A History of Sustainability at Clemson

Clemson Tradition

Clemson University's commitment to sustainability is fundamental. It is not something new. It is wide-ranging and goes all the way back to our founder and our founding mission. In an 1868 letter to the journal American Farmer, Thomas Green Clemson wrote:

"When nature’s bank refuses to honor the drafts of the population for meat and bread … science is the only foundation on which we can depend for the recuperation of exhausted lands, or sustaining the fertility of those that are already tilled."

Sustainable agriculture and a sustainable economy – these were Thomas Green Clemson’s goals in advocating for a college that focused on scientific education and research in the nineteenth century. These issues are woven into the history of our institution as a land grant university and into the fabric of our academic enterprise across campus and across disciplines. Today, we have transformed Thomas Green Clemson’s understanding of agricultural sustainability into something more: a calling to operate our university and educate our students in a manner that prioritizes social, economic and environmental well-being.

Our Path to a Sustainable Clemson

As an institution, Clemson adopted a Sustainable Building Policy in 2004 and a Sustainable Energy Policy in 2008. Clemson had the first LEED-certified public building in South Carolina and has completed 22 LEED-certified projects.

In 2007, then-President James F. Barker, along with 600 other presidents, signed the American College and University President’s Climate Commitment. This joined Clemson with a coalition of colleges and universities concerned about the impacts of climate change. Since signing the commitment, carbon emissions have remained around the 2007 level, even as the square footage of Clemson has increased.

About Clemson's Sustainability Timeline
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Now and For the Future

As we look toward the future, Clemson recognizes that sustainability will be of the utmost importance in continuing progress. In an effort to map out our course, Clemson developed its first Sustainability Action Plan under the guidance of the Clemson University Sustainability Commission. This document outlines the steps that need to be taken in order to meet our goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2030.

Along the path to a net-zero Clemson are two major checkpoints regarding building intensity and clean energy sourcing. Clemson University recently met our goal to reduce overall building energy intensity by 20 percent from 2000 to 2020 and has pledged to increase energy sourcing from renewable resources by 10 percent by 2025.

To ensure accountability and unbiased assessment of our sustainable progress, Clemson has undergone two major external reviews. One is the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment and Rating System (STARS) carried out by the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) in 2017. The other review is the Sightlines report. This report occurs yearly, assessing the operations of the university and reporting total emissions.