WWS logo

Development of Policy Initiatives for the Sustainable Use of Energy at Princeton University

Professor Denise Mauzerall, Woodrow Wilson School, 2007

"Princeton should grow in a manner which is sensitive to geography, sensitive to energy and resource consumption and works to sustain strong community relations"

-Shirley Tilghman

Princeton’s climate change research programs are among the most advanced and well funded in the world.  The Carbon Mitigation Initiative, the result of a $20 million grant from British Petroleum and Ford Motor Company, continues its work on carbon capture and storage as well as other cutting edge climate change research projects.  The university has also been aggressively expanding its teaching offerings to undergraduate, graduate and postdoctoral students interested in climate change issues.

Operationally, however, Princeton has been slow to integrate climate change awareness into the workings of the university.  Although there have been efforts to reduce carbon emissions, Princeton has no comprehensive carbon policy. In contrast, many other colleges and universities have made ambitious commitments to reduce, and in some cases eliminate, carbon emissions.  The Development of Policy Initiatives for the Sustainable Use of Energy at Princeton University Task Force (“the Task Force”) was charged with studying the policies of these institutions and then contextualized the best elements of them to the Princeton operating environment to develop recommendations for the creation of a carbon policy for Princeton.

The Task Force was comprised of seven undergraduate students and one graduate student of the Woodrow Wilson School of Public Policy and International Affairs at Princeton University.  It was led by Professor Denise Mauzerall.  Six of the undergraduate Task Force members studied specific areas of Princeton’s carbon emissions and developed policies to reduce emissions within that area.  The research of these students serves as the basis of this summary report which was written by the seventh undergraduate member.

The overarching recommendation of the Task Force is the adoption of a dual-prong organizing principle: Princeton should meet the Presidents Climate Commitment through immediate offset purchases and Governor Corzine’s Executive Order No. 54 through on-campus emissions reductions.  Meeting the Presidents Climate Commitment and going carbon neutral immediately could be achieved through offset purchases costing only $350,000 annually.   Meeting Executive Order No. 54, which demands that Princeton reduce emissions by 2020 to 1990 levels, through on-campus emissions reductions would be more difficult and expensive, but still possible.  Known on-campus projects could reduce emissions by more than 50,000 metric tons of CO2 at a net cost of $690,000 a year.  This is more than half of the 80,000 metric tons of emissions reductions from business as usual 2020 projections demanded by Executive Order No. 54.  The Task Force has four main recommendations for how Princeton can reduce on-campus emissions further to enable compliance with Executive Order No. 54.  We recommend that:

1. The Princeton’s Office of Sustainability should be used to institutionalize the commitment to sustainability in six key areas: commitment from top management, administrative chain of command, metrics for success, funding, publicity, and active engagement of students and faculty.

2. Princeton should endorse and encourage student grassroots emissions reduction efforts.

3. Princeton should bring sustainability into the pre-project stage of new building construction and reconsider LEED certification..

4. Princeton should develop a Transportation Demand Management program within the Office of Sustainability.

Pursuing these policies would allow Princeton to take on a leadership role in the effort to mitigate the effects of climate change at a reasonable cost. 



On 9 May 2007, the Task Force presented its findings to members of the Princeton University Administration. The slides from our presentation are available below, as well as the individual student reports.


Presentation to the Princeton University Administration


Summary Report

Complete Report


Individual Task Force Reports:

Summary Report (Ben Steiner)

Laying the Groundwork for a Sustainable Princeton: Organizing Principle Development and Best Practices Policies (Miriam Chaum)

The Ethics of Passing the Buck: The Role of Renewable Energy Certificates and Carbon Offsets in Creating Environmental Sustainability at Princeton University (Molly Rapoport)

A Six-Pronged Diagnosis of Sustainability Institutionalization in Universities (James Kuczmarski)

Green from the Bottom Up: Recommendations for Princeton University's Endorsement of Student Grassroots Initiatives to Reduce Campus Energy Use (Jonah Wagner)

Green Buildings, Energy Demand, and Infrastructure on Princeton University Campus Enabling Efficient Growth (Aaron Buchman)

Campus Transportation (Connor Cobean)