of 26 percent.

Inventory Boundaries

Greenhouse gas emissions result from almost everything we do – how does UNC-Chapel Hill define the boundaries of its GHG inventory?

Organizational Boundaries

The first task in developing a greenhouse gas inventory is to define the limits of the organization. As a university with programs that reach an international scale, it is important to explicitly define which aspects of our operations we will measure for a comprehensive inventory. Organizational boundaries for the University’s emission inventory were defined, for the vast majority of emissions, by the Operational Control Approach. Operational Control was determined by the University’s authority to introduce and implement policies governing various activities, purchases or operations. This included all operations centered in Chapel Hill, as well as owned and leased space across the state.

Emissions resulting from the operation of the UNC Health Care System in Chapel Hill are included in the inventory. Though the hospital is funded, operated, and managed as an entity separate from the University, direct emissions from the Health Care System’s use of UNC-generated electricity, steam, and chilled water result from the operation of UNC’s cogeneration facility and chilled water facilities which are under the operational control of the University. Therefore, UNC accounts for emissions associated with Health Care System consumption of those utilities which is consistent with regulatory GHG reporting programs.

For entities shared by UNC and the town of Chapel Hill, or state-owned entities that share UNC infrastructure but are not owned by the University, organizational boundaries were defined by a financial control approach. Emissions were divided proportionally between UNC and the sharing partner based on financial investment and control of the operation. UNC will report emissions for all leased entities over which it exercises operational control and for which accurate fuel or energy use can be measured or estimated.

The University owns, leases, or exercises operational control over more than 530 buildings and spaces across campus and the region. A list of all of UNC’s owned or leased facilities currently in use may be viewed at

Operational Boundaries

Defining operational boundaries involves identifying all core-direct (Scope 1) and core-indirect (Scope 2) emissions sources per the WRI/WBCSD GHG Protocol. Where credible and relevant data exists, and in compliance with the ACUPCC implementation guidelines, UNC will also report optional indirect emissions sources that arise as a function of its educational and business operations (Scope 3).

GHG inventory accounting standards require documentation of the following greenhouse gases: carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O), hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), and sulfur hexafluoride (SF6). There are no known sources of the sixth category of Kyoto gases, perfluorocarbons (PFCs), utilized in campus operations. In this inventory, we have also chosen to include the emissions of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs) that are regulated under the Montreal Protocol and have been identified as greenhouse gases. Global warming potentials are taken from the IPCC Second Assessment Report (1995) where available to comply with international reporting standards.

All emissions are given in metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (MTCDE), to allow for comparison of their relative contributions to UNC-Chapel Hill’s climate impact.

  • Scope 1 Emissions result from onsite fuel combustion (generators, boilers, etc), mobile emissions from University owned or leased vehicles, use of laboratory gases, and fugitive emissions from refrigeration equipment and electrical equipment.
  • Scope 2 Emissions result exclusively from purchased electricity. On main campus and most off-campus sites, this is provided by Duke Energy Corporation. Off-campus locations may also be supplied by Piedmont Electric or Progress Energy.
  • Scope 3 Emissions arise as the result of University operations, but are not under the direct control of the University. These include emissions resulting from daily commuter activity, air travel, solid waste management, landscaping, and wastewater treatment.

Emissions Breakdown

In 2007, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill committed to achieving carbon neutrality by mid-century, reducing its greenhouse gas emissions to zero through renewable energy, alternative transportation, and efficiency programs. Over time, greenhouse gas emissions have been declining due to a variety of factors.

Since the Climate Action Program began, changes in energy pricing have allowed University staff to explore alternative strategies for heating, cooling, and powering an eighteen million square foot campus. Significant amounts of coal have been replaced by natural gas at half the carbon emissions for an equivalent output of heat. Additionally, electricity purchased from the grid has also fallen since 2007 from .48 metric tons carbon dioxide equivalent per megawatt hour to .42 metric tons carbon dioxide equivalent per megawatt hour.  This is due to a greater proportion of Duke Energy power generated from nuclear, hydroelectric, and renewable sources.

At the same time, a team of building energy technicians has implemented efficiency improvements in campus buildings. Their efforts to implement low- and no-cost solutions have saved several thousand metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions as well as millions of dollars in direct energy savings.

Forest Sequestration

In fall 2012, a group of outstanding students from a variety of majors conducted a capstone project through UNC’s Institute for the Environment which focused on carbon sequestration in three UNC-owned properties: Main Campus, Carolina North, and the North Carolina Botanical Garden. UNC’s Energy Services department commissioned the project as we were interested in both the annual carbon sequestration of these properties as well as the carbon stored in these forested areas. The project team utilized a software package initially developed by the United States Forest Service known as i-Tree Eco to develop the project and conduct the carbon sequestration analysis. The results of the study indicated that these properties sequester approximately 7,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide per year. The team’s final report also details the air quality benefits provided by UNC’s urban forest. In future iterations of UNC’s greenhouse gas inventory, this calculated amount of carbon dioxide sequestered will be deducted from inventory totals thereby reducing UNC’s total emissions by approximately 1.5% per year.

Key Figures 2007 2013 Change
Greenhouse Gas Emissions (MTCDE) 557,076 498,838 -10.5%
Full-Time Equivalent Students 25,895 26,989 4.2%
Emissions per FTE Student 21.5 18.5 -14.1%
Campus Population 39,669 41,110 3.6%
Emissions per Capita 13.9 13.0 -13.6%
Gross Square Footage (Million Sq. Ft.) 16.1 19.5 21.5%
Building Energy Emissions/1,000 Sq. Ft. 28.5 19.3 -32.3%
Emissions by Demand

Inventory Reports

Below are links to the UNC-Chapel Hill 2007-2012 Greenhouse Gas Inventory Reports. Upon the completion of an internal review, the 2013 Inventory Report, as well as an update to the 2012 Inventory Report will both be released.