Massachusetts Leading the Way in Campus Sustainability

campus sustainability

Massachusetts Campus Sustainability Initiatives

Katie Champagne for Zondits, April 21, 2014

More and more college campuses across the nation are implementing sustainability initiatives through community outreach, curriculum improvements, on- and off-campus practices, and program implementation. On Thursday April 17, 2014, three leading Massachusetts universities presented their unique stories of change and progress at the Sustainability: Systems and Solutions Conference in Lowell. Here is a recap of the current conditions of these institutions, as well as a listing of their future sustainability goals and projections.

Bentley University

Bentley University, known primarily as a business college, is promoting sustainability by focusing on the integration of business and sustainability. Currently, academic majors linking these two areas of study are being created, with several sustainability-related minors  available. This curriculum initiative started back in 2007, when the university signed the ACUPCC, kicking off its Climate Action Plan (CAP.) Since that point, there has been significant growth throughout the campus, including the creation of the Office of Sustainability, the first carbon footprint reduction achievements, an increase in student engagement (i.e., the formation of clubs), and more recently, an innovative wind energy purchase.

Bentley’s CAP has carbon footprint reduction goals based on dollar per metric ton of carbon footprint reductions. The main goal is to reduce 50% of emissions by 2015, 70% by 2020, and 100% by 2030. To date, they have already reached a 42% reduction rate and are well on their way to reaching their 2015 objective.

The makeup of the university’s carbon footprint includes natural gas, electricity, air travel, T&D losses, commuting, and other related activity. In order to reduce the impact of these actions, Bentley has implemented several sustainable projects on campus:

  • A sophisticated energy management system, which has shown a drastic drop in kilowatt hours. This includes temperature limits in rooms, and an ideal temperature band in campus apartments, suites, and other campus buildings.
  • High efficiency boiler and chiller upgrades
  • Efficient lighting techniques and occupancy sensors
  • HVAC energy recovery units
  • Outdoor LEDs producing savings of $100,000/year, with a 4-year payback
  • Wind energy purchase ‒ Bentley has invested in off-site renewable energy via the purchase of Green-e certified renewable energy certificates (RECs), which have helped to save just over $300,000 against the fiscal year 2012‒’13 budget.
  • Commuter programs: carpool and bike/run to campus
    • Online carpool programs
    • Installed showers on campus close to faculty offices to make participation easier

What’s next for Bentley? The campus aims to continue purchasing RECS not only for solar installations, but for geothermal as well. Energy efficiency programs, continued energy management, and water conservation are also on the list.

Framingham State University

As another 2007 signatory of the ACUPCC, Framingham State has its own CAP goals of reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, educating the community, and sustaining the environmental science academic major and curriculum it has created. The campus community has developed several sustainability projects that not only promote the goals of their CAP, but implement them as well.

When Framingham State was designing these initiatives, they focused on GHG reductions through three scopes encompassing 15 actions: Scope 1 includes all direct sources of GHG emissions from sources that are owned or controlled by the institution. Scope 2 includes GHG emissions from imports of electricity, heat, or steam associated with the generation of imported sources of energy. And Scope 3 includes all other indirect sources of GHG emissions that may result from the activities of the institution. The main contributor to Scope 3 emissions at Framingham State University is commuting to and from the university by faculty, staff, and students.

With these three scopes in mind, the campus has implemented the following:

  • Power plant conversion
    • The former plant burned #6 oil, emitting 7,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide annually. It now burns natural gas, resulting in 39% emission reductions.
  • Obtaining power through renewables
    • The campus has advanced the use of renewable energy from 0.1% to 17.82%.
  • Sustainable building design
    • North Hall ‒ This sustainable dormitory includes geothermal and other renewable energy sources, energy recovery units, and rain water harvesting. The building has been LEED gold certified.
  • Dining services upgrades
    • All dining halls use entirely compostable materials:
      • Fill 96-lb. bales on a weekly basis
      • Have saved 200,000 gallons of water within first year of conversion
      • Use only environmentally safe cleaning products
  • Sustainable commuting
    • New class schedule model has been introduced with additional time slots and more efficient consolidation of scheduled classes, especially between the day and evening offerings. The additional options help to relieve campus congestion and reduce overall travel (the goal is a 20% reduction).
  • Photovoltaic implementation
    • Solar arrays have been completed on two of the most heavily used campus buildings.

Framingham State University will continue its sustainability efforts by developing new efficiency goals over time.

University of Massachusetts, Lowell

The University of Massachusetts has been a leader in sustainability for quite some time now, and UMass Lowell specifically has shown significant improvements. UMass Lowell is also a 2007ACUPCC signatory with a CAP that includes goals set over three phases. Together, the phases focus on expanding education, research, and outreach, accelerating progress toward climate neutrality, and acting as a role model toward achieving a thriving, civil, and sustainable society.

The campus has reacted well to sustainability challenges over the years, ultimately incorporating the following actions into its CAP:

  • Commuting
    • Parking fees have been increased to incent students to use campus shuttles, public transit, and other alternatives to driving in singly.
    • The Campus Transportation Plan has been implemented to help manage transportation demand.
    • Carpooling is highly encouraged through a Rideshare Program, modeled after UMass Amherst’s, which offers  a limited number of free one-day permits for days when carpoolers need to drive alone, preferred parking spaces, guaranteed rides home, reduced parking fees for ride sharers, and an in-house carpool matching program.
  • Natural gas transition
    • Up until 2008, UMass Lowell ran on fuel oil, burning 820,000 gallons of fuel in 2007 alone. Since becoming signatories of the ACUPCC, the campus has run on 100% natural gas, meeting their conversion goal.
  • Building automation systems
    • The campus updated systems with the Massachusetts Division of Capital Asset Management & Maintenance’s (DCAMM’s) Accelerated Energy Program (AEP) and launched other internal projects.
    • In 2012, 30% of the buildings were computer controlled.
  • CAP Sustainability Steering Committee formation
    • Before 2012, there was no organization for sustainability students and faculty to meet. Today, a CAP Sustainability Steering Committee, made up of both students and faculty, is able to identify and execute GHG reduction projects and advance the campus through sustainable initiatives.
  • Transportation alternatives
    • The campus now offers multiple means of transportation including a shuttle, Zip Cars, and the Free Wheelers bike program.
    • Collectively, these programs have reduced 5,500 MT CO2 of GHG to baseline GHG.
  • Energy efficiency upgrades
    • The campus has upgraded their boilers, chillers, steam traps, lighting, and lighting sensors to more efficient models.
    • These retrofits reduced 3,700 MT CO2 in fiscal year 2012‒’13 alone.
  • Housing and green buildings
    • UMass Lowell had inadequate student housing in 2007. Today, rooms have been renovated to fit double the capacity.
    • There are four new construction projects for LEED-certified dormitory buildings.

UMass Lowell aims to reduce its emissions 100% by 2050. One specific goal is to complete an AEP performance contract in FY 2016. They are also looking into renewable energy investments.

Read more on green buildings within the City of Lowell