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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Monday, June 24, 2024

Tufts chosen to be part of climate change study

A Colorado non-profit organization recently chose Tufts as one of 12 colleges nationwide to participate in a research study that focuses on reducing greenhouse gas emissions on college campuses.

Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI), the organization conducting the Accelerated Campus Climate Change Initiative, hopes to achieve a deeper understanding of the kinds of barriers schools are experiencing to reducing emissions, RMI Research Fellow Sally DeLeon told the Daily.


The study's organizers tried to pick schools that have a record of working on climate change, said Julian Dautremont-Smith, associate director of the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE), an organization working with RMI on the study.


Dautremont-Smith told the Daily that Tufts has set a strong example of addressing climate change. "Tufts has a really long history of climate leadership," he said. "We looked at them as kind of a leader."


The 12 colleges picked for the study differ in size and geographic location and includes public and private universities, community colleges and research institutions. The obstacles they face to reducing emissions vary.


While RMI and AASHE offered advice during the selection process, DeLeon said an anonymous foundation formally selected the 12 campuses.


"It was a pretty rigorous selection process. A lot [of schools] applied," Dautremont-Smith said.


RMI will officially be working with Tufts' Office of Sustainability. Sarah Creighton, program director at the Office of Sustainability, said her office was excited to learn of its selection to participate in the study and to explore energy alternatives.


"We've had a climate initiative at Tufts since 1999 … and we've been making significant progress," Creighton said. "But we've learned that it's easier said than done."


Most of the barriers that schools face in reducing greenhouse gas emissions on campus are based on financial constraints, limited access to information on climate change options and the coordination of staff, students and faculty.


Creighton said that the biggest challenges Tufts has faced come from the limits of proven technology and from working in preexisting buildings.


"In order to deliver heat and air conditioning on an uninterrupted basis, you have to use fossil fuels in some way," she said. "While renewable energy is a wonderful technology, it is not cost-effective at this point."


Creighton said that Tufts has learned a great deal so far despite these challenges. The university hopes to share its experiences with schools just starting work on combating climate change.


RMI is in the process of visiting each of the colleges in the study. DeLeon said the institute will focus specifically on the campus carbon footprint during these visits. RMI plans to meet with various members of the schools' administrations, including people working in finance, the facilities and operations departments and students and faculty working on climate change reduction on campus.


RMI plans to visit Tufts in January, according to DeLeon.


In the spring, experts from RMI and AASHE will lead a workshop to discuss their findings with representatives from all the campuses. Describing the workshop as a "barrier-busting solution," DeLeon said each school will be asked to present an anti-climate change proposal tailored to its campus. "We're really building a network, a place where the expertise from all the campuses can come together," she said.


Eventually, RMI plans on creating a Web-based report of its findings. Colleges around the country will be able to download the report and use it to find solutions to climate change issues. This report will be a "framework to help schools so they don't have to reinvent the wheel," DeLeon said.


Creighton said she looks forward to proposals that will allow Tufts to move toward the next level of emissions reduction. Because Tufts is a research institution, however, the universities' proposed solutions must not expose the campus to unsustainable alternatives, she said.


"It's not a grand experiment," she said. "It cannot in any way jeopardize our research and education missions. The solutions we come up with have to be practical. That's really important."


Creighton said that she is specifically interested in learning from the "mature programs" of the University of Vermont and Yale University.


Other colleges featured in the study include Harford Community College in Maryland, the University of Missouri and Furman University in South Carolina.


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