Climate Planning and Resilience

Climate Action

Cal Poly continues to make progress on its goal of carbon neutrality by 2050. Total greenhouse gas emissions in 2017 were 17 percent below 2015 levels, and 20 percent below 1990 levels despite campus doubling in building square footage and on-campus residency since that time. Energy conservation efforts reduced 2016–17 building energy intensity by 3 percent over the prior year—23 percent lower than 10 years ago—while water conservation, zero waste efforts, and improved agricultural practices further reduced carbon emissions. Along with greater renewable energy generation across the state from solar and wind, increased rainfall in the northwest improved hydroelectric generation for PG&E in 2017, resulting in 79 percent of Cal Poly’s electricity purchase coming from carbon-free sources—up from 59 percent two years ago. With completion of the 4.5 MW Gold Tree Solar Farm in May of 2018, 25 percent of Cal Poly’s total electricity needs are now being met by on-site solar generation, with more solar projects in development.

The greatest challenge Cal Poly faces on its path to carbon neutrality is transforming the way commuters get to campus, as commuting accounts for nearly half of total campus carbon emissions. Transportation and Parking Services implemented numerous initiatives to reduce emissions from commuting, including prohibition of cars for freshmen living on campus, addition of bike racks, expansion of ZipCar and vanpool programs, limiting sale of parking permits, and a pilot to assign parking areas for permit holders to reduce circling. Parking area assignments will roll out fully in 2018–19.

Cal Poly Climate Action Plan

Created over the 2015–2016 academic year in collaboration between Facilities Management and Development and Cal Poly’s City and Regional Planning Department, Cal Poly’s Climate Action Plan (PolyCAP) was written by a team of 27 senior and graduate students in the CRP 410/411 studio. Many of the proposed strategies are already underway or have been completed ahead of schedule, such as Cal Poly’s 4.5 MW solar farm. Data shows the university has already reduced greenhouse gas emissions to pre-1990 levels, five years ahead of the state mandate, in spite of 100 percent growth in building square footage and on-campus housing since that time.

Download Poly CAP documents:

The greenhouse gas inventory showed that Cal Poly has already reduced its Scope 1, 2, and 3 emissions below 1990 levels, five years before the CSU policy mandate, and in spite of 100% growth in buildings and on-campus housing over that period. The inventory also showed that over 50% of Cal Poly's emissions are produced by commuting, reinforcing the need to continue investing in alternative transportation programs and on campus housing.

The Plan quantifies the potential GHG reductions from over 80 proposed policies and measures to achieve the goal of climate neutrality and resilience across all sectors: Buildings, Agriculture, Transportation, Water, Solid Waste, Campus Life, Renewable Energy, and Public Private Partnership driven development. Proposed policies include:

  • Design new buildings to exceed Title 24 by 20%, Certified LEED Gold
  • Improve energy metering, modernize existing buildings to exceed Title 24 by 15%, Certified LEED Silver
  • Increase on-site generation of renewable energy with rooftop solar PV and energy storage
  • Digest animal manure and solid waste to generate energy
  • House all freshman and sophomores on campus and prohibit vehicles
  • Expand alternative transportation programs and transition fleet to electric
  • Further reduce turf, improve irrigation efficiency, and transition to drought tolerant landscape
  • Expand Zero Waste programs for composting and recycling
  • Sequester carbon via sustainable rangeland management

Carbon Farm Plans

Cal Poly Ranches Carbon Farm Plan

Coastal San Luis Resource Conservation District (CSLRCD) teamed up with an interdisciplinary team of Cal Poly staff, faculty, and students to develop the Cal Poly Ranches Carbon Farm Plan. The plan addresses the 4,000 acres of rangeland under Cal Poly's grazing management and was completed in January of 2020. Download the plan here: CP Ranches Carbon Farm Plan.

Swanton Pacific Ranch Carbon Farm Plan

The Center for Sustainability, together with the Carbon Cycle Institute, the Resource Conservation District of Santa Cruz County, and Swanton Pacific Ranch (SPR), has developed a Carbon Farm Plan for the organically managed acreage at SPR. To read more or download the plan, click here.