December, 3, 2015 International Symposium, Keynote Speech
Linking Sustainability & Excellence: An evolutionary framework
Dr. Julie Newman Massachusetts Institute of Technology, US
I was invited here today to share my experiences and reflections from founding three sustainability offices between 1997 and today. I will share the culmination of these experiences and how they’ve influenced the manner in which we have launched the Office of Sustainability at MIT and how I seek to engage and advance the field of sustainability in collaboration with all of you and our peers into the future.
Higher education has often been a catalyst in driving both national and global innovation and sweeping shifts in cultural norms. And many colleges and university campuses have committed to, and have demonstrated leadership in the global sustainability movement by establishing sustainability offices, setting aspirational yet seemingly achievable targets, and tracking various metrics to demonstrate this progress over time.
I’m going to speak to both of these today and how these influenced the development of the work that I’m now doing at MIT. I’m going to share these with you, at least initially, in the form of four questions that I’m still attempting to answer today and how they’ve influenced the framework that I have now launched.
One of my questions is around agility and how have the drivers and context that catalyzed the field of campus sustainability in the 1990’s evolved over the past two decades. Do we have the correct mechanisms in place to remain agile enough to respond to this new knowledge and new priorities?
My second question is to what extent–it’s around metrics, and to what extent had this standard sustainability metrics that we’ve heard this morning that campuses were reporting on have they been disconnected from scientific research and meaningful impact both ecologically and human health locally, regionally, and/or globally?
The third concern I brought with me in launching the Office of Sustainability, MIT, was around scalability, and again that’s already been referenced this morning. And my question is, to what extent has higher education been able to demonstrate repeatable and scalable campus based solutions, and is that possible?
And my fourth question that’s driving me at the moment is around capacity building. To what extent has higher education invested in building the capacity of its own staff to keep up with a new knowledge and technology emerging from within the walls of our very own institutions?
When I arrived at MIT I quickly took stock of what was happening there and I took a two-fold approach to creating the framework that I’ll share with you at the end of this talk. Part one was conducting a 100 plus interview and listening tour of the institute to truly deepen my understanding of MIT as an organization and it’s a commitment I’m going to make to repeat every three to five years to truly understand where we are today and to demonstrate the agility of our field.
At that time I quickly learned that I had arrived at a very unique time at MIT’s history and that they are running a campus with a $2.7 billion deferred maintenance bill. We are also on the verge of designing and constructing a new nanotechnology facility, projected to increase electricity demand on campus by 25% despite the commitment to incorporating over a hundred energy conservation measures. And we had a projected growth rate of campus of about 15% between today and 2030.
But equally I arrived on a campus which is committed to its research. That was its defining, the defining factor of MIT. And as I carried on with my listening tour and met with faculty after faculty, one of the most prominent messages that emerge for me was the honest question, “Well, why does the campus matter?” they kept saying to men “when we as researchers are solving much bigger problems than the size of our campus?” And I couldn’t agree more, they were solving unbelievable problems. But then I went back to them and said, “Wait, aren’t struggling with merely a local version of many of the same challenges that you are attempting to either understand or solve or many of the same behavioral challenges that we are attempting to understand and solve?” And that’s why I found alliance with faculty, is trying to figure out identify those local opportunities.
But at the very same time faculty sent me this figure you see here of saying, “This is our measurement of success. How can we build an Office of Sustainability, commit to becoming a renowned sustainable campus, and still ensure that this remains one of our metrics of success?” So at the same time that I was conducting an assessment of the MIT campus as an organization I was also taking stock of what was happening in the state of the world, what was happening at the city level, both within the literature on sustainable cities and urbanism, but also specifically that I’ll speak to today what was happening within the city of Boston and Cambridge where I had landed, and equally what was happening at the campus level like I have mentioned, and on our own campus.
A quick glimpse into the state of the world. I’m going to share a little bit with you about the city and what’s happening within the city, the context of Cambridge and Boston, the role of research, the role of the campus, and I’m going to share with you the model we’ve now launched at MIT.
So a team of leading scientists from another world have published a statement; a number of years ago now, but it’s still relevant today from the field of sustainability science, which I know has taken root here in Hokkaido, that has confirmed the complexity of today’s challenges ought to be considered a threat to humanity, and what is the role of higher education in both understanding that and solving for that.
So when I launched my career in 1997 within this field with the foundation of the Office of Sustainability at the University of New Hampshire, the population of the world was 5.9 billion people. And at that time I was aware of that, but I wasn’t looking at forecasting as much as I am today. And today in 2015 there are now 7.3 billion people. As we all know the earth is the same size. Between now and 2030 we will be adding a peak 80 million more people per year declining to 65 million sometime around 2050 as projected. And people living in cities will represent to 70% of the world’s population by 2030, which used to seem far off, but it’s actually not so far away anymore, and the number of cars on the road is already above a billion expected to be 2.5 billion by 2050.
We’re at a point now where we have to understand how to design cities across the world that focus on improving quality of life today and into the future, and what role can the campuses as a model play shaping that.
Equally carbon emissions have increased approximately 36% in the same time frame from around 1995 till now. Scientists are now suggesting that we must know decrease our emissions by over 80% by mid-century which used to seem far away but that’s a mere 35 years from now.
The private university sector has also evolved since that point in time. So on a more positive note more than 275 universities and counting have greenhouse gas goals ranging from near-term reductions to climate neutrality by 2050. Last month 81 leading businesses signed a White House pledge in the United States entitled the American Business Act on Climate, and over 200 universities last week signed a similar pledge leading up to COP-21.
This is a recent narrative that we now need to continue to adjust to. It’s no longer going after companies, it is no longer critiquing them, it’s figure out where do those partnerships lie, what is this new narrative, and what role do we continue to apply as a field, and what our future relationships and collaborations look like.
I want to shift and take you to Cambridge Massachusetts. Interestingly one of the appeals to MIT, when this position was brought to my attention, was that it was one of 57 colleges and universities in the Boston area serving more than 250,000 students annually. No, I haven’t figured out how to leverage those 57 institutions together yet, but that is one of the challenges on my mind, is how do we move from just remaining so focused on our own campus to leveraging the resources, the intellectual capital, the student capital that emerges from the aggregate.
And in 2013, MIT cosigned something entitled the Cambridge compact for a sustainable future with a leadership of Harvard the former mayor of the city of Cambridge and the president of MIT. Equally today there’s a commitment to seek net zero. There’s a whole list of projects that are now going on collaboratively between MIT and the CDF Cambridge, or MIT, Harvard and the CDF Cambridge.
There’s a commitment to seek net zero at across building sectors by 2035. We actually advice on that came actually from a group from Vancouver, British Columbia that worked very closely with us using British Columbia as we’ve been using Vancouver as our model.
It’s looking for a shared vision to create a sustainable city from the neighborhood up. And it’s a process of stakeholder engagement between universities, industry partners, and the private sector, and NGOs. These do not stop at the borders of MIT.
They don’t stop when you step out of the campus and into the city of Cambridge. I’m just going to share with you two recent analysis that have just gone public. One is looking at inland flooding scenarios. I’ve circled where the MIT campus is, you’ll see the impact across the city.
This is looking into 2030s the campus begins to flood. Further out in the 2070s. On the other hand this is science based. This is looking at climate. This is the extreme of climate vulnerability. We also look at a heat index analysis under present conditions, and it gets quite warm between now and the 2070s.
And as the scientific consensus on the effects of climate change continues to grow states and cities and major institutions are beginning to consider how climate change will affect the well being of people and the ability of business and communities to function into the future. The 2014 US national climate assessment has already demonstrated that we’re experiencing impacts from climatic challenges today. And this is what face insecurities in daily operation, regional food supply systems that rely on transportation energy, food and water as a result.
At MIT we’re now conducting the next level of analysis written by a group of faculty so that we can continue to reinforce that our boundaries are shared. So now, I’m going to move us from the world to the city, and I’m going to bring you from the city into the challenges faced by MIT. So, the question again, how do we build a state of the art sustainable campus in the context of the condition of the world, the state of the city and the projected state of the city informed by the findings from contemporary research while ensuring the education of our students and the proliferation of our applied research.
In 2013 the world social science reports issued that placed an urgent call to action to the international social science community again keyword, more effectively with each other, with colleagues, and other fields of science and with the users of research to deliver solutions, oriented knowledge. Outlining the top 40 priorities for science to inform US conservation and management strategy. We need to understand how does science inform the priorities that we’re hoping at the institutional level.
This paper calls upon researchers to maximize the utility of research decision making especially given the limited financial resources. And scientists must have priorities for their impacts. They presented a list of this top 40 high priority multi-disciplinary research questions directed towards informing some of the most important current and future decisions about management of species, communities and ecological processes.
I’m going to share just two of the 40 research questions. These two questions are questions independently that we started to ask at MIT until I was able to find the research match. One of the question that these researchers identified was how do different strategies for ecosystem management across the gradient of development intensities effect human health in urban areas. That’s a question that we have on the operational side.
Another question that was in this paper was how do the economic cost and benefits associated with the provision of ecosystem services vary spatially, temporarily, and among social groups.
The question is what mechanisms can be developed to better harness this new knowledge in a manner that can shape and advance our campus goals and advance a desire for scalable solutions. Just last week there’s an article in our very own campus news about scaling energy efficiency, yet there’s no mechanism by which to apply these findings to our own campus despite seeking this very same technology from the industry and its very hard to get traction to know my next thing is to now bring the researchers together with our energy managers to figure out. Is there a match here and how do we bring these groups together?
I mean I shared just two examples with you from my own campus but I’m sure you can think of either your own research or campuses at other institutions that have relevancy to the work you’re doing here. Here’s an example of a city farm where they are reinventing the future of urban agriculture looking at the south facing side of buildings on campuses.
One faculty member is an expert. He’s the originator of a theory on urban metabolism. So, when I went to him and said this is a fascinating theory, this aligned with my desire to develop baseline matrix, how do we apply this.
How do we start to organize the inputs of the campus. How do we think about what those resource based inputs are on the left hand side here. You can see on the far left side. What and how much are the outputs from a missions to waste on the far side. What is the support mechanism and matrix of impact such as transportation on the bottom side. And then what are the social norms in organizational components? What are the drivers and what is the problem definition that has been a catalyst for MIT to want to commit to developing an office of sustainability and committing to a state of the art sustainable campus. How might we define the human experience today within the campus and then, what are those performance matrix and integrated systems be?
Again, with our recognition that are true output or are graduates, and our research and patents as we mentioned earlier. How do we ask those questions on the academic side and then bring that to translate at times on the operational side. How can you build an office of sustainability MIT in which now the campus thinks about it as a generative system similar to urban metabolism.
And then lastly, there was the question of what do we actually know about the campus. And it turned out we didn’t know actually all that much from a matrix standpoint, and how much we could measure. Only 60% of our buildings are actually metered. We’re starting to develop working with faculty and others to develop modeling systems in which we can best understand for example the energy use intensity of our buildings moving forward.
How do we connect data to meaningful impact, what data sources can we use that exist today and what data sources do we need to seek out. Do we have the right data to access meaningful impact? What lenses can we use to evaluate the available data and what might those gaps be? And the questions continue. And the last question well, how was MIT currently defining sustainability? How did they understand what they had brought me for and how were they currently using it? And in our research we found 37 different definitions of sustainability that were being used differently by researchers, faculty, and students alike all across MIT. Each claiming that they had the right definition of sustainability.
This was the niche that we were clearly intended to fill. I’m going to share with you how I took all of these seemingly desperate pieces and have now shaped them into a whole brand new framework that’s now launching at MIT. And my role now is to transform MIT into a powerful model that generates new and proven ways of responding to these unprecedented challenges of a changing planet via operational excellence, education, research and innovation on our campus.
So, we’ve embraced now and articulated a brand new set of values that have been endorsed that combine an understanding of the culture of MIT and what is needed to advance sustainability on and off campus. So, the values were now launching on those of applied innovation, collective intelligence, civic responsibility and systems making. And these are values that resonate both on the staff and faculty side. And that was key that we had values that cut across.
We want people to find their place in this framework, we don’t want people to think the institute will take care of that, or the city will solve that, or our global leaders will solve that. We need to look at the interaction between all of these components. We need people to find their place in this framework, and we need for people to recognize this deep interconnectivity and this need for working across scales.
Our areas of responsibility are clearly defined now. They are defined by sustainable campus systems, by a desire to launch an urban living laboratory. By a commitment to leadership and capacity building to ensure that our staff is educated again and again, as new knowledge emerges, we need to make sure that as new design strategies are launched and improved, as life cycle cost analysis is now called upon, we need to ensure that we’re all speaking the same language to be successful. This is not the role of the office of sustainability to ensure the success. We have small office, we have to commit to the education of our staff with support from our faculty and students.
The commitment to collaborative partnerships which is inherent engages collaborative partnerships across that scale of campus, city, and globe. Office of sustainability must define this. We have to recognize that our role is about connecting people, ideas, data, and systems in ways that inspire transformative and lasting change over time.
We’re now looking at this campus interaction across these four areas, sustainable campus systems, leadership, living lab, and collaborative partnerships. We’ve launched that out with the interaction with the individual through the campus, the city, and the globe, at each of these levels. I want to conclude by a call to all of you and in partnership with all of you that we figure out how we activate the campus, the city, and the globe collectively. What’s the role of applied research scalability, a desire for measured impact, and capacity building in an iterative manner? I want to conclude by saying the campus matters.
I call upon you to join us building these models and activating the campus, city, and globe. Each country is stepping up as best they can at the moment as part of a collective to determine how best they can contribute at the global scale and more deeply to consider some of the parts. And our own campus commitments are localized models of what is need to advance a global goal, set in our own cultural context to get shared values and solutions were feasible.
The campus matters because we now need to come together as community to determine which questions we ought to prioritize. We need to have this collective discussions to figure out what are the priorities in Cambridge, what are the priorities in Sapporo, are there any similar ones where we can find shared solutions, and how long we evaluate what those priorities are on our own campuses. And we need to pursue them individually and collectively and understand how they are relevant locally and globally.
The campus matters because two decades into this field, universities are now embracing their ability to be a scalable laboratory which device, pilot, implement, and evaluate, the best sustainable urban strategies. When I started in this field almost 20 years ago, that was not part of the vocabulary of the sustainability office. And it is emerging today as the tie between office of sustainability programs and this merge to forecasting that 70% of the population will live in urbanized environments.
And we must focus today on these emerging next gen strategies for tomorrow. And I call for next gen sustainability MIT. And we’re advancing the science of climate change and its consequences on our own campus. We’re building and testing energy and infrastructure technologies and models. And we’re developing and testing carbon free technology such as solar, wind and geothermal power on our own campuses. That’s why the campus matters.
And in our efforts to demonstrate best practices in limiting carbon emissions, reducing impact on eco-system services we’re exposing our students who are full participants in this campus wide effort how to grapple with very complex challenges, how to work across at times seemingly desperate disciplines. And together we’re learning how to balance new term economic considerations against long term health of the environment, and future human generation. And that is the underlying challenge at hand that campus matters. Thank you very much.