Lehigh UC

Lehigh Releases Climate Action Strategy

The Climate Action Strategy establishes a goal of achieving net carbon neutrality by 2040.

Photography by

Ryan Hulvat

A key component of its 10-year Sustainability Strategic Plan 2030, Lehigh has released its Climate Action Strategy report, which outlines nine major emissions reduction strategies. Lehigh’s ‘Pathway to Zero’ emissions includes a portfolio of strategies that result in Lehigh realizing operational savings while achieving net carbon neutrality by 2040.  The strategy, spearheaded by the Office of Sustainability, in collaboration with Lehigh University Facilities, was developed over the last year and a half. 

“I am thrilled to release Lehigh’s Climate Action Strategy to campus and the surrounding community. Not only will it have a big impact on our campus operations, emissions, and the environment, but it will also save the institution money and have a significant positive impact on academics and research,” said Audrey McSain, sustainability director.

The nine emission reduction strategies featured in the report include: 

  • Virtual Power Purchase Agreement (VPPA) Solar Project
  • On-Campus Solar Project
  • High Priority Energy Projects
  • Sustainable Policies
  • Shifting Lehigh’s Fleet to Run on 100% Renewables
  • Land Preservation & Local Carbon Offsets
  • Electrify Some Campus Buildings 
  • Decarbonize Central Heating Plants
  • High Quality Renewable Energy Credits (RECs) & Carbon Offsets

The Climate Action Strategy aligns Lehigh with the City of Bethlehem’s Climate Action Plan, which established a net-zero by 2040 community-wide target. This strategy deepens Lehigh’s commitments to climate action and puts Lehigh in line with many peer and aspirant peer institutions that have developed pathways to net-zero emissions already. 

“Lehigh is proud to stand with the City of Bethlehem and our peers to demonstrate leadership in climate action. These efforts cumulatively support the further development of resilient and economically prosperous communities,” said Patricia A. Johnson, vice president for Finance and Administration.”

To assist with the development of the strategy, the Office of Sustainability, in collaboration with LU Facilities, selected two consulting firms: Stone House Group, which worked on the technical aspects of the strategy, and Trust, which provided programmatic support, campus engagement, and experiential learning support.

The Office of Sustainability worked with both on-and off-campus experts. On-campus, faculty, staff, and students were involved in four working groups. There was also both an internal and external advisory group. In October 2020, a series of campus ideation sessions were hosted designed to inform, engage, and seek community insight on what Lehigh should consider when developing the Climate Action Strategy. Feedback from the sessions, as well as from surveys, was crucial to identifying the guiding principles for the Climate Action Strategy. 

A Climate Action Strategy Executive Implementation Committee has been formed that includes members of both the working and advisory groups. This committee is responsible for operationalizing the strategy to enable a robust return on investment for the overall portfolio of projects. Progress on the strategy will be reported annually to the campus community and senior leadership.   

“Having clear accountability for implementation is critically important to the success of the strategy. Strategy deployment requires significant effort and that effort means transparency in terms of who is responsible. We have a great team that is excited about plan implementation. We look forward to getting started,” said Mark Ironside, assistant vice president of Business Services.

Building a strong connection between academics and campus sustainability was a cornerstone in the development of Lehigh’s Climate Action Strategy, McSain said, and will continue to be so throughout its implementation.

“We plan to continue to connect this strategy to Lehigh’s academic and research mission by using the outlined physical and operational changes to the campus to provide students with first-hand experiences to utilize Lehigh’s campus as a living laboratory and to showcase potential synergies with faculty research interests,” said McSain.

A newly developed Lehigh Climate Lab, a partnership with the Office of Sustainability, LU Facilities and faculty, will meet regularly to identify opportunities to bring Lehigh’s Climate Action Strategy into coursework, projects, and research. In addition, all Lehigh faculty are encouraged to incorporate climate action content into their course work using the Climate Action Strategy Course Toolkit.

Photography by

Ryan Hulvat

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