The face of sustainability at Brandeis: Mary Fischer

September 14, 2018

Leading the helm of the movement towards a sustainable campus, Sustainability Manager Mary Fischer oversees all of the sustainability programs implemented at Brandeis. Her role functions within realms of operations and facilities at Brandeis, linking the two in order to make physical changes to the university’s building functions in order to lessen the school’s carbon footprint.

Due to the job’s multifaceted nature, Fischer works with a variety of different people within the Brandeis community to implement the programs she oversees. Fischer describes her role as a “position of influence and action because it’s working with students, staff, and faculty—a multi-level involvement.”

At the facilities level, Fischer works with Associate Director of Operations Ryan Donahue and Brandeis’ energy manager, William Bushey. Facilities staff and sustainability staff work together to operate the university on the business of facility operation but also on the business of incorporating sustainable practice in facilities. She and her colleagues accomplish their duties by analyzing data that tells of areas where electricity, oil, gas and water are used in high volume.

In addition to working within facilities, Fischer also interacts with students who have joined her team of Brandeis Sustainability Ambassadors (BSAs). Through this part of her job, she works with students interested in actualizing plans of sustainability within the student body.

Finally, Fischer also works with faculty to incorporate sustainability into the academic curriculum that students have access to. She has been working closely with Professor of German Studies and Director of German and European Studies Sabine von Mering to develop a short module that teaches life skills in sustainability to students. The course, set to be titled “Your Brain on Carbon,” was created after Fischer and von Mering earned a teaching innovation grant.

In the course, Fischer and von Mering will tackle discussions “about how the human brain is not designed to act on large complex, abstract problems, like climate change and how our brains trick us into thinking that’s it’s not something that we need to think about,” according to Fischer.

Since Fischer joined Brandeis as the sustainability manager in May of 2015, she has worked to realign the school with a “carbon commitment” that it had neglected since originally signing the commitment in 2008. Working with Jim Gray, the Vice President of Operations at Brandeis, Fischer pulled together a committee that set a timeline for reducing Brandeis’ carbon footprint, called the 2016 Climate Action Plan. Their initial goal was to reduce carbon emissions by ten percent by 2018, a goal which the committee has surpassed. Fischer called the accomplishment a success for Brandeis sustainability.

Brandeis has achieved this goal in their Climate Action Plan despite some weaknesses in the school’s capability for sustainable operation. One major weakness, according to Fischer, is the age of the university’s buildings. Brandeis’ buildings, though not particularly old, were built at a time when architects did not account for standards in energy efficiency during construction. These structural disadvantages are things that Fischer and the rest of the sustainability staff at Brandeis have had to work around.

Still, Fischer works hard to make sustainability possible. She has implemented a new program that puts the responsibility of energy efficiency into the hands of the students as well. A particularly new program Fischer has overseen through inception is the Brandeis Sustainability Fund (BSF). The BSF provides undergraduate students the opportunity to build a sustainability project of their own creation and implement it on the Brandeis campus. These projects are funded through the BSF. Students can propose projects to the BSF board for review. If approved, the board will work with the students to implement and complete the project.

During the last academic year, the BSF wrote a grant for $40,000 to Oliver Price ’20 to implement the Charles River Grad Housing Energy Efficiency project. Price’s project worked to install energy efficiency technology to control the electric heating. The technology was placed in the Charles River residences as a pilot program. If the solution does indeed pay back in terms of energy efficiency, the university will look to install the heating technology in the rest of the buildings. The BSF is only one of the many ways that Fischer is involved with sustainability on campus in order to make Brandeis’ future more eco-friendly.

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