Greener Still

Through efforts large and small, Tufts advances its sustainability goals

aerial view of Tufts University, Medford campus

Workers have begun construction on a new central energy plant on the Medford/Somerville campus that will generate heat, electricity and chilled water and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 12 percent or more when it is completed in the summer of 2016. The cogeneration plant will also lower energy costs by more than 20 percent each year. Located next to Dowling Hall on Boston Avenue, it will replace a 60-year-old plant that will be demolished once the new plant is operational.

That’s one of the success stories cited in the Tufts Campus Sustainability Council’s two-year progress report, released, appropriately, on Earth Day (April 22). The report details the university’s ongoing efforts to curb waste, carbon emissions and water and energy use, as the Campus Sustainability Council recommended in 2013.

While not all the initiatives are as large scale as the energy plant, all are designed to conserve resources and university funds through improved processes and technologies.

For instance, Tufts Dining has minimized take-out packaging and ensured that what it uses is manufactured with recycled materials and renewable energy. The university has installed 500 new low-flow showerheads in residence halls on the Medford/Somerville campus, saving about 4,500 gallons of water for every 500 showers taken. Energy-efficient LED bulbs are now the norm on 209 lampposts on the Medford/Somerville campus, producing an annual energy savings of 77,427 kilowatt‐hours. (One kilowatt-hour can power a computer for five to 10 hours.)

Veterinary student Emily Andersen was the inspiration for the community garden at Cummings School.Veterinary student Emily Andersen was the inspiration for the community garden at Cummings School.

The progress report also highlights the positive impact of many ongoing programs:

• The university’s recycling programs have reduced its carbon footprint by about 444 metric tons of carbon, the equivalent of taking 355 cars off the road.

• Tufts Dining composted just over 300 tons of food waste on the Medford/Somerville campus during the fiscal year that ended on June 30, 2014.

• About 225 student residences on the Medford/Somerville campus have been certified as Green Dorm Rooms through the Office of Sustainability’s Eco-Rep program. The certification acknowledges that students have engaged in environmentally sound practices, such as composting, recycling and using energy-efficient appliances.

• The number of Eco-Ambassadors who work with faculty and staff to model sustainable behaviors across the university now stands at 89 people in 57 offices and departments. Some 2,500 employees out of a total staff and faculty of 4,400 are reached through the Eco-Ambassadors program.

The Tufts University Sustainability Fund, the report notes, also launched this year. Donors concerned about environmental, social and governance factors can now designate that their new endowment gifts of $25,000 or more be invested in the fund.

“Climate change is becoming increasingly visible with each passing year, and its effects on the university community cannot be overlooked,” says Tufts President Anthony P. Monaco, who launched and chairs the Campus Sustainability Council. “The winter of 2015 was one of the most extreme Tufts has experienced. Scientists continue to warn that if human impact on the atmosphere is not addressed, this type of weather may become the norm.”

Culture Change

The progress report also cites inroads into creating a campus culture that prioritizes sustainability and coordinates faculty and student environmental research. Last year, for example, Chantal Davis, A14, determined that finding alternatives for two of the gases purchased for laboratories (nitrous oxide and trifluoromethane) would lead to a small but important decrease in Tufts’ non-carbon greenhouse gas emissions. She and other students worked on these kinds of issues as part of Ann Rappaport’s Climate Science, Policy and Planning class in the Department of Urban and Environmental Policy and Planning.

Likewise, a student, Emily Andersen, V17, was the impetus for the new Cummings School Community Garden, for which members of the veterinary school community organically farm plots on the Grafton campus. In addition to growing vegetables for their own tables, the gardeners donate produce to the Travis Fund Farmers Market; the proceeds help pet owners who need assistance with the cost of unanticipated veterinary care.

“I wanted to get people excited about sustainability on campus while expanding sustainability programming,” Andersen says.

Fittingly, the progress report marks the 25th anniversary of the signing of the Talloires Declaration, a commitment to sustainability in higher education that continues to guide Tufts’ green vision. In 1990, Tufts President Jean Mayer convened 22 university presidents and chancellors from around the world at the Tufts European Center in Talloires, France, to sign the declaration, a blueprint for incorporating sustainability and environmental literacy into higher education teaching, research, operations and outreach. The document since has been signed by 472 university presidents and chancellors in 50 countries.

The progress report “showcases the crucial work of many individuals and departments to meet the action items outlined in the Talloires Declaration and the goals established by the Campus Sustainability Council,” Monaco says. “As we work to expand our commitment to sustainability, it is crucial that we celebrate what we have accomplished and make plans to move forward.”

Gail Bambrick can be reached at

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