Setting and reaching institutional N Footprint reduction goals: a case study at the University of Virginia

Elizabeth S. Milo1, Elizabeth A. Castner1, Lia R.Cattaneo1, James N. Galloway1, Allison M. Leach2

1University of Virginia, 291 McCormick Rd, Charlottesville, VA, 22904 USA,

2University of New Hampshire, 131 Main Street, 107 Nesmith Hall, Durham, NH, 03824 USA


Reactive nitrogen is both essential and detrimental to life on Earth. While nitrogen is a key component of protein, it is also a pollutant that can cause climate change, eutrophication, and more. The University of Virginia (UVA) is the only university that has approved a nitrogen footprint reduction goal. This goal was approved by UVA’s governing board in 2013 and aims to reduce the University’s nitrogen footprint by 25% below 2010 levels by 2025. Note that for this study, the boundaries of the N footprint calculation at UVA include on-campus university operations but excludes the food component of the universities’ health system.  UVA has calculated its footprint for 2010 and 2014 and will continue to complete a benchmark calculation every four years. The UVA N footprint group and the Office for Sustainability have determined a number of scenarios to reduce the University’s N footprint. Examples of these include implementing a Meatless Mondays program, composting all food waste at the University and switching from coal to natural gas at the heating plant. Since the 2010 baseline year, UVA’s N footprint has changed from a total of 403 to 393 MT N; the total reduction needs to be to 303 MT N. The decrease in the universities N footprint can be partially attributed to the decrease in coal use in the universities’ heating plant.   UVA hopes to serve as a model for other universities and institutions that want to reduce their environmental impact by setting and achieving N reduction goals.