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Climate Leadership

Audience at a workshop of Study Group on Climate Change, Smith College

Smith supports a range of initiatives focused on countering and mitigating the effects of climate change, the most important, perhaps, being its commitment to being climate-neutral by 2030. Sustainability is an integral part of the college’s strategic plan, and the college has several working-groups dedicated to moving its carbon-neutrality and sustainability goals forward.

Proxy Carbon Price Strategy

What is a Proxy Carbon Price?

A proxy carbon price is a tool that acknowledges and internalizes the social, ecological, and/or economic costs of carbon pollution in financial decisions. The proxy carbon price does not impose an actual fee. Instead it converts carbon emissions into the common metric of money to inform decisions. Planners at colleges and universities are constantly making decisions that ask them to weigh different types of products, technologies, or fuels. Using a proxy carbon price strategy allows them to include the likely carbon emissions as an additional cost of each choice. Institutions can use a proxy carbon price to directly represent the cost to society from climate change damages, to model the financial risks posed by future carbon regulation, and/or align decision-making with an institution’s strategic climate goals

Proxy Carbon Pricing at Smith

The Study Group on Climate Change recommended that Smith College develop an internalized cost of carbon emissions—such as a carbon-proxy price—to help guide major capital budget management and other decision-making processes. In the spring of 2018 the Sustainability Committee selected $70 per MTCO2e (rising over time) as the proxy carbon price for Smith College.

In 2018, President Kathleen McCartney also signed the Higher Education Carbon Pricing Endorsement Initiative to demonstrate Smith College’s support for carbon pricing.

Putting Policy Into Practice

At Smith we use our campus as a classroom and students are at the forefront of our innovations. Breanna Parker ’18 completed an honors thesis called Designing a Proxy Carbon Price Strategy for Smith College, advised by Alex Barron (ES&P), Susan Sayre (economics) and Dano Weisbord (sustainability and campus planning). Parker found that many businesses and governments are using carbon price strategies and only a small but growing number of academic institutions are using them. Her thesis explored how a proxy carbon price might be implemented at Smith College and included background research, stakeholder interviews, and pilot projects.

Smith College is also involved in The Carbon Pricing in Higher Education Working Group. This group brings together stakeholders from the higher education sector and experts in carbon pricing policy. It is led by Yale University, Second Nature and Swarthmore College and supported by the Carbon Pricing Leadership Coalition, with partnership from Smith College, Arizona State University, University of British Columbia, University College London and George Washington University. The role of the working group is to support colleges and universities that wish to model carbon pricing on campus, and to explore the role of U.S. higher education in advancing carbon pricing on a state, regional or federal level.

The working group has developed tools and resources that higher education institutions can use to model internal carbon prices. By modeling carbon prices, campuses create a community of practice that may inform potential policy and educate students on the benefits and challenges of pricing carbon. Smith students and faculty have developed several resources for this toolkit.  

“In an economist’s perfect world, everyone would have to pay for their carbon pollution—thus encouraging everyone to take steps to reduce emissions. We don’t yet live in that world, but Smith can lead by ensuring that we account for climate change when we make important decisions.”—Alex Barron, Assistant Professor of Environmental Science and Policy, SGCC Member


Planning and reporting is central to Smith’s climate action goals. Reporting is completed for both the Smith community and external bodies, such as the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE).

Integral Group Energy Decarbonization Study

This report, completed as part of the work of the Study Group on Climate Change, outline various ways that the college can decarbonize how it heats, cools and lights its buildings, all toward meeting its goal of being climate-neutral by 2030.

The Road to Carbon Neutrality by 2030

This is an update of the college’s Sustainability & Climate Action Management Plan (see below). It details the college’s progress on energy efficiency, water conservation, waste diversion, and local food, as well as as academic and co-curricular offerings.

Sustainability & Climate Action Management Plan (SCAMP)

This document was written soon after the founding of the Campus Sustainability Office and coincided with former President Carol Christ’s signing of the Carbon Commitment. It outlines the sources of Smith’s carbon footprint and created the first look at how to reach 2030 carbon neutrality goals.

Carbon Commitment

(Formerly American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment) The college submits progress reports and greenhouse gas reports regularly to track its advancement toward its carbon neutrality commitment.

Committee on Sustainability

The Committee on Sustainability is concerned with the best long-term use of finite natural resources and the college's impact on the local, regional and global environment. It identifies, implements and evaluates approaches for increasing Smith's commitment to sustainability in all areas of the campus, including (but not limited to) construction, transportation, materials and energy use, waste management, purchasing, investment and the campus curriculum. It will also monitor the college’s progress toward meeting the recommendations from the Study Group on Climate Change and report annually to the community.

Committee on Sustainability Members

Alexander Barron, Assistant Professor, Environmental Science & Policy

Julia Franchi Scarselli ’18

Larissa Holland ’20

Timothy Johnson, Director, Smith College Botanic Garden

Denise McKahn, Associate Professor, Engineering

Roger Mosier, Associate Vice President, Facilities

Bob Newton, ex officio as Director of CEEDS

Amy Rhodes, Professor, Geosciences

Ilana Schiller-Weiss ’18

Rachel Twerdowsky ’20

Dano Weisbord, Director of Sustainability and Campus Planning


Smith earned a gold rating from the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) for the college’s overall sustainability performance. The prestigious ranking is based on a host of self-reported measures, including curriculum, research, operations, public engagement and leadership. Among the factors that led to Smith’s gold rating were reduced energy consumption in campus buildings, the formation of a committee on investor responsibility, and the growing proportion of faculty members (now at 28 percent) engaged in research on sustainability issues.