Toward a Greener Tufts

New initiatives are improving the management of waste, water, energy and emissions on all three campuses

rain garden on Medford/Somerville campus, with trees and rock bed

At first sight, the pathway between Hodgdon and Lewis halls on the Medford/Somerville campus—made up of boulders and smooth stones, graced by Japanese black pine trees and serviceberry and juniper bushes—appears to be nothing more than pleasant landscaping. But the place isn’t only beautiful to look at. It’s what’s called a rain garden: it filters the storm water that runs off surrounding roads and sidewalks, releasing it naturally into the surrounding soil.

That’s just one of the projects that the Tufts Campus Sustainability Council highlighted in its one-year progress report this spring. While not all initiatives are as visually stunning as the rain garden, they are palpable improvements in the management of campus waste, water, energy and emissions.

For instance, Tufts has contracted with Save That Stuff Inc. to handle both trash and recycling disposal. The company will assess Tufts’ waste output and create a plan to reduce it by 3 percent each year. Save That Stuff is performing waste audits this year on the Medford/Somerville campus and will then tackle the Boston and Grafton campuses, with the aim of increasing recycling and reducing the sources of waste.

Among the strategies to be deployed are smarter purchasing practices, such as using paper made of 95 percent sugarcane waste fiber, which is now offered through Tufts Purchasing. Sugarcane waste fiber is a renewable resource that produces high-quality paper and is cheaper than its equivalent wood-fiber 30 percent recycled stock.

Spearheading waste reduction and recycling on all three campuses is Tufts Recycles! and Dining Services, supported by a corps of 108 staff and faculty trained as Eco-Ambassadors—up from 62 just one year ago. They are in 70 departments and reach more than 2,500 employees, educating and encouraging them in productive sustainable practices. In addition, Tisch Library, the School of Dental Medicine, the Fletcher School and Cummings School’s campus have active Green Teams working toward waste reduction.

Last year, combined Medford/Somerville forces collected a record 326 tons of compostable waste from campus, and created a custom recycling program for boxes and Styrofoam packing at the Science and Technology Center. This process is now being piloted elsewhere.

Water use across all three campuses also dropped last year, primarily due to greater awareness and improved behaviors cultivated by Eco-Ambassadors, the sustainability council’s report states. Several pilot programs to conserve water that were tested last year, including low-flow showerheads and timers to encourage shorter showers, will now be installed in most major residence halls on the Medford/Somerville campus.

Last summer a utility and energy master plan for the Medford/Somerville campus was developed by an outside firm in close collaboration with Tufts’ Facilities Services and the Tufts Effectiveness in Administrative Management (TEAM) Energy and Campus Sustainability working group. In the fall, Randy Preston was hired as director of University Energy Programs to implement the projects identified in the plan. These include:

—A campus-wide metering system to measure electricity and heat consumption in individual buildings and thereby identify energy-saving initiatives. This system will eventually be expanded to the Boston and Grafton campuses.

—Feasibility studies for a cogeneration system that simultaneously produces heat and power. Such a system would reduce carbon emissions by approximately 9 percent, because it would capture heat generated by electricity and use it to make steam for heating and cooling.

—Studies for a central chilled water plant that would provide air conditioning by piping cold water into buildings. The plant would eliminate the need to maintain independent cooling systems in individual buildings.

And if you haven’t noticed, a solar array was just installed on the roof of Dowling Hall. It will generate 125,000 kilowatt hours of energy for the Medford/Somerville campus, providing enough electricity to power the Tufts Hillel building or Blakeley Hall for one year. The project is part of the Solarize Massachusetts in Medford program, which is supported by the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center and the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources.

Gail Bambrick can be reached at

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