University implements new sustainability initiatives
Brandeis Sustainability Manager Mary Fischer described new initiatives at the State of Sustainability.
Since the start of the semester, the University has been sharing initiatives it is taking to improve sustainability efforts at Brandeis. According to the Brandeis Sustainability website, the office’s goals are to fulfill the University’s commitment to social justice, reduce its carbon footprint and be responsible members of the global community.
During the annual State of Sustainability event held on Sept. 26, Brandeis Sustainability Manager Mary Fischer explained how Brandeis is becoming more sustainable and what the next steps are in creating a greener campus.
At the event, Fischer said that converting the Brandeis campus to be completely run on solar or wind power would be impossible. She said that although there are some buildings with solar panels, such as Skyline Residence Hall and Gosman Athletic Center, powering the entire University would require covering the entire surface area of the campus with panels. For wind power, Fischer said that the campus would need 13 wind turbines, and the city of Waltham would not approve this. One turbine would provide 7% of the campus’s energy usage.
Fischer shared one way that Brandeis is tackling this challenge, however, which she elaborated on in an interview with the Justice. The University is looking to build renewable energy sources elsewhere in the country to offset Brandeis’ own usage. In her interview, Fischer said, “We need to look into doing this and push doing this, because it is the best way to reduce our carbon footprint.” This entails buying renewable energy credit by financing a new renewable energy source elsewhere in the country, such as in South Dakota and other states. Locations will be selected based on which areas rely more heavily on coal. This way, the University is offsetting those states’ coal use and providing them more renewable sources.
Another initiative Fischer announced at the State of Sustainability is eliminating sales of about 10,000 bottles of water annually by the end of the semester. Water bottle sales will eventually be limited to the Hoot Market and campus vending machines. In her interview with the Justice, Fischer emphasized that “Brandeis’ tap water goes through the same processes of … other bottled water companies,” making it perfectly safe to drink. New bottle filling stations have been added around campus, including the main hallway of Gerstenzang, Slosberg lobby and Mandel Ground Floor, among 11 others. She told the Justice that the carbon footprint of one bottle of Dasani water is the same as over 2,000 gallons of tap water.
At this time, however, Fischer told the Justice that the school’s initiative should be feasible in both University Starbucks in Heller and Farber, the cafe in Mandel Center, Peet’s Cafe in the Shapiro Science Center, the Faculty Club and Dominic's in the International Business School. Coolers will take the place of plastic bottles where cold and hot water will be available for use for reusable bottles.
At the event, Fischer also said that compost is the key to diverting waste, not recycling. Brandeis has increased its composting from 15 tons to 256 tons per year from 2015 to 2019, respectively. Over 40 more compost bins have been added all over campus since August. Next, the University will add compost bins to the Charles River Apartments and 567 South Street, but the timeline for that project is yet to be determined.
Fischer said that food makes up 7% of the campus’ total carbon footprint. 13.3% of the food the Brandeis community consumes on campus is meat, but meat makes up 49.9% of the food's carbon footprint. On the other hand, chicken makes up 39.3% of the food consumed and only 28.3% of the school’s food contribution to its carbon footprint. Grains make up 8.0% of food consumed, but only 1.0% of the school’s food contribution to its carbon footprint.
Beyond what was mentioned in the State Of Sustainability, there are other initiatives taking place. To lower energy costs and aid in the progress of greener power is a project being lead by Eversource, according to a Waltham Wicked Local article. The article said that the project is a “Tesla 780-Kilowatt lithium-ion battery-based storage system.” According to a BrandeisNow article, this operating battery-based system will connect to a regional power grid and be rechargeable — ultimately saving the University about $50,000 per year. The battery will charge overnight when energy demand is low, so the University can “buy less electricity at the most expensive times,” particularly the summer months when the demand is greatest.
Additional sustainability initiatives are also directly targeting clubs and offices by rewarding them with Green Certifications based off of sustainable practices. Club leaders are provided with a checklist, where they can record what kind of food they order for events, how well they ensure food does not go to waste, limit the use of single-use plastics and how they reserve spaces and equipment on campus.
Club leaders are also encouraged to sign a “Sustainable SWAG” pledge, under which clubs would only purchase giveaways if they are useful and needed, according to the same Google form. By signing, club leaders also agree to not purchase “useless swag” that will end up in the trash, such as pens and lanyards, nor will they purchase t-shirts unless “absolutely necessary” for the club to function, the pledge continues. The pledge encourages clubs to instead focus on other wearable items that have a smaller environmental impact.
Once the checklist is submitted and a green club certification interest form filled out, Brandeis Sustainability Ambassadors will then review the club’s application, meet with its members and award the club a silver, gold or platinum certification, which will be posted on the Office of Sustainability’s website.
All students are also encouraged to take the green pledge, agreeing to go meat-free at least once a week, not waste food, advocate for sustainability policies at least once a month and discuss climate change with friends and family, according to its website, which also provides resources and information on sustainable practices.
The Green Office certification seeks to eliminate a reliance on plastic bottles, transition to a compostable coffee service and place compost bins in offices, according to the certification’s website. As part of the initiative, Student Ambassadors will meet with office representatives and go through a sustainability checklist that focuses on reducing energy consumption by turning off the lights or computer monitors, using electronic or reusable materials rather than paper and plastic ones and participating in virtual meetings to reduce air travel, among others.
So far, only the offices of the Provost and Study Abroad have received a platinum certification, with seven other offices earning gold and silver certifications, per the same website.
In the event, Fischer added that green room certifications will become available, for which BSA will work with the Department of Community Living to offer room certifications as programs to Community Advisors. The BSA will work on checklists with groups of room occupants, answer questions and teach occupants green practices.
— Correction: Mary Fischer's name was corrected for spelling, a detail was removed to protect certain against harm.