As the risks and impacts of climate change become more visible every year, the call for net-zero emissions is no longer restricted to country-level commitments. It has become equally important for non-state actors, like business corporations and large institutions, to establish targets and pathways to net zero by mid-century or sooner. Universities and colleges across the world have the unique opportunity in this race to net zero, to not only build strategies to reduce emissions within their operations, but to also champion knowledge, climate research, and action within their communities.

With university net-zero commitments rising worldwide, the SDSN has developed the Net Zero on Campus Initiative in collaboration with the Climateworks Centre, Monash University, Second Nature, and the EAUC. Together, they created a guide (in English and Spanish) and accompanying online toolkit to help universities and colleges accelerate their climate action plans, while creating new communities of practice.

Online Toolkit

As an appendix to the guide, this online toolkit provides a wide array of examples of resources (including case studies) that can support the planning and implementation of decarbonization efforts on college and university campuses worldwide. Within the toolkit, resources are categorized by campus action area: energy, mobility, facilities, waste and recycling, value chain, and beyond campus operations.


As universities and colleges provide spaces for working, studying, teaching, and living, they consume significant energy to power lighting, technology, appliances, hot water and space heating or cooling. Universities and colleges can contribute to accelerating the energy transition by reducing their energy demand and supporting renewable energy generation.


Addressing the ways people travel to and from campus will be critical in reaching net-zero emissions. Key strategies include: avoiding the need to travel where possible; reducing the reliance on private vehicles and encouraging sustainable options like walking, cycling, or public transport; and improving campus fleet and freight emissions.


Campus facilities include buildings for working, teaching, studying, laboratories, residence, and recreation. Facilities span across the areas of energy, materials, transport, and waste, all of which need to simultaneously contribute to a college or university’s net-zero commitment. Strategies include replacing carbon and energy-intensive equipment, establishing green laboratories, and retrofitting campus buildings.

Waste and Recycling

The waste sector contributes a proportionally small amount of greenhouse gases compared to the energy and mobility areas on campus. However, to reach net zero, it is crucial that emissions from the waste sector are addressed, such as via the implementation of a circular economy and material recovery strategies on campus.

Value Chain

When purchasing equipment and supplies for a university or college, it is important that institutions follow sustainable procurement practices in order to ensure that they target Scope 1, 2, and 3 emissions. This extends to procurement of appliances and equipment, catering, materials for laboratories and libraries, among others.

Beyond Campus Operations

There are several aspects of climate action beyond campus operations that play a key role in college and university decarbonization efforts. These include the role of universities and colleges acting as an amplifier of change, engagement with student bodies, securing financing for net zero, and encouraging net-zero aligned education, research, and innovation.

Submit a Resource

SDSN is launching a call for resources, including case studies, to help capture the rapidly expanding work of colleges and universities in decarbonization, and the amazing diversity and innovation of approaches. Resources must be submitted via email to [email protected] with the name, link, and a brief description of the resource in English. Case studies must be submitted through THIS FORM in English.

Join Our Mailing List

Join the community of practice to share and read case studies, stay up to date on campus decarbonization news, and engage with like-minded professionals from around the world.

Join Our LinkedIn Group

This community brings together university and college professionals, students, and other interested stakeholders to discuss campus decarbonization.

Get Involved With Net Zero on Campus

There are a number of ways to get involved with Net Zero on Campus. These include joining global networks of academic institutions working on decarbonization, such as Second Nature and EAUC; joining the 'Race to Zero for Universities and Colleges' campaign and making a net-zero commitment; empowering your students and engaging them in your campus decarbonization efforts; joining SDSN Youth; and exploring SDSN’s free, open educational resources from the world’s leading sustainable development experts to use in your classrooms.

Featured News

Featured Resources


Elena Crete

  • Head of Climate and Energy
  • SDSN Climate and Energy Program

Julie Topf

  • Program Associate
  • Science Panel for the Amazon and Climate and Energy Program

John Thwaites

  • Professorial Fellow, Monash University; Chair, Monash Sustainable Development Institute and Climateworks Centre; and Chair, SDSN Australia, New Zealand & Pacific
  • Monash University

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