Campus Sustainability Council progress report outlines concrete goals, cultural changes

In the fiscal year 2013, Tufts’ Medford/Somerville campus produced over 3,000 tons of total waste, recycling at a rate of just over 50 percent. In the fall, residence halls on campus collected 1,500 pounds of compostable waste. Total water consumption decreased on both the Medford/Somerville campus, as well as on the Boston and Grafton campuses. By switching to using natural gas instead of oil, the Central Heating Plant saw an eight percent reduction in carbon emissions.

The Campus Sustainability Council outlined these updates and many others in a progress report for 2014, released last month. The report discusses recent developments and growth in four areas of sustainability on campus — including waste, water, and energy and emissions — and includes the next steps that the university plans to meet its goals in regards to each.

“If we can practice within our [limited natural resources] that we have, then that allows other humans in the future, future generations, as well as other sentient beings on the planet or plants to also exist,” Sustainability Program Director Tina Woolston said. “It’s an equity and fairness issue, so it’s a moral issue.”

Director of the Environmental Studies Program Colin Orians expanded on sustainability’s importance.

“I think that if you value an Earth that has its total splendor of life, from human cultures to biodiversity, you have to think about ways to minimize our own ecological footprint, and that’s really what sustainability’s about,” Orians said.

University President Anthony Monaco created the Campus Sustainability Council in January of 2012, in an effort to establish Tufts as a leader in confronting environmental issues. Sophomore Rachael Grudt, an eco-rep in Houston Hall, explained the role that students can play in environmental efforts.

“A college is a perfect place to emphasize sustainability because everyone here is a future leader in America and around the world,” she said. “I think that it’s important for everyone to realize that what you do does make a difference.”

Included in the report is data showing the progress of sustainability on each Tufts campus:? Medford/Somerville, Grafton and Boston — in the areas of waste and recycling, water consumption and greenhouse gas emissions.

Currently in the proposal stage, one major development suggested by the council is the metering system, which would measure energy use in each building on campus, according to the report. The hope is that the system will allow the university to both identify other energy-saving strategies and measure progress more easily.

“[Metering] is something that both students and faculty have been crying out for,” Woolston said. “They want to know, how much energy is my building using and if we do this whole initiative is it making any difference?”

The report also highlights some of the lesser-known projects that many may not have even realized were ongoing, such as constructing additional walkways to prevent erosion where it has already taken place. According to Monaco, however, truly making an impact in sustainability requires a campus wide commitment.

“During … [the council’s] deliberations, it became apparent that success would require the full engagement of the entire university community,” Monaco wrote in a message at the forefront of the report. “Working together, we can make Tufts a safer, healthier, and more sustainable place to live and work.”

Nevertheless, Woolston discussed how many environmentally-conscious efforts don’t receive much attention on campus.

“I think sometimes when you’re walking around, a lot of the important sustainability stuff we do isn’t necessarily visible, especially the stuff that facilities does,” Woolston said. “We’re hopefully in the future going to be able to continue to come out with these reports so people can stay up to date on all the stuff that’s going on.”

Orians pointed to two phases of sustainability at Tufts, both inside and outside of the classroom.

“I think [the administration] made a very strategic decision, which was a good starting place, which was to focus on how to make the campus more sustainable,” he said. “Phase two is thinking about how we can get sustainability in the curriculum.”

This semester, an environmental studies course called, “Environmental Action: Shifting from Saying to Doing,” has allowed students to work hands-on in the wood-frame houses on campus, such as Wilson House and the International House.

“There are very few courses that environmental studies actually offers,” Orians said. “What the environmental studies [program does] is just try to create linkages to professors and departments to increase the offerings both of courses that focus on sustainability but also on the environment more generally.”

Orians explained that the behavior and cultural changes referenced in the report are necessary to create a sustainable campus.

“There is a challenge of getting people to change their behavior, just slow down a little bit and say I can hold onto this bottle a little bit longer and make sure it ends up in the recycling … [or] I can take a slightly shorter shower,” he said. “[Sustainability] takes thinking. You have to slow down.”

Much of Tufts’ sustainability success has been rooted in larger projects. One discussed in the report is the plan for a new high performance science and engineering center at 574 Boston Ave., which will use minimal energy and resources while still allowing its occupants to work effectively.12