The University is behind its peer schools in energy reduction and recycling, Sustainability Manager Mary Fischer announced at the State of Sustainability conference on Tuesday night. The event also featured presentations from the various environmental groups on campus, including Students for Environmental Action and Brandeis Climate Justice.

Class of 2017 Senator Matt Smetana ’17, chair of the Senate Sustainability Committee and member of the President’s Task Force on Sustainability, opened the event, calling the audience together in a moment of silence for Zimeng “Boots” Xue ’18, who passed away unexpectedly last week.

Rachel Zhu ’18, the non-Senate chair of the Sustainability Committee and co-president of Students for Environmental Action, then gave a brief overview of the sustainability committee and its past initiatives, which include dual flush toilets, first-year hall environmental information sessions and environmental literacy requirements. She also noted that the committee is in the process of making a series of educational videos on a variety of environmental topics.

Fischer then addressed the audience, beginning her presentation by tasking all attendees with leading the sustainability charge on campus. “The people in this room are going to be leading the sustainability movement on our campus. Look to your left, look to your right; it’s us,” she said.

She then touched upon the University’s overall energy usage as compared to peer universities. According to Fischer, most peer universities are using roughly 30 percent less energy than Brandeis, and when this comparison is narrowed to only peer research universities — which Fischer said use more energy due to lab equipment — the University still uses 16 percent more than the average. Lastly, she noted, when the comparison was narrowed down to only the most comparable universities in terms of size and structure, the University uses 24 percent more than the average.

Fischer stated that these figures are especially disappointing, given the University’s 2009 commitment to reduce it carbon footprint by 15 percent by 2015. As of now, Fischer continued, the University’s footprint has actually risen by 1 percent, though that percentage would have been higher had the standards of measuring carbon output not changed in the interim. She then gave a brief history of the University administration’s sustainability initiatives, which include the solar panels over the Gosman Sports and Convocation Center and the solar thermal system that was installed in the Charles River Apartments in 2013. Fischer noted that the solar thermal system provides roughly 13 percent of Grad’s fuel demand; the additional solar panels that are slated to be installed in 2016 and 2017 will cover another 1 percent of annual energy use across the University. Addressing the seemingly low percentage, Fischer noted that the University could cover the entire campus in solar panels, and “we still would barely scratch the electricity we need on campus.”

In terms of ongoing initiatives, Fischer said that the University is sponsoring a recycling competition in the Ziv, Ridgewood and Village Quads, as well as in various administrative buildings. Additionally, she noted, the University has implemented a new composting program for the dining halls and is in the process of finding an organization to accept leftover furniture and household products when students move out of the dorms in May and leave items behind for donation. Moving forward in the next few months, Fischer concluded, the University hopes to increase recycling by 30 percent by the end of the semester and by 40 percent by the end of the year. The University’s average for Fiscal Year 2015 was a 19 percent recycling rate, while the national average is between 35 to 40 percent.

Next, the Farmers Club addressed the audience, discussing their goal of tackling food justice, which is especially important given that approximately 21,686 people are on food stamps in Waltham alone, according to the club. Student representatives noted that the club received roughly $30,000 from the Sustainability Fund last year, with which they built the rooftop garden on top of the Gerstenzang Science Library. The produce grown from that endeavor was later donated to various charity organizations.

Symbiosis, a program that operates under the Waltham Group, then presented, and Marissa Lazaroff ’18, one of the group coordinators, discussed the link between poor environmental conditions and poverty, citing the ongoing water crisis in Flint, Michigan as an example of environmental injustice. After Lazaroff’s presentation, the Students for Environmental Action announced their plans to focus on three major initiatives this semester: introducing an environmental aspect to first-year orientation, distributing maps of hiking trails around campus and spreading the word about recycling around campus. Brandeis Climate Justice, meanwhile, spoke on the need to educate students about climate change via rallies and teach-ins. They also made the case for divestment at the University, claiming that the University invests over $50 million and stating, “That’s not ethical; that’s not helping climate change.”

Other notable presentations from the event included the Brandeis undergraduate chapter of Net Impact's talk on building environmental leadership programs on campus, the Undergraduate Representatives for the Environmental Studies Program's invited call for event suggestions, the Brandeis Faculty Against the Climate Threat’s fossil fuel divestment petition, and the Heller Environmental Justice Group’s debrief on their recent trip to a climate justice retreat.

Finally, a representative from the Brandeis Sustainability Fund spoke about two projects that received funding this year — “Project Pollinator” and “Save a Latte.” Smetana, who is helping lead “Project Pollinator,” will be planning the construction of a meadow near the Science parking lot in order to attract more pollinating species — like bees and hummingbirds — to campus. The “Save a Latte” initiative, meanwhile, will introduce reusable mugs on campus.