SIMAP Nitrogen Working Group

Click here to sign up for the Nitrogen Working Group

We launched the Nitrogen Working Group in January 2021! This working group is co-faciltated by nitrogen experts Jim Galloway and Libby Dukes from the University of Virginia. It is not too late to join -- click the link above to sign up.

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Background on nitrogen:

The nitrogen (N) footprint is the amount of reactive nitrogen released to the environment by an entity’s resource use. Reactive nitrogen includes all forms of nitrogen except the unreactive N2 that makes up most of our atmosphere. Examples of reactive nitrogen including ammonia, nitrogen oxides, and the greenhouse gas nitrous oxide. Reactive nitrogen is essential for life on earth as it provides nutrients to grow food, and all humans need nitrogen to survive (we consume it in protein). However, excess reactive nitrogen can cause a cascade of impacts to human and ecosystem health such as biodiversity loss, air quality pollution, water quality pollution, acid rain, forest die backs, and climate change. 

The campus N footprint is made up of that campus' energy use, transportation, and food consumption. The energy use and transportation data are usually already tracked for institutions calculating their carbon footprint and the same data can be used for N. Additional data sets that may not already be tracked that are necessary for a complete N footprint are food and wastewater data. The upstream food production N footprint is particularly important: It makes up over 50% of most campus nitrogen footprints.

In 2014, a group of institutions began working to track N footprints on campuses with the formation of the Nitrogen Footprint Tool Network (NFT) with support from EPA’s Sustainable and Healthy Communities progunder. The NFT Network has collaborated to track footprints, create modules and templates, and outreach on the N footprint. Over the course of 6 years, the project grew to include 20+ institutions within the network and 500+ institutions with SIMAP. In June 2020, the NFT Network came to conclusion which brought rise to the creation of the Nitrogen Working Group in SIMAP. The Nitrogen Working Group of SIMAP plans to not only continue to collaboration of the NFT Network but to broaden the group to add new interested members. 

Nitrogen Working Group goals:

The SIMAP Nitrogen Working Group will lead research, development, application, and communication for campus nitrogen footprints. The goals of the group will be to 1) enhance outreach and communication around the campus nitrogen footprint; 2) work to fill in nitrogen emission factor gaps in SIMAP; 3) provide recommendations for best practices on data collection and validation.  We propose to use these overarching goals as a starting point to form breakout groups within the broader Nitrogen Working Group.

Proposed meeting content and format:

The Nitrogen Working Group will initially meet on a monthly basis. The first several meetings of the group will be informational meetings to provide the necessary context and background on nitrogen footprints. These meetings will focus on explaining the concept of a nitrogen footprint and why it is important; we will present existing research and guidelines. At these early meetings, we will also discuss and refine the proposed working group goals. After these initial meetings, we will determine the best route to achieve our shared goals, such as forming breakout groups to meet independently with quarterly group meetings to discuss each group's progress. 

Who should join:

We welcome anyone in the higher ed sustainability community who is interested in learning more about nitrogen to join this working group! No background in nitrogen footprinting is required. Joining this working group will allow opportunities for each campus to become more involved in and to participate in nitrogen footprint research. The working group will enhance an institution's connection with a network of other institutions working through similar challenges and achieving similar successes in tracking their nitrogen footprints.

To join this working group, please fill out this Google Form

For more information, please contact us at