Environment America panel discusses renewable energy, role of universities

09/27/2017 - Medford/Somerville, MA - Students study on the first floor of the new Science and Engineering Complex (SEC). According to Shoshana Blank, the education and outreach program administrator at the Office of Sustainability, SEC is one of the most efficient lab buildings in the country. (Frank Ma / The Tufts Daily)

Disclaimer: Jake Taber is a former managing editor at The Tufts Daily. He is no longer involved in the Daily.

Professor of Chemistry Jonathan Kenny, Education and Outreach Program Administrator at the Office of Sustainability Shoshana Blank and Environment America Clean Energy Fellow Jake Taber (LA ’17) discussed Environment America’s 100 percent renewable energy and Tufts’ efforts toward sustainability at a panel on Oct. 5.

The panel was co-sponsored by Tufts Progressive Alliance, Tufts Climate Action and Tufts Bikes. State Senator Pat Jehlen was scheduled to speak at the event but could not attend.

Environment America is a national environmental advocacy organization, currently working on a campaign to encourage colleges and universities such as Tufts to commit to transitioning to 100 percent renewable energy by 2050 and 100 percent renewable power by 2030, according to Taber. Last week, they brought their plan to Boston University, according to an Oct. 6 article in The Daily Free Press.

Taber said the purpose of the panel was partly to introduce the event at Tufts, noting that Environment America plans to hold other events at Tufts throughout the year to help students and faculty organize toward this goal.

“Over the course of the year, we hope to work with student groups, faculty and administrators to show that bold energy goals are necessary, doable and cost-effective,” Taber told the Daily in an electronic message.

The Environment America 10-point fact sheet outlines various measures, including the use of solar heating and geothermal energy, which universities and colleges can and have implemented in their transition to renewable energy sources.

Taber said universities are uniquely positioned to successfully implement renewable energy.

“As hotspots of innovation and technical expertise, colleges and universities can propel further embracing renewable energy within the communities and states that these institutions reside in,” he said.

He added that Tufts is particularly well suited to be a target of the clean energy campaign.

“We believe Tufts has the know-how to move towards clean energy and to reduce their emissions from energy use,” Taber said.

Blank said that Tufts is already planning on reaching carbon neutrality or having a net carbon footprint of zero by 2050. However, Tufts is not currently taking steps to implement Environment America’s plan.

“Environment America is an advocacy group that has proposed similar plans for universities and colleges across the country. Tufts did not request or participate in the development of the plan,” Tufts Executive Director of Public Relations Patrick Collins told the Daily in an email.

Taber said while the Office of Sustainability has not committed to Environment America’s plan, it was important for the office to be involved in the conversation.

“The campaign’s just starting so [the Office of] Sustainability wanted to be part of a conversation,” Taber told the Daily in an electronic message. “They’re not ruling out scaling up renewables but they haven’t committed to doing so.”

Blank described several steps Tufts has taken toward increased sustainability. She mentioned the creation of the Talloires Declaration in 1990, the eco-reps program in 2001 and the Office of Sustainability in 2006 as well as University President Anthony Monaco’s signing of the Second Nature Climate Commitment in 2016.

Blank said that since Sophia Gordon Hall was the first to be certified  by U.S. Green Building Council rating system Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), many other building renovations on the Boston campus were LEED certified and the Collaborative Learning and Innovation Complex (CLIC) achieved LEED silver certification. The Science and Engineering Complex (SEC) is on track to become LEED Gold certified, the second highest out of four levels, which is particularly unique given its purpose, she said.

“Lab buildings are notoriously energy hogs. You have to circulate a lot of air among other things,” she said. “This is really one of the most efficient lab buildings in the country right now.”

Kenny served as a member of the Campus Sustainability Council, another Tufts sustainability initiative, which explored reducing the use of greenhouse gases, energy, waste and water, according to the Office of Sustainability website. In 2013, the Council came out with a report outlining specific goals for reducing waste, water use, energy use and greenhouse gas emissions.

Kenny noted, however, that Council members worried about a lack of accountability in achieving the goals.

“So we clamored for a new sustainability council, which was introduced just last spring as the Council for the Sustainability of Campus Operations,” he said.

Kenny reinforced Environment America’s message of the importance of universities and colleges embracing renewable energy.

“Universities are here solely to prepare people for the future,” he said. “The connection from this generation to the next is the main raison d’être for the university. We need to keep pushing them on that.”

The panel discussion concluded with a question-and-answer session with students in attendance. One student asked what they could do to contribute to Tufts becoming a more sustainable campus. Blank responded that students need to speak up.

“Advocating for policies, whether it be in an individual or especially a group capacity, to be implemented is the way that we fight environmental issues. It’s really helpful when we [the Office of Sustainability] hear from students because it pushes the university leadership to act,” she said.

Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that all buildings constructed at Tufts after Sophia Gordon Hall in 2006 were LEED certified. The article has been updated to reflect this change. The Daily regrets this error.