While sustainability efforts have yielded positive results over the academic 2015-16 school year, panel discussion noted that further efforts must be made to reduce the campus carbon footprint in the form of building renovations, political discourse, and student led initiatives. The panel was the fourth installment of the event series, “Our Impact: Fossil Fuels, Climate Change and Brandeis” and took place on Thursday, April 7. It featured Interim President Lisa Lynch, Sustainability Manager Mary Fischer and Chair of the Senate Sustainability Committee Max Smetana.
The panel opened with a video titled “Our Future,” narrated by Morgan Freeman. The goal of the narration was to emphasize the importance of creating a more sustainable future. This idea was reiterated throughout the panel.
Lynch was the first of the panel members to speak, explaining that sustainability and climate change are pressing social issues. According to Lynch, they require local, state, national and global efforts to enact change. This is why she chose to focus on climate change in her time as interim president. “This [is] an issue that the university should be doing more about, [through] research, education, activism and political engagement,” said Lynch.
Lynch will return to her role as provost on July 1. In that role, she hopes to continue efforts to enact campus-wide climate change. Lynch advocated for students to get involved with issues of sustainability, particularly on the political front. “There is more work that can be done,” said Lynch. In her role as provost, Lynch intends to be instrumental in “finding more opportunities to expand internships, experiential learning and opportunities [in order] to engage in the political discussion of climate change.”
During the panel, Lynch addressed the issue of divestment. She stated that bringing the board to a vote on divestment would be difficult. “The next president has to, with the board of trustees, make decisions about what they do with the endowment,” said Lynch. She explained that in order to enact long lasting change, the position of president itself must be longer lasting.
Fischer spoke next, introducing data on campus sustainability and comparing energy consumption at Brandeis to a “Rubik’s cube.” A prominent goal of the movement towards a more sustainable campus is decreasing the carbon footprint by 15 percent.
Statistics show that the current footprint is still similar to what it was in 2008. According to Fischer, the footprint would be 20-30 percent worse if off campus transportation was factored in. In light of these statistics, Fischer stated that successfully decreasing the carbon footprint has become a larger focus.
Fischer cited several successful campaigns that have take place over 2015-16 school year. Ninety-nine percent of Brandeis’ carbon footprint comes from natural gas, electricity and oil in buildings on campus. Sustainability challenges have sought to enact change in residence halls across campus. In both challenges, Fischer saw successful increases in recycling and decreases in electricity usage.
Over the last several months, Sodexo staff has been trained in composting. Bins are stationed behind Usdan and Sherman. “We’re recycling more, wasting less and composting more. These are all very good trends,” said Fischer. Recycling has increased from 18.6 tons on average to 25.1 tons over the 2015-16 school year. Composting has increased from 2.2 tons to an average of 8 tons.
Smetana listed a number of new initiatives to increase sustainability on campus. The Senate Sustainability Committee has proposed an environmental literacy requirement. “Nobody should leave this school without knowing the intricacies of climate change and how it’s going to impact them and their future lives,” said Smetana. The requirement would impact the class of 2021.
The senate committee is also working on a climate change video series. The series will focus on “addressing the different outlets of climate change, how it’s impacting marginalized communities around the world, how it’s related to our food system and the [effect] that [it has] on the external environment,” said Smetana.
The committee handles interest forms for the Brandeis Sustainability Fund, a $50,000 sum that can be used towards student initiatives for sustainability. Initiatives have included ‘Deis bikes, dual flush toilets and a rooftop farm. On April 30, Smetana’s plan for a native plant meadow near the science parking lot will be put into action. The meadow is intended to restore pollinators. “There’s also slight carbon sequestration benefits as well. That helps with soil erosion and water retention,” said Smetana. Smetana believes the project will be self-sustaining.
The panel answered questions from students and faculty. In response to these questions, Fischer emphasized that problems with buildings should be submitted through work orders. Any questions concerning sustainability in residence halls and buildings on campus should be directed towards the facilities team.
Each member of the panel reiterated that they are optimistic about future efforts to increase sustainability and handle climate change. “It’s a very good feeling to know that we’re now taking steps in the right direction. Climate change isn’t a far off issue. It’s happening now. It’s happening to most marginalized communities across the planet. As a social justice institution we have to acknowledge the issues that are in play,” said Smetana.