As you may have read in our recent press release, Second Nature is expanding Climate Leadership in New England. As part of this regional focus, I will be working as the New England Fellow. I’m excited to get to know the New England signatories, and help support them as they move towards their carbon neutrality and climate resilience goals. January 15th was the deadline for schools to turn in progress reports for the past year, so I started out by reading some of the achievements made by New England schools in 2015. The region has made impressive progress in sustainability; here are a few stories that stood out to me:

In July Bentley University in Massachusetts achieved its first Carbon Commitment target and reduced its carbon footprint 50% over its 2008 baseline year. Congrats! In order to achieve this goal, Bentley has focused on energy efficiency. Approximately 90% of campus heating and cooling is managed digitally through an advanced Energy Management System (EMS). Bentley also installed occupancy sensors for heating and cooling in residential buildings. Through these and other efficiency upgrades, Bentley estimates savings of more than $300,000 off of energy bills, a strong business case for energy efficiency projects. The savings come from reducing both electricity consumption and demand. Other campuses can learn from Bentley’s unique work in demand control and reducing electricity consumption, a program that has helped the school save over $1 million since they began in 2008.

Brief shout outs as well to Colby-Sawyer College in New Hampshire and the University of Massachusetts Lowell for continuing their excellent work in reducing GHG emissions. Colby-Sawyer has reduced emissions 43% over its 2008 baseline through renewable energy and energy efficiency projects. Students living on campus also receive real-time feedback about their energy consumption from a pretty cute animated polar bear. This helps increase students’ awareness about energy use and promote behavior change. UMass Lowell is also making progress mitigating climate change while simultaneously going through a period of expansion. Between 2011 and 2015, student enrollment has increased 18% and the campus has grown by 24%. Despite this growth, gross GHG emissions have increased only slightly while net emissions decreased and emissions per student decreased by 15%. In fact, UMass Lowell has already achieved its 2020 Carbon Commitment target of a 20% emissions reduction relative to a 2011 baseline. This highlights the fact that moving towards a low carbon energy system can be compatible with high growth.  

Finally, I would like to recognize the work of the Massachusetts College of Art and Design (MassArt). MassArt is the only publicly funded school of art and design in the country. I grew up in a family of artists and am excited that MassArt is an active member of the Climate Leadership Network. This highlights the importance of sustainability and addressing climate change across all disciplines, including the arts. Through efficiency upgrades and facilities improvements, MassArt has already reduced its GHG emissions by approximately 30%. In addition, MassArt is launching its first Sustainability Incubator. The Incubator includes an interdisciplinary hybrid lab studio space and events that are open to the public. This collaborative effort leverages MassArt’s work in art and design and focuses on projects at the intersection of social justice, health, and the environment. I love seeing this holistic integration of sustainability into all aspects of the school from energy use, to creative art and design.

Congratulations to all of the schools that have submitted their 2015 progress reports.

There are of course many more stories of New England climate leadership. In the coming months I hope to highlight more of the great work being done, as well as some of the challenges that schools face in their sustainability work.

Photo credit: Colby-Sawyer College Solar Array, photo courtesy of Colby-Sawyer College