MIT and Cambridge consider new climate protection moves


Members of the MIT and Cambridge communities gathered at the forum "MIT and the City of Cambridge: Collaborating on Climate Protection" on Dec. 4. Their mission: to think of new ways for MIT and Cambridge to move forward on their shared environmental goals.

A year ago, the City of Cambridge adopted an aggressive Climate Protection Plan calling for a 20 percent reduction in the city's 1990 greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions level by 2010. Since then, MIT and Cambridge have made gains separately and collaboratively on their commitments to climate protection.

The forum, sponsored by MIT's Laboratory for Energy and the Environment (LFEE), attracted MIT faculty, staff and students; Cambridge residents; and a panel of environmental leaders from both communities. Amanda Graham, education program manager for the LFEE, served as moderator and introduced "visionary" leaders from Cambridge and MIT.

Henrietta Davis, vice mayor of Cambridge and chair of the city council's Health and Environment Committee, noted that her vision includes having MIT as one of the institutional citizens of Cambridge.

"With the help of MIT, we'll be able to find ways to make the reductions in GHGs real ... not just to take local action for local action's sake. but to have the local action be a demonstration for other cities across the country," she said. She commended the "bright, innovative and visionary" MIT students who are working with the city and "constantly demanding more."

Jamie Lewis Keith, MIT's senior counsel and managing director of its Environmental Programs Office and Risk Management, focused on the importance of taking an integrated approach both within MIT and between MIT and Cambridge.

"One of the challenges posed by environmental problems is that they can't be compartmentalized and solved in isolation. At MIT, research, education, legal compliance, recycling and other sustainability initiatives are not discrete and unrelated, but rather connected and interdependent," she said.

A discussion involving audience and panel members led to several proposals. The observation that fully 95 percent of MIT's demolition debris is now recycled elicited a suggestion that MIT's building debris removal resources be linked with Cambridge developers in a building materials exchange. A green vendors fair run jointly by MIT and the city could foster the use of environmentally friendly materials and services.

MIT and Cambridge could also join forces in the bulk purchase of energy-efficient compact fluorescent light bulbs. The MIT group, Students for Global Sustainability, has already surveyed nearly 300 people in Cambridge to measure and increase their awareness of such bulbs.

Both MIT and Cambridge now push the construction of green buildings, but making gains in existing buildings remains a challenge. Peter Cooper, director of Utilities in MIT's Department of Facilities, said, "Actions that people take in their offices and labs may be more important than many of the steps Facilities can take." He noted the value of such simple habits as turning off lights and closing ventilation hoods over lab benches.

In closing, Davis invited MIT leaders to share what they learn with the city. "If you come up with a checklist of what you can turn off and turn down in your buildings, share it with us," she said. City officials implored MIT faculty and students to "use Cambridge as your local research laboratory."

Ideas suggested at the forum will feed into a month-long seminar during MIT's Independent Activities Period in January at which MIT students will work with faculty and staff and Cambridge planners to develop innovative emissions-reduction strategies. For information on the seminar, go to http://student.mit.edu/searchiap/fs-17-918.html.


Topics: Cambridge, Boston and region

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