10 ways the Year of Climate Action at Brandeis made a difference

images from the year of climate action

When the President’s Task Force on Campus Sustainability at Brandeis convened to draft a new climate action plan for the university, they outlined ambitious goals for the campus to achieve carbon neutrality and become more climate reslilient. Also among its recommendations: An entire year dedicated to developing a deeper understanding of climate change as an issue of social justice.

After nearly two years of planning, 2022-2023 became Brandeis’ first-ever Year of Climate Action. The events and initiatives were brought to reality by the Brandeis Sustainability Committee – co-chaired by Director of Sustainability Mary Fischer and Associate Professor Colleen Hitchcock – a team of student "Sustainability Ambassadors", and a core team of faculty and staff. 

The Year of Climate Action connected 23 campus partners, and more than 3300 people who attended 57 campus events and programs. Additionally, 30 faculty were trained in workshops and 150 seats were created in new courses with a focus on climate.  

Here are some of the ways the Year of Climate Action made a difference:

Climate education incorporated into existing courses. Over 30 faculty were trained in ways to incorporate climate change topics into existing courses in workshops hosted by the Sustainability Committee, and many of them implemented changes this year. Courses across disciplines were updated with new material, units, and projects that focused on sustainability and climate-related material.

New courses focused on climate. A host of new courses inspired by the Year of Climate Action provided 150 new seats for students. Courses included Environmental and Climate Justice with Prakash Kashwan, Our Local Waterways with Sally Warner, and Jewish Environmental Ethics with Yehudah Mirsky. Additionally, the Eco-Anxiety support group, which is being transformed from a counseling center group into an elective course to fulfill Brandeis’ HWL requirement.

Pilot and expansion of Brandeis’ sustainable grounds management initiatives. In 2022, Brandeis piloted several organic land management practices. The pilot included replacing and phasing out synthetic pesticides and fertilizers, including replacing the glyphosate-containing Roundup; purchasing its first electric leaf blower and electric trimmer; and incorporating measures to improve the soil naturally, such as using organic fertilizer, applying compost to nourish the vegetation, and purchasing and applying more drought-tolerant grass seed. The pilot is being expanded to upper campus this summer, with plans to expand further over the next 2-3 growing seasons. Additionally, Brandeis purchased its first electric lawn mower this spring, and is upgrading its irrigation system to save approximately 1.5 million gallons of water annually. 

A course committed to the Charles River Watershed. This year’s, CAST 150B - Introduction to Introduction to Creativity, the Arts and Social Transformation, taught by Toni Shapiro-Phim, won the Charles River Watershed Association Young Professionals Award for the projects they created in the course. The course was a design lab for climate solutions, bringing together community partners along with Brandeis faculty and staff.

A presence at COP27. For the first time ever, Brandeis sent a delegation to COP, the annual international climate conference, in the fall of 2022. The delegation included undergraduate students Matthew Baharmast ’23, and Maggie Del Re ’23. The students presented in the Youth Environmental Alliance in Higher Education: Climate leadership across generations Panel sharing the Year of Climate Action as a model for other higher education institutions. 

Over three tons of donated goods. After a two year hiatus, Give & Go, Brandeis' move-out donation program, was brought back for the Year of Climate Action. About 20 student and staff volunteers helped collect and consolidate items that would otherwise have been thrown in the trash as students moved out in the spring. Over three tons of donations were collected over two weeks starting in early May and through Commencement. About 1,500 lbs of dorm room necessities were recovered and donated to Grad Bag, which lightly refurbishes the items for new students at Brandeis and in the Greater Boston area, along with thousands more pounds of goods that were donated to various organizations.

The Rare Climate Culture exhibit. Hundreds of students, faculty, staff, student families and members of the community saw and interacted with the Rare Climate Culture exhibit, which was on display in the SCC for several weeks before and after Commencement. Over 120 people also participated in the associated study, “The Impact on Attitudes and Beliefs about the Environment from viewing Rare's ‘Shifting the Climate Culture’ exhibits.” The study found that the exhibits produced varied positive effects, and the results will be shared in the 2023 Behavior, Energy & Climate Change conference. 

The climate warming stripes banner. Professor Sally Warner came up with the idea to create a banner to represent the changes in global temperature in the summer of 2022. Following this, students, faculty, and staff gathered to sew 40 meters of fabric together into stripes, which depict the impact of climate change. The banner was taken to the September 2022 Youth Climate Rally in Boston, where students marched and spoke in support of climate action by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Brandeis brought roughly 50 students, the largest contingent of the rally. The display resided in the Shapiro Campus Center throughout the year of Climate Action, wrapping up the staircase to show this information in a highly public space and stress the urgency of climate action.

Beginning to End the Climate Crisis. The Center for German and European Studies celebrated its 25th anniversary with an all-day conference: "Beginning to End the Climate Crisis." It featured several speakers, a panel on climate justice, an organizing charrette for students, and culminated with keynote speaker by author and climate activist Bill McKibben. The event also officially launched CGES director’s Sabine von Mering’s English translation of Luisa Neubauer and Alex Repenning's book, “Beginning to End the Climate Crisis: A History of Our Future.”

A new decarbonization action plan. With a team of experts, the Brandeis' Capital Programs group began developing a plan to transform energy use, reduce emissions on campus and set the university on a path to carbon neutrality. The team is conducting a rigorous assessment of the work needed to transform the campus' heating, cooling, and electricity usage to become fossil fuel free. The resulting Decarbonization Action Plan will give Brandeis the analysis and tools needed to commit to new greenhouse gas reduction targets.

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