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Completed Project

Modeling Carbon Charge Programs at Vassar College

Sophie Bedecarré Ernst, Vassar College ’17; James Falino, Vassar College ’17 and Prof. Mary Ann Cunningham, Alistair Hall and Benjamin Ho
An internal carbon charge program within an academic institution is a novel means of internalizing greenhouse gas emissions by assigning a price to carbon. Carbon charge programs often reference the Social Cost of Carbon as determined by the EPA, which aims to quantify the harm brought upon society by carbon emissions. Though the program can manifest in a number of ways, differing in level of charge, price, and utilization of funds, a carbon charge ultimately aims to financially enable the advancement of sustainability initiatives. Funds may become available via a high-level charge or a redistributive charge, which encourages behavior change by rewarding administrative units (of varying sizes) that reduce consumption with a rebate and reprimanding units that increase consumption with a charge. We explore the administrative, financial, and cultural structures and barriers of Vassar College to determine the carbon charge model that would garner the most success at this institution, with the ultimate goal of carbon neutrality. We conclude that, as an institution of higher education, it is vital that Vassar take an aggressive approach to carbon abatement and pursue a thoughtful and thorough investigation of what a carbon charge program could look like at a small liberal arts college of our size, as there is no existing example.