Sustainability in Greater Boston Higher Education

With only a month left of summer, colleges and universities across the country are preparing for the return of their students.  It is widely known that the metropolitan Boston area is full of premiere universities, but what might be less known are the numerous efforts colleges including Boston College, Boston University, Harvard University, Northeastern University, and Tufts University are taking towards sustainability.  Covering topics such as energy, food, water conservation, recycling and waste diversion, and transportation these universities are paving the way for a greener future.

Perhaps the most well-known university in the Greater Boston area is Harvard University located in Cambridge.  In 2008, Harvard University adopted a goal to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions level to 30% below a 2006 baseline by 2016.  As a result of over 800 energy conservation measures, they have already achieved a 7% decrease, while growing in size by three million square feet.  Harvard has over 75 LEED certified buildings including several LEED Gold certified buildings.  The university uses a plethora of renewable energy sources including solar panels, wind turbines, steam heat recovery, and ground source heat pumps.  They also utilize used vegetable oil as bio-diesel for their shuttle service.  Since 2005, dining hall food waste has decreased by over 50%.  Another innovative step Harvard is taking towards reducing waste is finding a way to recycle Styrofoam by reclaiming it and melting it down to form new products.  This would be a monumental move towards reducing our waste since traditional Styrofoam is not recyclable or compostable, meaning it clogs our landfills for thousands of years.

Harvard employees with 1 day’s worth of Styrofoam…which now can be reclaimed and reused

Another extremely green university in the Boston metropolitan area is Tufts University in Medford.  Already, Tufts sources 53% of their energy from renewables and has several LEED Gold certified buildings.  In addition, Tufts recently earned a Silver rating for its sustainability efforts under the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System (STARS), which provides a framework for understanding sustainability in all sectors of higher education.  Other areas of particular strength included student-led initiatives, such as tray-less dining; sustainability outreach and publications; research initiatives and incentives for developing sustainability courses.  For a better idea of how Tufts students are improving the school’s sustainability we can look at their Earth Day celebrations.  On one day they focused their energy on community gardening, bike sharing, clothing swapping, demanding clean energy, and even salvaging food through dumpster diving.

Boston College has also taken sustainability issues seriously in the last decade.  Since 2003, BC has switched to energy-efficient lighting, installed new heat pumps, and retrofitted inefficient motors in a comprehensive approach to energy conservation.  There are currently three buildings under construction that will meet LEED Silver status thanks to a 2009 policy stating all new construction and renovations must at least meet this certification. A significant reason for Boston College’s progress is student involvement; there are several student environmental groups ranging from “EcoPledge” who hosts lectures and events, community clean-ups, and nature outings to “SustainBC” to “Real Food BC” who promotes the purchasing of local, green, humane food sources.  There are several annual events to promote sustainability at BC including “Recyclemania,” a national collegiate competition to increase recycling and reduce waste, “Harvestfest,” and “Mt. Trashmore” where one day’s worth of garbage is dumped on the quad to show the astonishing amount of waste we create.

Despite its rivalry with Boston College, Boston University is also a leading green school.  BU also earned a Silver rating from STARS for its sustainability efforts.  Currently the school is retrofitting its buildings to reduce energy and heating/cooling costs, and there are already two LEED certified buildings on campus.  Academically, Boston University offers an amazing 400 sustainability-related courses.  Students can apply what they learn in the classroom to the campus through the 17 student environmental groups.  One example of their work is a program that encourages staff to opt out of having a personal trashcan, while keeping their recycling bin, in the office in an effort to reduce waste.  From 2006 to 2011 BU reduced its overall waste by 10% and diverted 31% more through recycling, composting, and donating.

The last green Greater Boston university I will mention is Northeastern University.  This university has undertaken over 60 different energy efficiency programs over the last three years.  In fact, every building has undergone energy efficiency renovations!  Northeastern also is the proud owner of a LEED Gold certified building.  Moreover, Northeastern offers over 100 courses, programs, and innovative co-ops related to sustainability.  The ability to apply their knowledge of sustainability issues to the “real world” through co-op programs is one of the most obvious reasons why Northeastern is considered a top green school.

So as the school year fast approaches, these schools and thousands of others just like them are preparing to welcome back their students in a greener way.  Through increased attention to energy usage, water consumption, recycling, composting, waste diversion, green buildings, and local food, universities are teaching our youth how to live more sustainably.  With so many top-notch universities focused on sustainability, it is no wonder all indications point to a brighter, greener future.

Pat Connolly is a senior at Colgate University and is an SBN Summer Intern


email: sblp@sbnmass.org    |    phone: (617) 395-0250

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