Document Type


Publication Date



Center for Sustainability Education



Publication Title

Sustainability: The Journal of Record


Anthropogenic sources of reactive nitrogen have local and global impacts on air and water quality and detrimental effects on human and ecosystem health. This article uses the Nitrogen Footprint Tool (NFT) to determine the amount of nitrogen (N) released as a result of institutional consumption. The sectors accounted for include food (consumption and upstream production), energy, transportation, fertilizer, research animals, and agricultural research. The NFT is then used for scenario analysis to manage and track reductions, which are driven by the consumption behaviors of both the institution itself and its constituent individuals. In this article, the first seven completed institution nitrogen footprint results are presented. The Nitrogen Footprint Tool Network aims to develop footprints for many institutions to encourage widespread upper-level management strategies that will create significant reductions in reactive nitrogen released to the environment. Energy use and food purchases are the two largest sectors contributing to institution nitrogen footprints. Ongoing efforts by institutions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions also help to reduce the nitrogen footprint, but the impact of food production on nitrogen pollution has not been directly addressed by the higher education sustainability community. The Nitrogen Footprint Tool Network found that institutions could reduce their nitrogen footprints by optimizing food purchasing to reduce consumption of animal products and minimize food waste, as well as by reducing dependence on fossil fuels for energy.


This published version is made available on Dickinson Scholar with the permission of the publisher. For more information on the published version, visit Mary Ann Liebert Inc. Publisher's Website.

This publication won the AASHE Campus Sustainability Research Award, 2017.