Update on Brandeis' Sustainability Commitments
May 21, 2021
Dear Members of the Brandeis Community,
I am writing with updates to our ongoing efforts to advance the university’s sustainability commitments, which include reducing our institution’s carbon footprint. Last August, the President’s Task Force submitted several recommendations (pdf) for how Brandeis could move toward these ambitious campus sustainability goals. While the COVID-19 pandemic delayed the time frame for formally reviewing, approving, and implementing these recommendations, the Office of Sustainability has already begun to move forward with several of the Task Force’s recommendations. In particular, in December, I announced the formation of a new university-wide Sustainability Committee, which is charged with recommending and implementing future sustainability initiatives, as well as with holding Brandeis accountable for our long-term sustainability commitments.
This new committee has already undertaken several Task Force recommendations, including:
- Reducing the carbon footprint of food purchases and pursuing other sustainability targets in our food service operation.
- Adopting the Task Force’s new green building standard to inform design and construction of new buildings and renovations.
- Considering alternative financing options for building improvements.
- Making and following a plan to improve the sustainability profile of all of our purchases.
Today, I am pleased to announce several additional goals and initiatives proposed in the new climate action plan, which Brandeis will pursue in the coming months and years.
1. Reducing our climate impact
- In pursuit of carbon neutrality, we will create a carbon mitigation plan that goes above and beyond our previous carbon reduction efforts. The plan will include the detailed engineering and financial strategy necessary to accelerate carbon reduction on campus, while investigating ways to go carbon negative and incorporating climate resilience strategies. The plan will also identify a date by which we can commit to carbon neutrality.
- Brandeis will join the Cool Food Pledge, which commits all co-signatories to collectively reduce their carbon footprints through their food purchases by 25% by 2030. You can view our dining carbon footprint in both our new dining sustainability dashboard and our new carbon footprint dashboard.
2. Improving climate change and sustainability education
- In the 2021-2022 academic year, Brandeis will begin planning a yearlong, campus-wide effort to provide in-depth analysis of the issues and inequities of climate change, to launch in the 2022-2023 academic year. This will engage the entire community, including alumni, in curricular and co-curricular programming that deepens our understanding of climate change as a social justice issue and expands our dedication to tackling this urgent problem in courses, course projects, student events, guest speakers, conferences, student activism, and more.
- We will recommend to the appropriate faculty committees adoption of requirements relating to climate change for all undergraduates in the Brandeis Core, when the next review of the core takes place in 2023-2024.
- We will work with the faculty to set priorities for expanding research in carbon neutrality and climate resilience.
3. Implementing best practices in transportation for sustainability and equity
- The Sustainability Committee will help evaluate our on-campus parking resources and the costs associated with subsidizing public transit to create a fair and equitable plan for transportation costs to campus.
- We will consider conducting a transportation demand management study to further understand how we can reduce our community’s dependence on single-occupant vehicles and reduce costs associated with increased demand for parking. Such a study would also allow us to take into account changes in transportation patterns occurring after the pandemic.
- We will improve biking and pedestrian infrastructure that prioritizes safety and accessibility.
- As we implement our post-COVID-19 return-to-campus plans, we will consider how managers and supervisors can integrate telecommuting into employees’ work schedules consistent with university policy.
4. Implementing sustainable procurement practices
- As we prepare to revisit the university’s dining vendor contract at the end of AY2021-22, Brandeis will continue to prioritize sustainability in considering our future plans for on-campus dining as we have done this year.
- As soon as public health guidelines permit, we will make and follow a plan to reduce purchases of single-use disposable items on campus, not only in dining but also in offices and departments. This includes continuing the phase-out of bottled water that began in 2019 but was interrupted by the pandemic.
- We will purchase only electric vehicles for our campus fleet going forward, unless an electric vehicle of the needed type is unavailable. We will expand electric vehicle charging infrastructure on campus as necessary to support these vehicles.
5. Improving water conservation and management
- Brandeis will create a hazard mitigation plan that includes the potential for flooding during extreme precipitation events, both inside buildings with previous flooding issues and along South St. evacuation routes.
- We will install water meters in strategic locations to better measure campus usage.
- We will adopt more sustainable landscape management practices to conserve water and reduce the use of chemicals such as herbicides and pesticides.
Throughout its extensive engagement with the Brandeis community, the Task Force often received questions about divestment from the fossil fuel industry. As you may recall, in November 2018, the Brandeis Board of Trustees adopted a set of policies related to fossil fuels, and committed to review them in three years to evaluate their impact and consider future action. The Board is committed to reviewing these policies, and to determining the best course of action for Brandeis based on our data from the past three years, by November 2021.
The Task Force’s full set of recommendations are written together in Brandeis’ new draft climate action plan (pdf). I encourage you to read the plan and submit your comments to the sustainability committee. I also encourage you to visit our new interactive dashboards that track Brandeis’ waste, dining, and our carbon footprint.
These initiatives will not only ensure that Brandeis reaches its sustainability goals, but will also advance many core tenets of the Framework for the Future — including the importance of bringing interdisciplinary research and teaching to bear on the world’s most pressing questions, and investing in our campus infrastructure. Advancing some of these initiatives will result in cost-savings to the University. Others will require finding new financing sources or re-allocating existing resources. To ensure that these sustainability goals will shape and inform the university’s strategic thinking in the coming years, we will include this updated Climate Action Plan on the Framework for the Future website, and as an addendum to the Framework report.
I want to thank the many students, faculty, and staff who engaged in the work of the Task Force over the past several months and crafted these ambitious goals for Brandeis. I would also like to thank Mary Fischer and the rest of the Sustainability Committee for their commitment to making these goals a reality on our campus. These new initiatives are rooted in science and best practices, and will play an essential role in our efforts to reduce Brandeis’ carbon footprint, advance its sustainability goals, and support broader climate justice efforts in the coming years.