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MIT signs international charter, deepening commitment to campus sustainability

In January 2011, MIT submitted its first annual report to the secretariat of the Sustainable Campus Charter, an agreement signed by MIT President Susan Hockfield and leaders of 25 other internationally known universities during the 2010 World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

By signing the inaugural charter, Hockfield pledged to deepen the Institute’s long-standing commitment to improve sustainability, foster energy efficiency and reduce waste in all campus activities. She further pledged to cooperate with her fellow charter members in sharing new information and experiences that emerge through their local sustainability efforts.

To those ends, the first annual report presents an overview of MIT and then highlights programs that demonstrate the Institute’s commitment to the principles of the charter, including setting goals, taking action, and reporting progress each year.

Hockfield noted that signing the charter reaffirms MIT’s commitment to sustainable development and to guiding campus operations toward a more sustainable, energy-efficient future. “The charter provides a platform for sharing ideas and experiences with many international peer institutions,” she said. “We all want to harness the intellectual power of our faculty, capitalize on the enthusiasm of our campus community, and seek innovative ways to speed our campuses towards true sustainability.”

The Sustainable Campus Charter was initiated by the Global University Leaders Forum (GULF), a community of leading university presidents — including Hockfield — that was convened in 2006 by the World Economic Forum to help address the world’s pressing problems, among them, sustainability. The International Sustainable Campus Network, a nonprofit organization, partnered with GULF to develop, implement, and manage the new charter.

Universities that signed the charter also include Carnegie Mellon University, Yale University, Oxford University, Cambridge University, Harvard University, and others in the Americas, Europe and Asia.

As members of the charter, the university presidents pledge to continue their sustainability efforts locally and to share information globally, with an emphasis on three core sustainability goals:
  • Improve the design and functioning of campus facilities, especially buildings;
  • Integrate the issue of sustainability into institution-wide planning;
  • Work toward developing the university as a living laboratory, with students and faculty using their home institutions as research platforms to explore energy conservation, efficient materials use, improved transportation, and related issues.
“For MIT, this commitment will serve as a guiding feature in many aspects of our campus development, and we look forward to engaging the broad MIT community in shaping our progress,” said Steven M. Lanou, deputy director for sustainability in the MIT Environment, Health and Safety Headquarters Office, who took the lead in preparing MIT’s report to the secretariat.

The report provides an overview of MIT’s mission, history and organization. It then addresses all three of the charter’s goals, citing specific commitments, achievements and investments in energy and resource conservation and efficiency, both during the past two decades and within the last few years. Included are examples of methods used to involve the campus community as well as to integrate energy and sustainability into classwork and other learning opportunities, including testing innovative ideas on the campus itself.

A key component of the sustainability effort is a strong focus on the buildings of each participating university. Buildings account for major expenditures of energy, so how they are designed and operated is critical.

Of note at MIT are two new buildings that were designed to minimize energy use without compromising livability, convenience and quality. The recently dedicated David H. Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research includes many sustainable design features and as a result uses 30 percent less energy than a similar-size, conventional laboratory building. Similarly, the new home of the MIT Sloan School of Management is over 40 percent more energy efficient than a typical building of comparable size and use.

In addition, during renovations, older buildings on campus — such as the Arthur D. Little building, which dates from 1916 — are being updated with the latest sustainable design features, while retaining their most interesting historic qualities.

MIT and other members of the charter will work together to learn from their experiences as they build and operate major facilities on their campuses.

According to Lanou, the coming year’s focus will be on additional goal setting and progress measurements to support the charter as well as MIT’s own sustainability objectives.

This expanding effort to enhance sustainability at MIT is being supported in part by generous grants from alumni, including a gift of $1 million from Jeffrey Silverman ’68, which created the Jeffrey Silverman Evergreen Energy Fund, and a $500,000 donation from David desJardins ’83. Both donors are deeply committed to enhancing energy efficiency on the MIT campus.

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