Growing a Greener Campus

University plan sets ambitious goals and seeks to link sustainability to academics and research
illustration of sustainable building and practices
“We want people to think of our campuses as environmental learning labs,” says Executive Vice President Patricia Campbell. Illustration: Federico Jordan
September 23, 2013

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Reducing waste by 3 percent a year, curbing energy consumption by 5 to 7 percent over the next three years and cutting greenhouse gas emissions by as much as 85 percent over the next three decades are among the ambitious goals that the Tufts Campus Sustainability Council has set to support President Anthony P. Monaco’s initiative to maintain the university’s longtime leadership position on environmental issues.

“Our topic areas are limited to campus waste, water, energy and emissions, but the university activities around sustainability span academics and research, student engagement and operations,” says Linda Snyder, vice president of operations, who serves on the council and whose division will spearhead the implementation of many of the green goals. “This really defines the future of sustainability for all colleges and universities.”

“Universities play a crucial role in helping the world adapt to a changing planet and to challenging issues such as climate change and resource depletion,” Monaco wrote in the prelude to the Campus Sustainability Council Report, released in late May. “Tufts faculty address these issues at the highest level of insight, both in their teaching and with our students to break new ground in research,” he wrote.

“We want people to think of our campuses as environmental learning labs, coordinating the research of faculty and students and making everyone an important player in achieving change,” says Executive Vice President Patricia Campbell, who co-chaired the 21-member Sustainability Council with Monaco. “It really is an overall change in culture focused on environmental sustainability.”

Those changes will be green in more than one way—they will help Tufts’ bottom line, too. “It’s one of those win-wins,” says Campbell. “You do the right thing for the environment, and through cost savings, it increases the resources available to support what comes out of President Monaco’s strategic-planning initiative that will position the university for the future.”

In the fiscal year that ended on June 30, 2012, Tufts spent $81 million on facility operations—about 11 percent of the university’s total $743 million annual budget, says Snyder. “If we could reduce facility operations costs, it could potentially free up millions of dollars to support teaching, research and other university priorities,” she says.

Sustainability has long been embedded in Tufts’ DNA, from the establishment of a master’s degree in urban and environmental policy in 1973 to the appointment of Maria Flytzani-Stephanopoulos as the first Haber Endowed Professor in Energy Sustainability in the School of Engineering in 2010. Back in 1990, then Tufts President Jean Mayer gathered university presidents from around the world at the Tufts European Center in Talloires, France, to sign the Talloires Declaration, a plan for incorporating sustainability and environmental literacy into higher ed teaching, research, operations and outreach; the document since has been signed by more than 440 university presidents and chancellors in 50 countries.

Tufts’ first LEED-certified green building, the Sophia Gordon residence hall, was constructed on the Medford/Somerville campus in 2006, and the dental school’s five-story addition was completed on the Boston campus in 2009, earning LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) gold certification from the U.S. Green Building Council. In August, the biology laboratories at 200 Boston Ave. on the Medford/Somerville campus received LEED gold certification.

Small Is Beautiful

Sixty students, faculty and staff members from all three campuses worked for more than a year to develop the environmental recommendations.

The report calls for the university to develop new ways to reduce water and energy consumption, greenhouse gas emissions and the production of waste. For example, water consumption is curbed with additional water-efficient toilets, showerheads and lab equipment, and with the use of well water for irrigation. On the Medford/Somerville campus, efforts continue to direct runoff away from storm drains with the new gardens at the Tisch Sports and Fitness Center and the garden near Hodgdon Hall.

To cut energy consumption by 5 to 7 percent each year for the next three years, the report recommends installing networked mechanical systems to centrally control and monitor heating, cooling and electricity use. Snyder notes that there is currently no way to measure energy use in 60 to 70 percent of buildings on the Medford/Somerville campus that are fed by its central power plant.

Other recommendations include auditing the electrical, heating and cooling systems on all three campuses and establishing sustainability protocols for new building projects and equipment upgrades.

Lower energy consumption will support the report’s goals of reducing greenhouse gas emissions to 10 to 25 percent below 1990 levels by 2020, and 75 to 85 percent below 2001 levels by 2050.

Boosting the Recycling Rate

Changing the community’s behavior is just as important as the installation of green mechanical systems, Campbell says, noting that the Tufts Office of Sustainability will develop a social marketing campaign to further that goal.

There are already some good examples of savings that can come from not just reducing waste, but managing it properly. Tufts’ overall recycling rate has steadily increased since 2005, primarily the result of aggressive recycling on the Medford/Somerville campus, where 53 percent of waste is recycled, says Snyder.

While rates are lower on the Boston and Grafton campuses, 27 and 13 percent respectively, recycling on these campuses largely occurs in clinics and laboratories, which presents unique challenges, according to the report. Starting later this year, Tufts Recycles! will begin to create waste profiles of each school that will help each campus meet the ambitious waste-reduction goals outlined in the Sustainability Council report.

Tufts’ waste-management contracts compensate the vendor for increases in recycling and composting, and require data-driven waste management, meaning that trash is sorted and weighed so Tufts knows exactly what it’s throwing away, says Snyder.

The new university contract for waste management, with Boston-based Save That Stuff Inc., will result in $100,000 in savings over last year’s $500,000 contract. “This is a really fortunate area where our financial goals align with our values,” says Snyder. “This is why I think the waste-management goals are doable, because we already have a company poised to help us with that.”

Save That Stuff helped Boston University grow its recycling rate from 3 to 34 percent over three years, and assisted Boston College in reducing its solid waste output by 50 percent over eight years.

To achieve further waste reductions, the report recommends adopting a “cradle-to-cradle” approach to purchasing decisions, taking into account the lifecycle of products and their components, with the goal of buying products and materials that have a small environmental footprint and a high reuse value.

The university will consider renewable energy when it makes sense from a usage and payback perspective, Campbell says. A good example is the Grafton Solar Project, in which Sun Edison will install two solar collection systems on the Cummings School campus once the proper permits have been obtained. Tufts will purchase the power generated by Sun Edison, which will provide about half the veterinary school’s energy needs, saving more than $200,000 annually.

“As members of an educational community with a deep commitment to active citizenship, we have opportunities to address these challenging issues institutionally as well as individually,” Monaco says. “We can demonstrate on campus how it is possible to take action in ways that are fiscally responsible and enhance our collective quality of life.”

Gail Bambrick can be reached at gail.bambrick@tufts.edu.

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