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Brandeis admin gives updates on sustainability

Nick Warren, Brandeis’ Chief Investment Officer, Mary Fischer, manager of Sustainability Programs and Assistant Vice President of Communications Julie Jette discussed Brandeis’ new efforts regarding sustainability on campus in a Zoom interview with The Brandeis Hoot. The three representatives discussed the timeline for efforts made towards greater sustainability as well as the changes made since the last update. 

In 2019, Brandeis University invested in the work of a specialized sustainability taskforce to help rewrite their current climate action plan, Fischer explained. One of the efforts made was to use the newer, more insightful tools developed to evaluate the university’s carbon footprint. Another product of the creation of the new taskforce was the decision to stop investing in fossil fuels in the future, and reaffirm previous goals outlined in the climate action plan. 

Additionally, Fischer highlighted improvements made to dining. “We are reducing the carbon footprint of our food and we’ve done that by 20 percent so far … It’s a really big deal.” According to the Office of Sustainability website, Brandeis intends to increase this to 25 percent in 2030 through joining the Cool Food Pledge. Jette added that Brandeis University was one of the first universities to join the Cool Food Pledge. “We’re definitely among the first 10,” Fischer said.

Fischer also noted that all of the financial decisions made by the committee are published online in an effort to promote financial transparency. She noted this as significant, as students in the past have emphasized a need for financial transparency. The finances for the upcoming projects have yet to be released, as they have yet to be finalized. 

“If we move towards net zero [emissions], there will be a cost. But first we need to understand what that cost will be,” Warren said, emphasizing the importance of using accurate carbon footprint tracking tools. The team is still trying to assess what the financial cost is. Warren said that costs and technology are changing constantly, which means that evaluating costs is a challenge. 

As for the stoppage of investing in fossil fuels, the finances for Brandeis are expected to increase, according to Warren. He repeatedly stressed his excitement about investing in a more environmentally friendly way, as the investment office expects to “generate very good returns for the university. I can see it becoming a material portion of our portfolio.” 

The two biggest things that have timelines are making investments in technologies that have a lower carbon footprint and finding people to manage those accounts, said Warren. He said that accomplishing the task of effectively measuring Scope 1 and Scope 2 emissions will require a lot of labor, as right now they are working on a better tracking system than “pull[ing] out every single holding in our portfolio.” He said right now the university is looking into hiring people to help make this process efficient, as well as staff who can understand the data pulled. He emphasized that this is new data and new technology, and that any findings will be found within a margin of error, the details of which are still being researched. 

All three panelists agreed that Brandeis is not falling behind in terms of sustainability, as compared to other schools. All three argued that Brandeis is actually a leader in the sustainability movement. According to Warren, Brandeis stopped investing in fossil fuels long before Harvard did. Jette encouraged community members to focus on the achievements of Brandeis, regardless of other schools. “[Sustainability] is a process we all need to be engaged in. I don’t know if setting it up as a race is useful.” This response comes despite student groups and faculty members arguing that the university is not doing enough in its sustainability plans. Earlier this month, Professor Sabine von Mering stated that Harvard divested prior to Brandeis, according to a previous Hoot article. But the administration made it clear in the interview that Harvard and similar institutions did “exactly what we did three years ago,” according to Warren. 

Fischer called the process of tracking Scope 1 and Scope 2 emissions “cutting edge.” She also said that President Ron Liebowitz has committed to making the university less reliant on natural gas, something she is excited about. 

To learn more about sustainability on campus, visit the Office of Sustainability website.

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