MIT to create three environmental projects as part of EPA agreement

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. -- MIT is launching three major environmental projects this spring: a web-based environmental virtual campus demonstrating environmental regulatory requirements at a typical research university; a program on education and the environment for teachers and students in the Cambridge public schools; and a biofiltration storm water management system at MIT's new Stata Center for Computer, Information and Intelligence Sciences. The projects are part of an agreement with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which cited MIT for a number of violations after a 1998 inspection. The EPA did not find any damage to the environment at MIT.

These Supplemental Environmental Projects (SEPs) are outlined in a consent decree filed in the US District Court on Wednesday, April 18 by the EPA, MIT and the US Department of Justice. In addition to the three SEPs, for which MIT will spend $405,000, the decree calls for a $150,000 fine. In signing the decree, MIT did not admit to any violation of law. The decree also requires MIT to implement an environmental management system that covers regulatory training and auditing, and requires central and local accountability for compliance.

"I want to take this opportunity to thank MIT for reacting so responsibly to the enforcement action," the acting director of the EPA Office of Environmental Stewardship, Sam Silverman, said in the letter issued to MIT President Charles M. Vest with the consent decree. He goes on to say: "MIT's decision to go beyond its compliance obligations by taking on far-reaching green initiatives is laudable."

MIT's Managing Director for Environmental Programs and Risk Management and Senior Counsel, Jamie Lewis Keith, said: "MIT is data driven. When faced with the inspection data, MIT took immediate action to demonstrate our commitment to environmental stewardship. We are committed not only to the environmental research we have undertaken for decades, but also to increasing the environmental sustainability of our campus."

EPA inspectors, who visited approximately 20 percent of MIT's 2,200 laboratories during a three-day visit, found numerous violations of EPA regulations concerning the management of hazardous waste containers, training and record keeping. The EPA acknowledged that MIT had already addressed most of the violations before entering the decree. The EPA's letter also acknowledged that organizational improvements already have been made by MIT.

The EPA also praised MIT's concept for an Environmental Management System (EMS) "that will integrate compliance, education, regulatory training, research, and 'green' environmental practices." The letter stated that EPA believes MIT's system "will go beyond the EMS requirements in the Consent Decree [and] serve as a model for large academic research institutions."

Ms. Keith said: "MIT's approach is to integrate legal compliance with initiatives to make our campus more environmentally sustainable. This not only reaps greater benefits for the environment, but also reduces regulatory burdens and serves as a potent educational message to our students about environmental responsibility."

In addition to integrating compliance and environmental sustainability, MIT is trying to solve the complicated issues of environmental management in large and decentralized academic research institutions.

"Rather than taking a 'band-aid' approach that would only temporarily address legal compliance," Ms. Keith said, MIT has designed an environmental, health and safety management system that uses automation technology and a systems integration approach to provide information to the environmental service and oversight groups at the Institute, while preserving the independence of research in labs and centers. EPA's flexible approach to this enforcement has given MIT the opportunity to design a real solution to the cultural operational and organizational challenges to compliance and sustainability facing many institutions of higher education."

MIT's EMS concept will be refined and implemented under the oversight of a committee of researchers, staff and administrators.


The Supplementary Environmental Projects that MIT will undertake are:

  • A web-based "Environmental Virtual Campus" which can serve as a regulatory training tool for MIT as well as for other colleges and universities. The program will graphically illustrate locations where regulated activities occur (laboratories, vehicle maintenance facilities, the cogeneration plant, art or photo studios, etc.) and provide brief guidance about the applicable regulations. The Campus Consortium for Environmental Excellence will host the virtual campus on its web site. There will be a link to EPA's web site. The Environmental Virtual Campus will be widely available to the public.
  • A program on education and the environment created by MIT's Program for Environmental Education and Research (PEER) in collaboration with the Cambridge public schools. Three Cambridge high school teachers will be awarded four-week summer fellowships at MIT, during which they will design environmental projects for their students. The teachers will work with two MIT graduate students to develop and implement these projects during the academic year. Projects will range from assessing fish runs and water sampling in local rivers, to assessing the use of toxic cleaning agents. This program will also include a regional conference for teachers and two public seminars on environmental subjects of regional and national importance.
  • A biofiltration storm water management system for the Frank Gehry-designed Stata Center for Computer, Information and Intelligence Sciences, scheduled to open in 2003. A swale will collect runoff, which will be filtered through vegetation to eliminate contaminants before it is discharged at a reduced rate into the proposed Vassar Street storm drain line. If the Stata storm water management approach is successful, MIT will consider using this environmentally beneficial approach to storm water management for other campus projects.

Voluntary Green Initiatives included in the MIT Environmental Management System are:

  • A green goods procurement program, under which in one year (2000) MIT increased the use of recycled paper on campus from less than 5 percent to 64 percent and to over 90 percent in MIT's central copy center, and increased the total use of "green products" by 21 percent.
  • An expanded recycling program, including all types of paper, cardboard, magazines and newspaper, glass, aluminum, plastics 1-7, yard waste, food waste composting, computer equipment, metal and wood. In one year (2000), MIT increased overall recycling rates from 10.5 percent to 20.3 percent.
  • A green building design guidelines initiative, under which MIT is developing long-term goals to make its buildings and campus more environmentally sustainable, as well as guidelines for designers and engineers to achieve these goals.
  • Support of the EPA's Clean Charles 2005 Initiative, including purchasing a boat and devoting a graduate student to the Initiative, and by sponsoring the Clean Charles Coalition with other institutions and corporations.
  • Water conservation project that will reduce water use at MIT by 32 million gallons a year.

Topics: Special events and guest speakers, Environment and energy

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