University of California, Santa Cruz

At a Glance


College or University

Project Type

Data Analysis




Santa Cruz, CA


Thomas LaPoint conducted the initial research for a carbon tax system at the University of California at Santa Cruz.


In 2013, The University of California made a commitment to achieve carbon neutrality by 2025. In order to help meet this goal, The University of California at Santa Cruz (UCSC) contracted EDF Climate Corps fellow Thomas LaPoint to research carbon accounting systems. At the time, there were no comprehensive carbon taxes or accounting systems within higher education, so the effectiveness and feasibility of such a system within a public university was unknown.


To start, LaPoint researched functioning carbon tax systems across the globe. He then interviewed stakeholders within UCSC and external stakeholders who had experience with successful carbon tax systems. His aim was to gain insight into how similar systems could be applied at UCSC. The proponents of each system faced challenges and offered valuable insight to an applicable higher education model, though no single system held the correct formula for success.

An effective carbon accounting system would be simple, transparent, relatable, adaptive and goal-oriented. Financial structures in higher education are complicated enough, so avoiding additional complicated carbon accounting policy change was a priority. The system would need to be transparent to all participants to provide fairness and equality in such a diverse workplace. Also, relating carbon emissions to an employee’s everyday actions would be pivotal to increasing awareness.

Despite his best efforts, LaPoint acknowledged the many unknowns still present at the end of his engagement. Many of these unknowns are expected to become apparent after pilot implementation, so the system must be able to adapt to these challenges to remain effective. Perhaps most importantly, LaPoint learned that, for success, the goal of a carbon accounting system must be clear and the system must directly address this goal. At UCSC, the goal of carbon accounting was to increase employee engagement and awareness, and straying from this goal will only bring challenges the system was not designed to handle.

Potential Impact

Implementing an effective carbon accounting system would engage students and employees in a collective effort to address carbon neutrality, and LaPoint’s research started UCSC along the path to do so. His research provides a roadmap and a basis for the discussion of future policy decisions in addressing carbon neutrality and reducing emissions through behavior change. LaPoint concluded his fellowship by presenting his findings to the UCSC Committee on Sustainability and Stewardship and the University of California Global Climate Leadership Council. LaPoint’s research provides UCSC, and UC system, with a jumping off point for developing an effective carbon tax that has the potential to make them a leader in environmental stewardship.

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