Greenhouse Gas Emissions

For details about this credit, including the criteria, reporting timeframe, applicability, scoring, and more, please review the full credit language.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the difference between a carbon offset and a renewable energy credit (REC)?

A carbon offset (or carbon credit) is a reduction in emissions made by a voluntary project designed specifically for that purpose. A renewable energy credit (REC) is a market-based instrument that represents the property rights to the environmental, social and other non-power attributes of renewable electricity generation. RECs are issued when one megawatt-hour (MWh) of electricity is generated and delivered to the electricity grid from a renewable energy resource..

While both offsets and RECs can help an institution lower its emissions footprint, they are different instruments used for different purposes:

  • Offsets are used to address direct and indirect GHG emissions by verifying global emissions reductions at additional, external projects. Offsets (verified emissions reductions) are subtracted from an institution’s gross emissions to determine net emissions.
  • RECs are used to address indirect GHG emissions associated with purchased electricity (scope 2 emissions) by verifying use of zero- or low-emissions renewable source of electricity. RECs (MWh of renewable energy) are used in the calculation of gross, market-based scope 2 emissions. Unlike offsets, they are not subtracted from gross emissions.

Therefore, purchased RECs, Guarantees of Origin (GOs), I-RECs and the equivalent may NOT be counted as carbon offsets in STARS. Learn more from the Green Power Partnership.

Please also note that GHG emissions data should not be adjusted manually based on benefits of carbon offsets, since this is included in the credit calculation.

My institution uses SIMAP for its greenhouse gas emissions reporting. Are there any specific guidelines for SIMAP users?

In the SIMAP tool, RECs are fully accounted for in and deducted from total emissions. Therefore, institutions using SIMAP should NOT also report RECs in the v2.1 Greenhouse Gas Emissions credit, as doing so would result in double-counting.

AASHE has published a short guide for SIMAP users with additional information.

What information is required when reporting carbon offsets?

If reporting carbon offsets, your descriptive response should include the vendor, project source, verification program, and contract timeframes and should support all areas where a number above 0 is entered.

What information is required in the GHG inventory?

The uploaded inventory should provide a clear indication of Scope 1, 2 and 3 emissions. If Scope 3 emissions are included, then the inventory must provide data on each of the categories with a “Some” or “All” response in the Reporting Tool. Otherwise, Scope 3 responses in the Reporting Tool should be updated to “None” as appropriate.

Are there other credits that ask for the same information?

Reviewers will check to see if:

  • The weighted campus user (WCU) figures reported in this credit are consistent with Academics and Demographics (IC-3). Valid discrepancies should be clarified in the Notes field (for instance, if a different performance year or data source was used). Note: The weighted campus user (WCU) figures appear in the following credits: Greenhouse Gas Emissions (OP-1), Waste Minimization and Diversion (OP-19), and Water Use (OP-22).
  • The gross floor area and energy intensive space reported in this credit are consistent with Operational Characteristics (IC-2). Valid discrepancies should be clarified in the Notes field (for instance, if a different performance year or data source was used). Note: The gross floor area and energy intensive space figures appear in the following credits: Greenhouse Gas Emissions (OP-1), Building Operations and Maintenance (OP-3), Building Energy Consumption (OP-5), and Water Use (OP-22).

Templates & Tools

GHG Emissions

Carbon Sinks

Example Responses

  • Babson CollegeClear explanation and justification for the drop in emissions under the optional field for “A brief description of the institution’s GHG emissions reduction initiatives…”
  • University of Missouri – Clear explanation and justification for the drop in emissions under “A brief description of the institution’s GHG emissions reduction initiatives…”
  • Thompson Rivers University – Describes how all British Columbia public institutions are mandated to be carbon neutral every year, resulting in offsets that exceed total emissions.
  • West Chester University of Pennsylvania – The university uses SIMAP for GHG emissions reporting. Since RECs are fully accounted for in the SIMAP tool, they were not reported separately under Emissions reductions attributable to Renewable Energy Certificate (REC)…”

Common Issues Identified During Review

  • Score outlier: Uncommon for institutions to earn 7 out of 10 points or above. If a high score is reported, check closely for the issues below. Exemplary performance can be clarified in the descriptive fields.
  • Comparative outliers: Gross Scope 1 and Scope 2 GHG emissions between Performance Year and Baseline Year. Any significant outliers that are valid should be clarified in the descriptive fields or Notes section.
  • Numeric outliers: Responses of zero under either Gross Scope 1 GHG emissions from stationary combustion or Gross Scope 2 GHG emissions from purchased electricity. Any significant outliers that are valid should be clarified in the descriptive fields or Notes section.
  • Weighted campus user (WCU) figures should be consistent across IC 3 and OP 1 if the same performance year is used. Valid discrepancies should be clarified under the Notes field.
  • Gross floor area and energy intensive building space should be consistent across IC 2 and OP 1 if the same or similar performance year is used. Valid discrepancies should be clarified under the Notes field.
  • Uploaded inventory should provide clear indication of Scope 1, 2 and 3 emissions. If indicating that certain Scope 3 emissions are included, then the inventory must reflect this.
  • Check for double-counting or confusion between carbon offsets and renewable energy credits (they are not the same, but both are reported under this credit). If reporting carbon offsets or RECs, be sure to provide detail about vendor, project source, verification program and contract timeframes.
  • If reporting Renewable Energy Certificates, an institution using the Campus Carbon Calculator (2017 or earlier) may report emissions reductions attributable to RECs separately (if not otherwise accounted for in its Scope 2 accounting). Other institutions whose methodologies adjust for RECs directly under Scope 2, including SIMAP and The Climate Registry users, may NOT report RECs in this credit, as doing so would result in double-counting.

Did you find this article helpful?