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Cambridge mayor describes environmental initiatives

Published: Friday, November 8, 2013

Updated: Friday, November 8, 2013 08:11

Mayor of the City of Cambridge Henrietta Davis discussed sustainability initiatives in her city yesterday in the Lincoln Filene Center Rabb Room as part of the university’s weekly Lunch and Learn events.

About 40 students and community members, including University President Anthony Monaco, attended the presentation, titled, “Cambridge Successes: Environment, Energy Efficiency and Sustainability.”

Davis began by emphasizing the importance of connecting with others to create solutions.

“One of the foundational things about working in sustainability is networking,” Davis said. “Nothing in sustainability happens, as eco-scientists told us a long time ago, without considering what the ecosystem is.”

She next discussed some of Cambridge’s environmental data, a city home to about 100,000 residents and multiple universities. In Cambridge, about 82 percent of carbon emissions come from buildings located in the area, 17 percent from transportation and about one percent from waste.  

Davis explained that Cambridge, more so than many other communities, is concerned about climate change’s effects on the environment due to its low elevation.

“We are very susceptible to sea level rise,” she said. “We are very concerned on a practical level about what’s going to happen to the ... environment.”

In developing ways to overcome carbon emissions, Davis said she was not as concerned about initiatives such as recycling, which only pertain to the one percent of emissions produced by waste. 

“When people talk about sustainability, often their entry level discussion is about recycling,” she said. “That can be kind of frustrating when you realize that what’s really going on is energy from buildings and transportation.”

Davis instead decided to focus on targeting building emissions. In planning, she was very excited to find out that a large portion of all buildings in the city were owned by the local government, Harvard University or the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and decided to begin collaborating with the schools.

“If we unite together and decide what we’re going to do about energy, that’s a lot just by itself,” she said.

Both Harvard and MIT, she explained, have already begun projects to become more green. Before Davis began her term as mayor, MIT had already announced a commitment to finding energy solutions through technology, she said. Harvard, too, has a plan to reduce its green house gas emissions by 30 percent before 2016. 

Using her new position, Davis began a year of meetings with the administrators from both universities to begin a collaboration project that would eventually be known as the “Community Compact for a Sustainable Future” (Compact).

“Between the city and the universities we had so much going for us,” she said. “United together, we would be able to make a big difference.”

In order to demonstrate the results of the partnership, Davis played a short video showing clips of interviews with some of the university and town administrators involved in the project.  

After the video, Davis explained that business and other organizations in the community also play a large role in the collaboration project. Because the Cambridge mayor’s term only lasts two years, Davis knew she had to ensure many community members were involved so that the project would continue after her term. 

“One of the big things that happened when I met with university representatives is they said, ‘It can’t just be us,’” Davis said. “It can’t just be universities working with the city. We really have to reach out to businesses in the community.”

So far, Davis has added 25 local business signatories to Compact and planned to contact two or three other businesses that day. Surprisingly, she said, many of the business representatives contacted her with interest in joining the project. 

Since Compact was officially signed in May, members have begun a number of initiatives in areas such as improving energy efficiency, adopting renewable energy alternatives and encouraging greener transportation methods.

Davis said she was grateful to head a university city, as college students are often more enthusiastic than other residents about starting environmental initiatives and making change. 

At the end of the presentation, Davis encouraged the audience members to do their part in creating a sustainable future using their personal talents.

“You all have a role to play because it’s only in pulling everyone together that these very many initiatives and this great amount of work needs to be done,” she said. 

A question and answer session followed the presentation.

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