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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Wednesday, May 29, 2024

New executive director of sustainability brings hope for positive change

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On Oct. 24, Dano Weisbord became the new executive director of sustainability and chief sustainability officer, and “plans to further Tufts’ commitment to becoming a high education leader in sustainability and climate matters,” according to previous reporting by the Daily. As a past graduate of Tufts’ masters program in urban and environmental policy, and past associate vice president for campus planning and sustainability at Smith College, Weisbord’s leading efforts in sustainability are encouraging signs that his claim will hold true for the Tufts community. 

Across his 14 years at Smith College, Weisbord spent the past three as the director for the Center for the Environment, Ecological Design and Sustainability. During his time there, Weisbord not only advocated for carbon neutrality via his proposed geothermal system but also became a large proponent of community outreach. Weisbord elaborated on his key focuses for campus sustainability, aiming to reduce Smith’s campus energy consumption and focus on food sustainability in 2014. To top off his accomplishments, Weisbord championed Smith’s divestment in 2019 as part of the Smith College Study Group on Climate Change, making waves in university climate action. 

With that said, Weisbord’s arrival to Tufts as Chief Sustainability Officer introduces him to a school that has failed to match the sustainable progress of Smith and the “immediate phaseout of all current investments with fossil fuel-specific managers” in Smith's endowment. Weisbord’s newfound role in sustainability at Tufts begs the questions of the extent to which he is aware of the problems surrounding sustainability at Tufts, including student outrage and protests over the lack of divestment from fossil fuel companies in the school’s endowment portfolio, as well as his approach to solving them. 

Prior to Weisbord, Tina Woolston served as the Director of the Office of Sustainability for 12 years and commended her team’s progress on campus conservation, including the establishment of a new Sustainability Council. While Tufts’ attention toward climate action can arguably be seen as somewhat productive in recent years, Weisbord certainly has his work cut out for him, coming into a university that has only divested from “coal and tar sands companies with the largest reserves” and maintains a carbon neutrality goal of “no later than 2050.” Tufts’ neutrality goal is less ambitious than even some fossil fuel companies, such as ExxonMobil's aim to achieve net-zero emissions for Upstream Permian Basin operations as soon as 2030.

 Nonetheless, Tufts’ Office of Sustainability continues to assert that the university plays a “crucial role in helping the world adapt to a changing planet” by targeting problems created from climate change and resource depletion. According to their Campus Sustainability Progress Report for 2019–20, the Office of Sustainability seems to be correct, painting the picture that Tufts’ improvements — such as our 12% reduction in emissions from 1990 and new climate-focused courses in sustainability — deem the university a leader in environmental change. However, greenwashing is a significant influence toward Tufts’ sustainable image, casting our school as a forefront leader of climate action through initiatives like zero waste challenges and recycling training. However, our school is falling behind, with little effort from the investment or sustainability offices to fully divest and follow the trend set by other leading universities for more rapid climate action.

Hopefully, with Weisbord’s promising record as a change-maker for climate action and sustainability, he can drive the Office of Sustainability toward more proactive, ambitious and timely goals. 

We are victims of campus greenwashing. Tufts has purported to be a leader in university climate action, a claim I believed prior to my own research on Tufts’ lack of divestment and comparison with the progress of other Boston-area schools — such as Harvard and Boston University — who have committed to cut ties to fossil fuel companies. After just a few months on campus, it has become clear to me that Tufts’ Office of Sustainability’s goal for “all students at Tufts to understand climate change, its impacts and the road to a more sustainable society” is not enough. While education and small-step initiatives do play an important role in sustainability, Tufts needs to mirror the progress made by schools like Smith College by prioritizing divestment and reducing our carbon footprint, changes that Weisbord can hopefully inspire.