By Claire Roby, Carbon Accounting Manager, Clean Air-Cool Planet
(This article appears in the November, 2011 issue of The ACUPCC Implementer)
At the recent 2011 AASHE conference, Clean Air-Cool Planet (CA-CP) unveiled the next phase of the Campus Carbon Calculator™ evolution: we’ve partnered with Sightlines, LLC, to redevelop the Campus Carbon Calculator as a dynamic, web-based solution. The goal: to streamline the transition from analysis to action with a simpler, more powerful tool.
Back in 2001, CA-CP partnered with the University of New Hampshire to develop a template for campus greenhouse gas tracking. That Excel-based template — better known as the Campus Carbon Calculator™ — has since become the most widely-used carbon management tool in higher education, evolving with user needs to become increasingly comprehensive while remaining transparent, customizable and free.
The decision to move from Excel to a web-based platform is based on a number of factors. The Calculator’s size and complexity long ago began stretching the limits of Excel. In addition, user needs continue to evolve: users are tracking an expanding list of metrics and reporting their performance to a widening variety of organizations. Users want to spend less time analyzing sustainability and greenhouse gas projects, and more time doing them. It is clear to CA-CP that a better solution is needed.
Development of the new tool began long before the AASHE 2011 Conference. It started with insights from CA-CP’s decade of experience with the Calculator—the questions and suggestions received from countless workshops and trainings, and one-on-one interaction with thousands of users. It continued with Sightlines contributions: perspective informed by 10 years of providing colleges and universities with qualified data, benchmarks, and insight into campus trends and best practices, as well as direct use of the Calculator to generate and benchmark annual inventories for over 55 institutions. This past spring, the project team consulted with other leading organizations working on campus sustainability and contracted a user interface specialist to complete 20 hours of user testing. The culmination of this research was unveiled at the AASHE conference, giving attendees a preview of what to expect from the improved tool.
The current Calculator has three modules, designed to support the various stages of carbon management:
- The Inventory module—for compiling a greenhouse gas inventory
- The Projections module—for profiling likely emissions trends in the absence of intervention moving forward
- The Solutions module–for utilizing life-cycle cost accounting to determine the most cost effective emissions reductions projects.
The new web-based Calculator tool will contain these same three core modules—which will remain free of charge to campus users. It will also offer a streamlined data collection process, integrated features to promote more rigorous data quality control, and automatic updates requiring no transfer of data to updated Excel files.
The new Inventory module is slated for an early summer 2012 launch, so that schools may use the online system for their 2012 GHG inventories. The Projections and Solutions modules will launch shortly thereafter and will include some exciting new features. For instance, you will be able to create “What if” scenarios, comparing multiple carbon projections under different campus growth conditions. You will also be able to generate multiple Solutions portfolios, creating and saving wedge graphs showing the reductions from different “bundles” of projects.
In addition to these added features, the new tool will provide support for team management. For example, the primary user can assign data entry for a specific source – such as fleet fuels – to someone else on their campus – such as the fleet manager. The fleet manager will then receive an email with a direct link to the assigned data input screen, streamlining the data collection process for the primary user without requiring their colleague to create an account or learn how to use the entire system.
Especially exciting is the new tool’s ability to generate customized reports tailored to the variety of public reporting systems within higher education, including ACUPCC, STARS, and The Green Report Card. While these customized reports will drastically reduce the time it takes to reprocess data for each outlet, CA-CP is also working with each of these organizations to identify opportunities to directly connect our databases to provide users with one-click submission of their Calculator results.
Once the online Calculator is fully launched, CA-CP will continue to develop and incorporate new features to facilitate faster, more effective campus climate action. For example, we will create a library of sample project data to reduce the initial research burden of climate action planning within the Solutions module.
Carnegie Mellon University has partnered with CA-CP to develop some of these advanced features, one of which is already available to aid schools in “reality-checking” and benchmarking their emissions profiles. The application allows a user to select a school and/or set of criteria, such as enrollment, Carnegie classification, and climate zone, to identify the most appropriate peer institutions for benchmarking carbon management performance. Visit the Calculator’s future home, www.campuscarbon.org, to try out CMU’s new tool.
CA-CP and Sightlines invite further feedback from all users throughout the development process. We hope that with this dynamic new online platform, the Campus Carbon Calculator can continue to effectively support excellence in campus carbon management.
Please visit www.campuscarbon.org for several preview screenshots and updates on the development timeline. If your school would like to be an early tester of the new system, please contact us to make arrangements by February, 2012. Additionally, CA-CP is happy to work with research classes and/or students needing academic credit internships for project development and research.
If you have any questions or would like to be involved in this project, please contact Claire Roby at firstname.lastname@example.org.