14 ways Brandeis became more sustainable in 2017

Students, faculty and staff joined forces to improve campus sustainability.

statue of louis brandeisPhoto/Mike Lovett

By taking actions both big and small, the Brandeis community continued to embrace sustainability in 2017.

President Ron Liebowitz, who wants the university to be a national leader in sustainability, knows there’s still room to do more and is pushing the institution to continue its efforts for years to come.

“Brandeis is fully focused on adopting an orientation toward personal accountability and institutional sustainability as part of our campus culture,” Liebowitz said. “Innovative and meaningful measures like these are important steps in increasing our efforts in sustainability and helping Brandeis act responsibly where we can make a difference and set an example.”

Future improvements in campus sustainability will require a joint effort from Brandeis students, faculty, staff and administration, whose combined work last year yielded positive gains.

“Our university has begun to make real progress in campus sustainability efforts,” said Vice President for Campus Operations Jim Gray. “Much remains to be done, but we can be proud of our strong start to a long journey.”

Examples of initiatives that have improved campus sustainability in the past year include:

1. Constructing the campus’ greenest building, ever

A new, 164-bed residence hall known as “Skyline” will open in fall 2018 and be the campus’ greenest building.

In a landmark decision, President Liebowitz, Provost Lisa Lynch and the Board of Trustees approved the construction of a geothermal system to power the new building. The system uses geothermal wells to provide 100 percent of the building’s heating and cooling needs.

Using the geothermal wells, as well as several additional energy efficiency features such as high-performance insulation and windows, rooftop solar panels and all-LED lighting, make the building more than 30 percent more efficient than if built only to code.

2. Out with the old, in with the renewable

In 2017, Brandeis signed a contract with Lifecycle Renewables for a pilot burn of 160,000 gallons of renewable fuel in its central heating plant.

Lifecycle Renewables collects cooking oil from hundreds of restaurants, schools, hotels and food manufacturers throughout New England.

The fuel is aggregated and processed into renewable fuel oil, and will displace a portion of natural gas use this winter.

3. A greener library

Campus Operations installed an array of solar panels on the library, doubling the amount of solar power generated on campus. Brandeis entered into a Power Purchase Agreement with the solar company Dynamic Energy Solutions, whereby the university purchases the electricity, and the solar company owns and maintains the panels.

This gives Brandeis a lower, predictable fixed price for a smaller portion of its electricity needs, which is valuable for the overall university utilities budget.

The power generated from the solar array is equivalent to about 25 percent of the library’s electricity usage.

4. $80,000 invested into student-led sustainability projects

The Brandeis Sustainability Fund (BSF) will use $80,000 to fund 12 student-led projects aimed at making campus greener. The projects will begin coming to life in Spring 2018.

5. Environmental Studies at Brandeis

Brandeis made 13 environmental studies courses available in 2017. Students had the opportunity to learn from farming historian Brian Donahue, who co-wrote a plan for New England to rethink its forest conservation and how it produces its own food.

Ten other faculty members also helped students engage with sustainability and environmental science. Laura Goldin, the Associate Director of the Environmental Studies Program, taught “Greening the Ivory Tower: Improving Environmental Sustainability of Brandeis and Community,” a hands-on, experiential learning course that enables students to make the campus greener.

6. Yes, Brandeis students actually competed to determine who’s the greenest

SaveOhno took campus by storm in fall 2017. SaveOhno, an online game, engages students and pushes them to take actions to improve sustainability at Brandeis.

The competition made a positive impact: Nearly 200 students attended a climate change talk and farm hours at the rooftop farm; 1,858 petitions were signed via Change.org; 4,200 liters of water were saved from refilling bottles; 0.4 tons of CO2 emissions were saved from refilling water bottles; 0.5 tons of CO2 emissions were saved from eating vegan and vegetarian.

7. Brandeis Community Supported Agriculture

Brandeis students, faculty and staff joined community supported agriculture (CSA) programs with fruits, vegetables and spices grown in the Greater Boston Area – including from the university’s own Rooftop Farm, which is situated on one of the top of terraces of the Shapiro Science Center.

In 2017, students also won a $3,500 grant to winterize the rooftop farm.

8. Brandeis eats green

Brandeis has a green catering menu for the first time in its history.

The new menu features environmentally conscious options like all-vegetarian appetizers, bulk drink orders vs. individual bottles and no beef products. Campus caterers also provide compostable bags for all food waste. Anyone on campus can also use the new Guide to Green Events.

9. Doubling the number of carpooling trips

The number of Brandeis staff and faculty carpoolers nearly doubled in 2017 through the use of RideAmigos, an online application.

RideAmigos also includes helpful information including public transportation routes and the location of Zipcars and bike pumps.

10. Heller composting

A group of undergraduate and graduate Brandeis students – Mitali Pinto, Meredith Marx, Elizabeth Keeffe, Shai Dinnar – secured a $600 grant to create a composting program at the Heller School for Social Policy and Management.

Their goal is to increase awareness about the importance of composting and divert a significant amount of food waste from landfills.

11. Taking the pressure down a notch

Brandeis reduced the pressure in its steam system over the summer, and raised it again for winter. This will improve the steam plant’s efficiency by between one and three percent. There have been no noticeable effects on campus due to the modification.

12. Decreasing energy usage

So far in fiscal year 2018, which began in July 2017, Brandeis has seen a six percent decrease in campus natural gas usage, and a four percent decrease in campus electricity usage, continuing a four-year trend in declining consumption.

13. Improving comfort and energy efficiency in East

Brandeis completed the second year of a two-year full window replacement project in both East Residence Halls during the summer of 2017, improving the comfort and energy efficiency of the building.

14. Supporting Boston area homeless for greener gains

In 2017, Brandeis held a move-out donation program called “Give & Go.” Staff collected three tons of donations – mostly clothing and household items – for the Salvation Army and the Jacqueline Olivo Foundation, which supports Boston area homeless.

This kept these items out of landfills while providing support to those in need.

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