Natural Systems

MIT is situated in a unique urban setting with a dense population, abutting the Charles River. We strive to ensure that MIT invests in the protection and enhancement of the surrounding ecosystems while promoting the human health and well-being of our community. MIT’s decision makers will consider the interconnectedness of our natural systems and the urgent need to plan the built environment with these interconnections in mind in order to create a resilient, adaptive campus for the future.


Human health and ecosystem resilience are deeply impacted by the quality of air. MIT recognizes that clean indoor and outdoor air are critical components of a sustainable campus. The Institute is continuously working to promote a high level of air quality by minimizing sources of air pollution in its operations, through efforts such as: reducing greenhouse gas emissions from burning fossil fuels; and following high performance building construction and operation standards for designing and maintaining proper ventilation systems and for selecting materials, furnishings, and cleaning products that are used inside of buildings.

Greenhouse Gas Inventory

Campus greenhouse gas emissions are an important measure of MIT’s environmental impact.  An innovative analysis and inventory of the Institute's greenhouse gas emissions – originally conducted as an MIT graduate thesis – established a solid foundation on which to develop a comprehensive mitigation program. The inventory, completed in 2003 and updated through 2005, highlighted the opportunities for taking immediate action to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. MIT is currently working on an updated and more comprehensive analysis of its greenhouse gas emissions to be completed in 2014.

Regulatory Air Programs

The federal government enacted the Clean Air Act in order to protect and enhance the quality of the nation’s air.  The Clean Air Act requirements are applicable to any system at MIT that might be a source of air emissions, such as boilers, emergency generators, water heaters, space heaters, and parts cleaners.

MIT’s Environmental Management Program (EMP), administered by Environment, Health and Safety (EHS), assists the Institute’s departments, labs, and centers with air emission requirements to which they might be subject to and provides mechanisms to meet those requirements. Visit the EHS website for more information.


MIT strives to manage its land resources in ways that promote healthy, balanced, and diverse ecosystems. In its operations, the Institute works to create and maintain productive, lively, and sustainable green spaces, conserve water and soil, manage stormwater sustainably, minimize the use of chemicals in grounds management, and conduct GIS analysis of land systems.

Pocket Gardens and Green Space

The Department Facilities seeks to enhance the campus landscape and implement sustainable gardens in harmony with the setting, seasonal interest, and microclimate. The Department of Facilities carefully plans for green space in its new construction projects and is focused on rehabilitating previous industrial sites on campus. Within the campus there are also many pocket gardens for the students and staff to relax and enjoy.  To read more, visit here.

Community Gardens

In 2008, MIT began a community garden program – now in its fifth year—spearheaded by MIT Police Sgt. Cheryl Vossmer and Libraries Administrative Assistant and Public Service Support Associate Ryan Gray at the Albany Street Garage. In its inaugural year, 32 community members participated with approximately 55 plots – each consisting of one EarthBox, a low-cost, compact and water-efficient growing container about the size of a large suitcase. Harvested crops include tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, herbs and more.  The majority of the faculty, staff, and students participating in the gardening programming are first time gardeners, learning new skills and knowledge about the production of local food. Gardeners donate a portion of their harvest to Food for Free and the CASPAR shelter.



MIT understands that water is a finite natural resource and that clean water is critical to healthy ecosystems and people. MIT strives to pursue sustainable water management strategies across the campus systems that use water, such as energy production, heating and cooling, restrooms, drinking water faucets, showers, cafeterias, laboratories, landscaping, and more.  MIT is taking steps to reduce consumption of potable water, deploy effective stormwater management strategies, and protect the local and regional water infrastructure.

Water conservation

MIT works extensively to reduce its water usage through a variety of strategies, including the deployment of technologies such as: installation of low-flow shower heads and toilets and educational signs efficient washing machines; and installation of a centralized irrigation system at the Stata Center, which uses weather data to control water flow and can identify leaks and cut off water flow in order to minimize watering.  

These initiatives have saved MIT 70,000,000 gallons of water per year and have helped MIT’s water usage fall 60 percent between 1997 and 2005. 

Rainwater harvesting

Rainwater harvesting and reuse systems are in place in the Brain and Cognitive Science Building and Stata Center where reclaimed water is used for irrigation and toilet flushing. MIT won a 2010 Cambridge GoGreen award for the Stata Center’s stormwater management successes.

Charles River

MIT has also played a role in the ongoing revitalization of the Charles River in response to the EPA’s Clean Charles River Initiative.  The Institute has joined with the Boston area community for stewardship activities including numerous river cleanup events, water sampling for the Charles River Watershed Association, and stormwater management on campus.