Pomona College achieves common climate and education goals with help from Patch

Sourcing and vetting high-integrity carbon credits from across the VCM to meet Pomona's criteria

A leading liberal arts college wanted a partner that could give expert advice on carbon markets alongside tools to help departments easily take impactful climate action.


Patch consulted with Pomona to analyze multiple projects and build a shortlist that matched their strict criteria. Patch deployed software that enabled department members to estimate and compensate for emissions.

Established in 1887, Pomona College is one of America’s leading liberal arts colleges, with a mission to educate and empower the next generation of leaders. They’ve long prioritized sustainable operations, with students playing an active role through grassroots activism and through the establishment of a Sustainability Office to enact change through its Sustainable Action Visible Effects (SAVE) program. In 2014 they set a goal of achieving carbon neutrality by 2030. 

Pomona has implemented a range of programs to reduce energy consumption including short-term initiatives such as shifting to LED lighting, window and roof replacement, and the adjustment of building temperature setpoints. Then, there are longer-term initiatives like electrification, increased usage of renewable energy, and building zero-emissions buildings.

Pomona College's Sustainable Action Visible Effects (SAVE) plan outlines goals and strategies for achieving ambitious sustainability goals.

But even with these aggressive emissions reductions projects, Pomona College produced more emissions than they could abate — largely due to necessary travel. For that, they explored other sustainability strategies, including the use of carbon credits.

Incorporating carbon credits into sustainability strategy

Alexis Reyes, Director of Sustainability and Energy Management at Pomona College, recognized the important role that carbon credits play in sustainability strategies. She undertook a two-pronged effort, speaking with students and the college community to understand their knowledge, concerns, and requirements relating to carbon credits, while also building her own resources and evidence base to equip the office to take action. 

“We’re doing the hard work of emissions reduction, but to meet our goals, we knew we needed to purchase high-integrity carbon credits. Figuring out how to define our criteria was a learning experience. We researched best practices, but we wanted a partner that could help provide deeper insights and expertise into navigating the carbon markets.” - Alexis Reyes, Director of Sustainability and Energy Management

Pomona College built their Carbon Offset Policy around four principles:

  1. Prioritizing operational changes first and credits second: Pomona would continue to prioritize emissions reductions where financially and logistically feasible via efficiency, electrification, renewable energy, and clean and efficient transportation.
  2. Transparency in reporting emissions and credits: In order to achieve maximum credibility in their carbon neutrality efforts, Pomona would make their reporting as transparent and accessible as possible via public reporting, including the SAVE Annual Report.
  3. Purchasing high-quality credits: Carbon credits have historically been highly variable in their credibility and effectiveness, so Pomona defined stringent criteria for their use of credits.
  4. Reducing reliance on credits: To ensure that Pomona College continues to aggressively pursue on-campus emissions reductions, Pomona committed to reduce the number of carbon credits purchased to compensate for emissions over time.

Seeking VCM expertise and execution

Reyes wanted a partner that could support in sourcing and vetting projects that would meet Pomona’s criteria and a software platform that would enable easy decision-making and order execution. Some of Pomona’s requirements included:

  • Third party registration: Credits must be registered on one of the major carbon credit registries such as Verra, American Carbon Registry, or Isometric.
  • Additionality: Projects with high additionality are those that would not have occurred without the financial support provided by the sale of the carbon credits generated by the project.
  • Risk of reversal: Pomona only purchases carbon credits from projects that have a very low demonstrated risk of reversal.
  • Leakage: Pomona sought credits with low levels of leakage, where an increase in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions or a decrease in sequestration of emissions outside the project boundaries occurred because of the project action.
  • Vintage: Pomona chose to only purchase ex-post credits that are no more than two years old or ex-ante credits no more than four years in the future.
  • Co-benefits: In addition to the carbon impact of the projects, Pomona was looking closely at the environmental and social co-benefits of their portfolio — including air pollution reduction, biodiversity improvement, economic stimulation, skill building, and more.
  • Academic contribution: Projects that create opportunities to enhance Pomona’s academic activities were prioritized. Such opportunities could include the review of projects by faculty, student research opportunities, alumni networking, project site visits, integration into coursework, and other connections.
  • Diversification: Finally, Pomona opted for a portfolio approach to diversify their contribution, spreading benefits and mitigating risk among multiple projects.

Patch’s team recommended an initial list of over 30 projects for review by Pomona’s committee. Each committee member got a log-in to the Patch platform and could easily analyze the options.

“We wanted to get deeper insights into projects; how does it work? How is it certified? What are the independent ratings? What are the impacts on the neighboring society?” said Reyes. “With Patch, it was simple to go in and find answers to all those questions — and if there was anything else we wanted to know, the Patch team was quick and capable to help.”

Pomona College has made contributions to a diverse range of global carbon avoidance and removal projects

One of the project developers supported by Pomona College is Tradewater, a Certified B Corp focused on the collection, control, and destruction of potent non-CO₂ GHGs, permanently preventing their release into the atmosphere. Tradewater searches around the world for canisters of antiquated refrigerants and fire suppressants that are up to 10,000 times more potent than CO₂ and destroys the gas before the canisters can rust and leak. Tradewater also plugs orphaned oil and gas wells that are actively spewing methane. Both of these project types are top solutions recommended by Project Drawdown.   

Through Patch, Pomona bought carbon credits generated by Tradewater’s refrigerant destruction work in the U.S. (ACR 875) and Thailand (ACR 814). In the US, Tradewater collects legacy refrigerants from any location in any quantity through its small-scale aggregation program, centralizes it at their warehouse, then ships it off for permanent destruction. 

Eli Etzioni, a Partnerships Manager on the Tradewater team, attended Claremont McKenna College, another school in The Claremont Colleges, located just across the road from Pomona. Pomona’s support for Tradewater further strengthens the connection between Claremont and Tradewater — emphasizing an additional criterion Pomona sought in selecting projects — and Tradewater and Pomona are exploring research partnerships and additional avenues for collaboration and student engagement in Tradewater’s work. 

Tim Brown, CEO of Tradewater, said, "We commend Pomona for bringing academic rigor, integrity, and inclusivity to its new Carbon Offset Policy. We are proud that our projects meet the criteria set by their committee and their community. Pomona's holistic climate action strategy, inclusive of both deep on-campus emissions cuts and high-quality offsets, provides a great template for any organization to follow."

A Tradewater team member testing refrigerant canisters at their US warehouse in Elk Grove Village, Illinois.

Enacting change

“We met with several businesses to find our partner, but our committee unanimously chose Patch,” said Reyes. “It had a large selection of high-quality projects, and deep levels of insight on each, and the team was always available to consult and advise. This transparency and trust went into us partnering with Patch.”

Pomona has worked with Patch for several years, and continues to refine the mix of projects selected. They use the platform to generate insights that help streamline and enrich their reporting. For example, as a member of Second Nature, an organization committed to accelerating climate action in and through higher education, Pomona College reports their carbon credit purchases annually, leveraging Patch’s reporting capabilities to provide the required information. 

Reyes concluded with advice to colleagues in higher education:

“Taking impactful climate action requires continued learning. Listen to podcasts and webinars, attend or follow climate summits, ask questions. Learn about the exciting new standards, as well as emerging technologies — with a healthy degree of skepticism. It’s important to participate.”

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