The Carbon Charge to Departments

Schematic diagram of the charge to departments. The charge is calculated by multiplying the department's emissions by the social cost of carbon. The department then pays that charge into a Carbon Charge Fund, which supports projects to reduce Swarthmore's emissions. 

In order to make the real costs of carbon emissions visible, to foster a sense of collective responsibility for mitigating climate change, and to generate revenue for sustainability projects, the school will levy a carbon charge on each department for the costs of their annual carbon emissions. 

In 2014, Swarthmore was responsible for approximately 11,434 metric tons of CO2 equivalents of greenhouse gases from our heat generation and electricity purchasing. The EPA conservatively estimates that the social cost of these carbon emissions is around $37 per metric ton CO2, so the unpaid costs borne globally of our emissions is approximately $423,058. The Board of Managers approved a starting school-wide charge of $300,000 for the first year of the program. This charge will be levied in the form of a flat 1.25% charge on each department's total operating budget, excluding salaries and benefits. This year, every department is receiving an additional allocation to cover the full expense of the charge. 

We expect that the social cost of carbon will increase in future years, as we move to more closely align our charge with the EPA's estimates and as that EPA estimate increases, but we hope that the impact on college budgets will be offset by reductions in the college's emissions.

This is the first year of a new program, and we still have a lot to learn about how to do this well. We're going to need participation and input from the entire Swarthmore community to make it the best that it can be. A new Carbon Charge Committee will be responsible for making decisions about changes to the program in future years, including the use of the revenue, changes in the social cost of carbon that we use, and changes in the mechanisms by which department's carbon responsibility is assessed and paid.