Following Climate Pledge, Tufts commits to exploring sustainability on campus

Ashton Stephens / The Tufts Daily

Along with 200 other universities, Tufts signed the federally-sponsored American Campus Act on Climate Pledge in November 2015. Along with Tufts’ other existing sustainability programs and evaluations, Tufts will continue to explore opportunities to increase sustainability on campus. 

The American Campus Act on Climate Pledgewhich aims to promote effective energy use, demonstrate support for an international climate agreement and shows commitment to climate action. It was signed by schools including historically black colleges and universities, religious institutions, women’s colleges, community colleges, all the Ivy League schools and a variety of public and private universities across more than 40 states, according to the press release from the White House. 

“It was created to highlight American leadership on climate action and help ensure a successful global agreement on climate change in Paris,” Tina Woolston, program director of the Office of Sustainability, told the Daily in an e mail.

Woolston said this pledge expresses the universities’ commitment to act on climate and support for the Obama administration’s participation in the United Nations Conference on Climate Change in Paris.

“I believe most schools, like Tufts, were providing President Obama with proof that they were already committed to acting on climate,” Woolston said.

Kelly Sims Gallagher, professor of Energy and Environmental Policy at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, extended the invitation to participate in the pledge from the White House to University President Anthony Monaco. She built a personal relationship with a White House staffer while she served as a senior policy advisor for the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy from June 2014 to September 2015.

“Signing the pledge was a symbolic action, showing the society that universities are taking this issue [climate change] seriously,” Gallagher, who is also the director of the Center for International Environment & Resource Policy at the Fletcher school, said.

By signing the pledge, Tufts has committed to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to 10 to 25 percent below the 1990 emission levels by 2020, according to Kimberley Thurler, executive director of Public Relations.

Besides this pledge, Tufts has a long-standing commitment to address climate change issues, including the Talloires Declaration signed in 1990 by “over 350 university presidents and chancellors in over 40 countries,” according to the Association of University Leaders for a Sustainable Future website. 

In 1999, former Tufts President John DiBiaggio publicly committed Tufts to meet or beat the Kyoto goal of a seven percent reduction below 1990 baseline level in its carbon dioxide emission by the year 2012, a goal Tufts accomplished, according to a statement on the Office of Sustainability’s website. Additionally, Tufts has pledged to reduce energy consumption by five to seven percent each year starting in 2013, with additional targets set for consumption reduction in 2016, Thurler said. 

Moreover, in January 2012, Monaco formed the Campus Sustainability Council, which aimed to help Tufts mitigate its environmental impacts, according to its website. The Council released the first report in 2013, which provided recommendations for reducing the university’s impact in the areas of waste, water, energy and emissions. According to Woolston, each year, the Office of Sustainability works with departments across the university to gather data on Tufts’ progress in these areas and compiles it into the annual Sustainability Progress Report. The 2016 report will be available in April.

The Sustainability Tracking, Assessment and Rating System (STARS) report is another important way to assess Tufts’ sustainability performance. STARS, a self-reporting system for colleges and universities to benchmark their sustainability performance, measures each school’s sustainability performance based on four key perspectives: Academics, Engagement, Operations and Planning & Administration, and uses quantitative and qualitative measurements to calculate a point value for each category.

In an email to the Daily, Woolston explained that the Academic section incorporates credits related to curriculum, such as sustainability-related courses and degree programs offered by the university, as well as research, including access to research at Tufts. Tufts received a point value of 59 for this category, meaning that Tufts gained 59 percent of available points in Academics, Woolston explained.

The Engagement section measures the performance of campus engagement and public engagement. For example, campus engagement refers to student educator programs like the Eco-Reps, sustainability outreach campaigns and new student and employee orientation. Tufts gained 68 for its Engagement section, which is the highest point value among all the sections measured by the report.

The Operations section includes credits related to air and climate, buildings, dining services, energy, grounds, purchasing, transportation, waste and water. Tufts received 47 for its Operations section.

Lastly, the Planning & Administration section incorporates credits related to coordination, planning, and governance (i.e. the Campus Sustainability Council report), diversity and affordability (i.e. support for underrepresented groups at the university), health, wellbeing and work (i.e. wellness programs, employee compensation and workplace health an safety) as well as investment. Tufts received a 56 for this section.

Overall, Tufts received a score of 57.39 on its STARS report based on its sustainability performance in fiscal years 2012, 2013 and 2014.

“As these numbers indicate, we are performing the highest in the engagement section, with the largest opportunity for improvement in the operation section,” Woolston wrote in the email. “I interpret this score to mean that Tufts is performing quite well when it comes to sustainability but still has clear opportunities for improvement.”

In particular, she mentioned three areas that Tufts can improve in the future and that the Office of Sustainability is currently working on. The first is to conduct a sustainability literacy assessment.

“Though some surveying has taken place at Tufts (e.g. through a graduate student project in 2011), the university hasn’t administered a comprehensive survey to the majority of its students,” Woolston wrote in the email. “Doing so would be an effective way for Tufts to determine how well it is meeting its various sustainability goals and educating students across the university about sustainability topics.”

The second area of opportunity is new student orientation. She notes that only about 58 percent of incoming Tufts undergraduate, graduate and professional students have participated in orientation programming featuring sustainability.

“New student orientation is an important time to reach out to students about sustainability, particularly because the start of school presents a huge opportunity for the development of new habits and behaviors,” Woolston wrote.

The third area that the office is working on is implementing an Employee Commute Modal Split. According to Woolston, about half of Tufts’ employees travel to campus in cars by themselves.

“There is a big opportunity at the university, therefore, to shift transportation modes away from single-occupancy vehicles toward more environmentally friendly options, such as walking, biking, carpooling and taking public transportation,” Woolston wrote. “Tufts created a Transportation Demand Management Plan in 2015 that provides a great foundation and roadmap for improvement in this area.”

According to Gallagher, Tufts also has the potential to improve its performance in the Academic section.

“Tufts has already done a great job in implementing resources in operations, and I think Tufts should place more resources on research and academics as well,” Gallagher said. “It is important that Tufts educate its students about environmental issues through curriculums and research opportunities.”

Until then, Monaco believes that joining the American Campus Act on Climate Pledge speaks to Tuft’s historic support for sustainability on campus.

“Tufts was one of more than 200 institutions of higher education, along with over 150 countries and 81 companies from across America, which demonstrated their commitment to climate action and showed support for a strong international climate agreement by signing the pledge,” Monaco said in a comment through Thurler’s email to the Daily. “Tufts has a long history of commitment to sustainability, and this continues to be among our most important priorities.”