Science Inventory

How to Calculate Your Institution's Nitrogen Footprint


Leach, A., A. Majidi, J. Galloway, AND A. Greene. How to Calculate Your Institution's Nitrogen Footprint. University of Virginia, Charlottesville, VA, 2015.


Nitrogen is an important component in air, land and water. While necessary to life, reactive nitrogen (Nr; all forms of N except N2) can be detrimental to both ecosystem and human health when present in excessive amounts. Different forms of reactive nitrogen contribute to smog and reduced air quality, acid deposition, aquatic dead zones and reduced drinking water quality, biodiversity loss, global warming, and more. Creating and analyzing your institution’s nitrogen footprint (N footprint) will help to reduce its overall environmental impact and improve its sustainability. As the name suggests, “How to Calculate Your Institution’s Nitrogen Footprint” is a user manual for institutional stakeholders to complete an N footprint for their institution. This manual is accompanied by the Microsoft Excel-based Nitrogen Footprint Model Template. Once you have calculated your institution’s N footprint, you can use it to track the footprint, set targets, run scenarios, develop a nitrogen management plan, and use it as a general tool to raise awareness of N issues.


The Nitrogen Footprint Tool (NFT) allows institutions to estimate and manage their nitrogen footprint, and EPA’s Sustainable and Healthy Communities program is supporting an effort to test and expand this approach at multiple colleges, universities and institutions across the US. The growing awareness of sustainability has prompted many institutions of higher education to assess and manage their environmental impact. Many universities have programs to decrease their carbon footprint, but carbon represents just one facet of an institution’s environmental impact. Nitrogen is also important because a university’s nitrogen loss to the environment contributes to smog, soil acidification, eutrophication, biodiversity loss, the enhanced greenhouse effect, stratospheric ozone depletion, and more. The attached data template and user’s manual was based on the first NFT created for a university (University of Virginia), and tested in 6 additional institutions (including University of New Hampshire, Brown University, Eastern Mennonite University, Colorado State University). The footprint includes nitrogen released to the environment due to: 1) food consumption; 2) food production, reported by specific food categories (vegetable products, seafood, dairy and eggs, meat); 3) research animals; 4) transportation, including fleet vehicles and commuter vehicles; 5) fertilizer application; and 6) utilities, separated into electricity and heating. The data template and user’s manual allows these institutions to calculate their nitrogen footprint, identify actions to reduce it, and monitor their progress over time. Work through this project will eventually allow this data template to be placed online into the Campus Carbon Calculator, based at the University of New Hampshire (

Record Details:

Product Published Date:08/01/2015
Record Last Revised:05/23/2016
OMB Category:Other
Record ID: 315159