What is your Campus Nitrogen Footprint?

Used by researchers at Brown University, Colorado State University, Dickinson College, Eastern Mennonite University, Marine Biological Laboratory, University of New Hampshire, and University of Virginia

You've heard of a carbon footprint, but what about a nitrogen footprint?

Nitrogen pollution can negatively affect air and water quality, as well as public health. EPA and collaborators used the Nitrogen Footprint Tool to calculate the nitrogen footprint of seven universities and laboratories to see where they could reduce their nitrogen outputs. The results can help institutions develop better sustainability strategies for their campuses.

 The tool measured how much nitrogen was released as a result of specific activities including utilities (heating and cooling), transportation, food production, food consumption, fertilizer use, management of research animals, and agricultural research.    A recently published article authored by the researchers looks at the nitrogen footprints of Brown University, Colorado State University, Dickinson College, Eastern Mennonite University, Marine Biological Laboratory, University of New Hampshire, and University of Virginia.   

Researchers calculated how much energy and food students consumed based on data from meal plans and on-campus housing facilities. They used the dining services' inventories of ingredients purchased and amount of food composted or donated to estimate the impact of their food production. And they gathered data on utilities and transportation from the carbon footprint calculations that the institutions had already established.   

For five of the seven institutions, food production was the dominant source of their nitrogen footprints. Utilities were the primary source for the University of Virginia and agricultural research was the primary source for Colorado State University. These data can help universities understand where they can focus sustainability efforts and can also strengthen strategies for new management practices.   Thirteen additional institutions have begun using the Nitrogen Footprint Tool. The researchers aim to develop footprints for many institutions to encourage widespread management strategies that will create significant reductions in nitrogen being released into the environment. The research recently won the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education's 2017 Campus Sustainability Research Award.