Low-Carbon Campus

Creating a low-carbon campus
Photo: MIT Image Library
Designing the low-carbon campus of the future

Earth reached its highest temperature on record in 2016, beating the record-breaking temperatures of the three previous years. The change in climate suggested by this statistic has far-reaching ramifications for all of out planet’s inhabitants. At the same time, the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has recorded that carbon dioxide levels in Earth’s atmosphere are higher now than at any point in the past 400,000 years.

At the MIT Office of Sustainability (MITOS), we’re leveraging MIT ingenuity, knowledge, and resolve to create a healthy, low-carbon campus to serve as a proving ground for scalable solutions. Collaboration is key—across functions and disciplines and across local and global communities. Although the challenge is daunting, we believe that meaningful progress is possible—and absolutely necessary.

Explore the core components of a low-carbon campus: climate, buildings, energy, and mobility.

 

Climate

Glacier
Investigating global solutions, testing local strategies

Science indicates that our changing climate is causing sea-level rise, retreat of arctic sea ice and mountain glaciers, and intensifying hydrological extremes like droughts and floods. As a research institution at the frontier of science and technology in one of the world’s most dynamic innovation districts, MIT is uniquely suited to tackle the complex, interdisciplinary nature of climate challenges at the global scale, but also in our own backyard. The MIT campus is embedded in a coastal community, which presents risks and opportunities for innovation.


Campus as a test bed for climate solutions

At the MIT Office of Sustainability (MITOS), we’re mobilizing and integrating intellectual, technical, and cultural forces across campus to create a model community that generates and practices solutions to the realities of climate change, from resiliency planning to greenhouse gas mitigation efforts. MIT President Rafael Reif’s Plan for Action on Climate Change has catalyzed MIT research, teaching, and campus operations to accelerate the Institute’s contributions. Campus greenhouse gas emissions decreased seven percent between 2014 and 2016, a step towards our ambitious goal of reducing emissions at least 32% by 2030.  Such actions aim to protect our campus – and the world – from the extraordinary risks associated with rising global temperatures.

Strategies

Here are just a few of the climate strategies we’re advancing:

  • develop a roadmap to achieve carbon neutrality as soon as possible, with a goal of reducing campus greenhouse gas emissions at least 32% below 2014 levels by 2030

  • improve the energy efficiency of buildings to reduce greenhouse gas emissions

  • increase the vegetation and tree canopy across the campus and the region to promote carbon sequestration, moderate local-scale temperature extremes, absorb stormwater, and reduce the risk of flooding

  • implement water conservation measures that reduce campus water demand as well as the energy associated with water pumping and distribution

  • develop resiliency strategies that integrate mitigation and adaptation and strengthen interconnections among researchers working in human health, biodiversity, water, energy, land use, urban planning, architecture, and other relevant disciplines

MITOS Focus Areas

MITOS is currently working collaboratively to advance climate action on campus via operations, education, research, and innovation in the following areas.

MIT dome
A Plan for Climate Action

MIT's Plan for Action on Climate Change - released in October 2015 and updated in April 2016 - outlines steps MIT will take to act on climate change over the next five years in five key areas of climate action.

Leaf
Campus Greenhouse Gas Inventory

MIT measures campus emissions that contribute to climate change. The current greenhouse gas inventory includes emissions for fiscal years 2014, 2015, and 2016 in three areas: building energy use, fugitive gases, and campus-owned vehicles.

Massachusetts
Climate Resiliency

MITOS is working with its research and operational partners to advance campus vulnerability and resiliency planning and is working with neighboring universities and institutions to collectively address shared, regional infrastructure vulnerabilities.

Additional MIT Initiatives

MITOS is part of a community of departments, labs, and centers working toward elements of a sustainable campus and globe. Featured below are a few initiatives from across campus.

MIT CGCS
Climate Modeling Initiative

The Climate Modeling Initiative is a collaboration between scientists at MIT, coordinated by the Center for Global Change Science, to develop a modeling infrastructure for the study of the atmosphere, ocean and climate of the Earth.

Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change
Assessing Global Change

Independent, integrative assessments by the Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change aid decision-makers in confronting multiple, interwoven challenges.

Climate CoLab
Climate CoLab

The goal of the Climate CoLab is to harness the collective intelligence of thousands of people from all around the world to address global climate change.

ESI
Environment & Sustainability Minor

Developed by the Environmental Solutions Initiative, the proposed minor is designed to address both people and the planet in an integrated manner. 

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Key Climate Partners

MITOS works in close collaboration with the Department of Facilities, which leads our efforts in increasing energy efficiency and powering our campus.

The Office of Campus Planning supports the MIT mission by serving as stewards of the evolving physical campus and providing services that guide and inform campus strategy and transformation. Planning for climate resiliency and a low-carbon campus are essential components.

The Environmental Solutions Initiative (ESI) channels MIT's unique culture and enormous capacity from across the Institute to create solutions to today’s environmental challenges through diverse activities in education, research, and convening.

In our climate work, EHS is a key partner in developing our annual greenhouse gas emissions inventory and a key resource for lab-related sustainability work.

Buildings

Sloan School
Photo: MIT Image Library
High-efficiency, low carbon buildings

At MIT, we are working to optimize every aspect of our built environment, creating more sustainable buildings that support our academic mission, are as architecturally distinct as they are high-performing, as comfortable as they are energy efficient, and as welcoming as they are state-of-the art. All new construction and major renovation projects at MIT must earn at least Gold Certification in the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) v4 Rating System. When possible, MIT seeks to also exceed the requirements of LEED and to pursue other high performance design standards and industry best practices.

Integrating sustainability into campus buildings, taking action on climate

Ninety-seven percent of MIT’s greenhouse emissions are currently associated with the operation of campus building facilities. Recognizing this, we are working closely with the Department of Facilities and the MIT community to ensure that every capital project integrates sustainable strategies to reduce our carbon footprint. We seek to approach every project as a laboratory for testing performance, and advancing our knowledge of and techniques for sustainable building.

Strategies

Here are just a few of the building strategies we are working collaboratively to advance:

  • achieve LEED v4 Gold Certification for all new construction and major renovation projects on campus

  • meet the energy efficiency goals outlined in the Stretch Energy Code set forth by the City of Cambridge

  • engage in an integrated design process to benefit from the expertise of diverse stakeholders

  • optimize every aspect of every project to improve performance and find productive intersections

  • learn from each project, apply those lessons to future work, and share what we’ve learned with the campus and the wider world

  • create greener labs that optimize energy and water use, reduce waste, and minimize hazardous materials where possible

MITOS Focus Areas

MITOS is currently working collaboratively to transform the sustainability of buildings on campus via operations, education, research, and innovation in the following areas.

Koch
Sustainable Design and Construction

MIT’s buildings support the Institute’s academic mission and demonstrate how MIT is transforming to meet future challenges. The Institute is committed to playing a leadership role in addressing the complex global issue of climate change, beginning with a careful examination of the impact of our own built environment.

Labs
Green Labs

Laboratory spaces are critical to MIT’s research mission, but they are the most resource-intensive spaces on our campus. The MIT Green Labs program encourages lab groups to propose innovative solutions to reduce energy consumption, water use, waste production and chemical use in labs.

Solar Panels
On-Site Renewables

MIT has a number of small-scale, on-site renewal energy systems on its campus. These systems provide locally generated electricity and also offer opportunities for research and academic initiatives.

Sustainable Buildings Map
Sustainable Buildings Map

Interactive map of buildings on MIT campus that have achieved LEED Gold Certification, LEED Silver Certification, or have sustainable design features.

Sustainability Connect
Photo: Ken Richardson
Recommendations from the MIT Sustainability Working Group

In November 2015, the MIT Office of Sustainability released the first set of recommendations, generated by the 2014-2015 Sustainability Working Groups, which address the following topics: building design and construction; stormwater and land management; materials management; and green labs.

Additional MIT Initiatives

MITOS is part of a community of departments, labs, and centers working toward elements of a sustainable campus. Featured below are initiatives from some of our partners.

MIT Sustainable Design Lab
MIT Sustainable Design Lab

An inter-disciplinary research group with a grounding in architecture that develops design workflows, planning tools and metrics to evaluate the performance of buildings and neighborhoods.

SENSEable City Lab
SENSEable City Lab

The SENSEable City Laboratory's research focuses on studying and predicting how digital technology is changing the way we describe, design, and occupy cities.

Concrete Sustainability Hub
Concrete Sustainability Hub

The MIT Concrete Sustainability Hub, CSHub, is a dedicated interdisciplinary team of researchers from several departments across MIT working on concrete and infrastructure science, engineering, and economics since 2009. 

Built Environment & Infrastructure - MITEI
Built Environment & Infrastructure - MITEI

Research focused on sustainable design, energy efficiency, and material development for the built environment and large-scale infrastructure.

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Key Buildings Partners

MIT seeks to provide state-of-the-art amenities for its faculty, staff and students. The Department of Facilities is a leader in fulfilling that objective by providing the development and construction for sustainable buildings. 

EHS helps lead the way on designing laboratory spaces that are energy efficient and more sustainable; as well as leading efforts to engage building occupants to find more sustainable solutions. 

Office of Campus Planning promotes planning and design excellence for MIT’s campus within its local and regional context. They undertake a range of planning and design coordination projects, from strategic planning and building feasibility studies to designer selection, ADA coordination, and capital project permits.

 

Photovoltaic Research Laboratory student research has helped assess the opportunities for building-mounted solar PV across campus and provided strategies for prioritizing potential sites.

Managing MIT's commercial real-estate building portfolio, MIT Investment Management Company (MITIMCo) plays a critical role in shaping MIT's built environment and has embedded sustainable design in their new construction and major renovation projects.

Energy

Dome under construction
Photo: MIT News
Flexible energy systems and smart investments

MIT is world-renowned for its broad expertise in energy-related research, education, and invention. At the MIT Office of Sustainability (MITOS), we’re helping to leverage that knowledge to create a more sustainable, energy efficient, and high-performing campus, continuing a long tradition of energy efficiency.
 

Building on history, moving toward a sustainable future

In 1916, MIT designed, installed, and generated a state-of-the-art district utility system, which allowed the Institute to forego the installation of small-scale furnaces all across the campus. Over the last century, MIT has continued to prioritize energy efficiency - and more recently, renewable energy - across several project areas, which can be explored below. In 1995, MIT expanded its central utility plant to provide a natural gas-fired heat and power system to produce electricity and steam using co-generation, a process in which heat that would otherwise be lost out the exhaust stack is captured and reused. The continual use of cogeneration enables the Institute to create a flexible power system that can adapt and evolve in response to advances in the energy field.

In 2016, MITOS and the MIT Department of Facilities worked with partners across campus to form an alliance with Boston Medical Center and Post Office Square Redevelopment Corporation, enabling the construction of a 650-acre, 60-megawatt solar farm. MIT is purchasing 73 percent of the power generated by the new array, neutralizing 17 percent of the campus’ carbon emissions and demonstrating a commitment to developing renewable energy options. With a comprehensive and ambitious energy strategy, we are on our way to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by at least 32% by 2030—and aim to achieve carbon neutrality as soon as possible.

Strategies

Here are just a few of the energy strategies we’re advancing:

  • scale up campus-wide investments in energy efficiency across existing buildings while investing in new construction that maximizes performance

  • reduce our baseline emissions by 10 percent by replacing our combined heat and power system and making upgrades to the utility distribution systems

  • invest in renewable energy systems on campus and off—the purchase of solar energy equivalent to 40 percent of our present electricity use will neutralize emissions by 17 percent

  • create living labs that leverage faculty and student research, improve operations, identify new energy strategies, and promote community adoption and investment in sustainability efforts

MITOS Focus Areas

MITOS is currently working collaboratively to transform the campus energy systems via operations, education, research, and innovation in the following areas.

North Carolina Solar Farm
Off-Site Solar Farm (Power Purchase Agreement)

In 2016, MIT announced the formation of an innovative alliance to purchase electricity from a large new solar power installation via a  25-year power purchase agreement (PPA). The agreement has enabled the construction of a roughly 650-acre, 60-megawatt solar farm on farmland in North Carolina.

Solar PV on campus
On-Site Renewable Energy

MIT has a number of small-scale, on-site solar energy systems on its campus. These systems provide locally generated electricity and also offer opportunities for research and academic initiatives.

Energy Efficiency
Energy Efficiency

Energy efficiency is a cornerstone of MIT’s strategy to achieve its greenhouse gas reduction goal of reducing emissions by at least 32% by 2030, with 2014 as the baseline.

CoGen Plant
MIT Central Utilities Plant

The Office of Sustainability has partnered with the Department of Facilities to explore and maximize features and strategies to enhance efficiency, support demand-side reduction, and advance climate action in the planned upgrades to the Central Utilities Plant.

Additional MIT Initiatives

MITOS is part of a community of departments, labs, and centers working toward elements of a sustainable campus. Featured below are initiatives from some of our partners.

Low-Carbon Energy Centers
Low-Carbon Energy Centers

Collaborative research from the MIT Energy Initiative with industry and government in key technology areas to address climate change.

Photovoltaic Research Laboratory
Photovoltaic Research Laboratory: PV Systems

Mission: Leverage high-performance PV to enable qualitatively novel system-level functionality.

Center for 21st Century Energy
Center for 21st Century Energy

The Center for 21st Century Energy is dedicated to developing technologies for a sustainable energy future.

Evidence for Action on Energy Efficiency (E2e)
Evidence for Action on Energy Efficiency (E2e)

Through an interdisciplinary approach to the so-called ‘energy efficiency gap’, the center seeks to evaluate and strengthen policies and incentives for improved energy efficiency. 

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Key Energy Partners

The Department of Facilities is a key partner in all aspects of our campus energy work from designing and operating our Central Utility Plant as cleanly and efficiently as possible, to implementing campus-wide energy efficiency projects across campus. 

The MIT Energy Initiative through supporting campus energy activities, educational opportunities, and outreach has helped inform and shape the work we do.

The Center for Energy and Environmental Policy Research is helping to shape the financial analysis of a portfolio of energy projects for reducing campus greenhouse gas emissions. 

Office of the Vice President for Finance is a tremendous resource for many project areas including the analysis and due diligence review of off-campus renewable energy projects, green bonds, and greenhouse gas emissions inventory auditing.

Mobility

T Subway train in motion
Getting from A to B, sustainably

How we move from place to place efficiently and responsibly is one of humankind’s most enduring challenges. At MITOS, we are working with our operational and research partners to provide students, staff, and faculty with ample opportunities to choose low-impact modes of transportation that are also flexible and affordable. As a key component of that goal, we’re working with the Parking & Transportation Office and the MIT Transit Lab to deliver a landmark commuting initiative called Access MIT, which provides the MIT community with flexible, affordable, and low-carbon commuting choices, while reducing the demand for parking.

A flexible, interconnected urban mobility system

We’re also working with municipal partners to promote bike, pedestrian, and ride-sharing, streamline public transit, and foster healthy and connected neighborhoods. As we provide our community with diverse, low-carbon modes of transportation, we hope that fewer members will be inclined to commute by car, reducing emissions and congestion, and improving quality of life for all.
Learn about employee commuting benefits.

Strategies

Here are just a few of the mobility strategies we’re advancing:

  • expand the use of alternative fuels in MIT vehicles, optimize vehicle sizes, and improve transit routes and scheduling

  • research and apply greenhouse gas management strategies and data collections to MIT’s transportation practices

  • advance an integrated transit system that encourages the use of public transportation, ride sharing, and non-motorized transport

  • promote active modes of commuting, such as walking and biking

  • optimize the connectivity among different modes of transport—hubway, subway, shuttles, walking, and bike paths

  • promote the use of low-emission and zero-emission vehicles

  • collaborate with local cities and towns, the private sector, and social organizations on infrastructure improvements, shared solutions, and public awareness

Additional MIT Initiatives

MITOS is part of a community of departments, labs, and centers working toward elements of a sustainable campus. Featured below are initiatives from some of our partners.

Hubway
MIT Transit Lab

“ The central premise of the MIT Transit Program is that investment in intellectual capital is as important as investment in the physical infrastructure.”

Fred Salvucci, MIT Research Associate and Former Secretary of Transportation for Massachusetts

JTL
JTL Urban Mobility Lab

Fuses behavioral science and transportation technology to shape travel behavior, design mobility systems, and improve transportation policies.

Mobility Futures Collaborative
Mobility Futures Collaborative

A research initiative that focuses on collaborative approaches, leveraging various analog and digital data collection and analysis tools, to mobilize a collective intelligence towards improved mobility conditions in a range of contexts around the world. 

Changing Places
Mobility on Demand - Changing Places

At Changing Places, they consider urban transportation as a fundamental enabler to people’s wellbeing and productive potential.  

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Key Mobility Partners

Running the Commuter Connections and AccessMIT programs, the Parking and Transportation Office is a lead partner in reimagining what mobility can mean on campus.  

The MIT Transit Lab has been an essential partner in applying research and testing of new approaches for enhancing more sustainable mobility options on and around campus.

MIT Medical and the getfit@MIT program are important partners in helping to envision campus mobility strategies that embrace our health and wellness dimensions.

The Atlas Service Center provides services previously offered in the basement of the Stratton Student Center (Building W20), including the administration of Commuting benefits (T-pass, parking, and other options). If you are an MIT employee, make sure you have an MBTA Charlie Card chip embedded in your MIT ID. Visit the Service Center to find out about your benefits as a student, staff, or faculty member.