Resilient Ecosystems

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Advancing resilient ecosystems

Healthy, resilient ecosystems provide food and water, enrich the cultural environment, and help regulate systems like climate and disease control. All are vital to human health, wildlife habitats, watershed resources, carbon storage, scenic landscapes, and other factors that ensure quality of life on Earth. Climate projections indicate, however, that the planet will experience increasingly intense and frequent storms as well as rising temperatures, drought, and flooding—putting our ecosystems at serious risk.

At the MIT Office of Sustainability (MITOS), we are working with staff, scientists and thought leaders across MIT to develop strategies that promote resilient ecosystems, human health and well-being in our community. We aim to develop systems and practices in the urban, built environment of our campus that mimic the natural hydrological cycle, build healthy soils, and support biodiversity. Cambridge and Boston have performed important climate studies that provide the context for MIT’s own Campus Climate Vulnerability Assessment—foundational research that is essential to the work of understanding and solution development.

Learn about efforts to conserve and improve our water, landscape, and air quality.

Water

Charles River
Photo: MIT Image Library
Managing water for a sustainable future
Water is an indispensable resource, not only for MIT, but also for the global community. Our campus’ health and activities are dependent on a consistent water supply for restrooms, drinking water faucets, showers, cafeterias, laboratories, and landscaping. Also, MIT’s Central Utilities Plant (CUP) provides the campus with electricity and thermal power through cogeneration, a process dependent on water.

Water surrounds us - a challenge and opportunity

MIT’s campus is situated in an urban, coastal area, abutting the Charles River and near the Atlantic coast. With changing weather patterns and an expected increase in stormwater, we will need to plan the built environment with the surrounding ecosystems in mind in order to create a resilient campus for the future. At the global level, water systems are critical for national economies, food supply, and public health, and will need to be adapted in order to meet the demands of the 21st century, including a growing population and a changing climate.

Our role at the MIT Office of Sustainability (MITOS) is to determine how we can ensure a reliable, resilient, sustainable water system on campus. Our engineers are working to minimize the water used in energy generation, discover methods of reuse to meet needs for both potable and nonpotable water, and investigate methods for ensuring an adequate supply of quality water at a time of growing human need and climate change.

Strategies

Here are just a few of the water strategies we’re analyzing:

  • exploring creative ways to live with water

  • designing systems to mimic the way nature handles water

  • fostering the resiliency of our land and water systems in a time when climate change will increasingly result in drought

  • reducing pollution from stormwater and the risk of flooding from storms

  • improving the water quality of the Charles River watershed

  • developing energy production methods that do not rely heavily on water

MITOS Focus Areas

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

Charles RIver
MIT Image Library
Stormwater management and landscape ecology plan

In 2016, MITOS, the Office of Campus Planning, and its partners began the development of a plan to enhance the productivity of the campus’ built and ecological systems to capture, absorb, re-use and treat stormwater. 

 

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
Shoreline
MIT Water Summit

The MIT Water Summit is a gathering of students and faculty from MIT and the greater Boston area as well as leaders from industry, finance, government, and academia organized annually by the MIT Water Club to explore current problems and potential solutions surrounding water resources. 

Beach
MIT Water Innovation Prize

The Water Innovation Prize is a solutions-to-market competition aiming to help support the next breakthrough in the water sector

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Key Water Partners

Serve as stewards of the evolving physical campus and provides services that guide and inform campus strategy and transformation.

Maintains the Institute's outdoor areas and provides a clean, comfortable, and functional environment for the community.

Students learn to apply advanced analysis and design to understand and solve pressing urban and environmental problems.

J-WAFS coordinates and promotes water and food research at MIT, emphasizing the deployment of effective technologies, programs, and policies that will have a measurable and international impact as humankind adapts to a rapidly expanding and evolving population on a changing planet.

Landscape

Vassar Street
Photo: MIT Image Library
Designing a resilient, urban landscape

From a semi-industrial landscape to a densely populated center of innovation, our campus landscape has undergone dramatic evolution since MIT moved across the Charles River to Cambridge in 1916. Currently, approximately 64 percent of MIT’s campus is composed of impervious surfaces, such as roofing and paving. Green spaces provide areas for recreation and habitats for local wildlife. They also clean the air by absorbing carbon dioxide and provide natural water management, actively mitigating the effects of climate change.

 

 

Incorporating green infrastructure and landscape innovation into the campus

Rain falling on the campus' hardscapes results in stormwater runoff that flows into the municipal drainage system and eventually discharges into the Charles River. Over the past decade, MIT has worked to incorporate more green spaces into the campus landscape and plan new construction to minimize impact on the surrounding natural environment.

With its volatile and variable weather patterns and its extremes of heat and cold, the Northeastern United States is an ideal test bed for exploring solutions to our stormwater and landscape challenges. At the MIT Office of Sustainability (MITOS), we’re working with our partners to use our campus as a test bed to investigate how we can create and restore landscapes that mitigate our impact on the environment and promote healthy communities.

Strategies

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

  • create an ecologically resilient community that benefits the environment and the people who live and work in it

  • reduce water demand and energy consumption

  • filter and decrease the amount of stormwater runoff

  • improve air quality and decrease noise pollution

MITOS Focus Areas

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

agriculture fields
Stormwater management and landscape ecology plan

In 2016, MITOS, the Office of Campus Planning, and its partners began the development of a plan to enhance the productivity of the campus’ built and ecological systems to capture, absorb, re-use and treat stormwater. 

 

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.

Garden
Main and Pocket Gardens

Grounds Services maintains green spaces throughout campus for the community to relax, revive, or eat lunch outdoors.

Trees
Treepedia

Interactive mapping tool from MIT’s Senseable City Lab to evaluate and compare canopy cover in cities around the world.

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Key Landscape Partners

Serve as stewards of the evolving physical campus and provides services that guide and inform campus strategy and transformation.

Maintains the Institute's outdoor areas and provides a clean, comfortable, and functional environment for the community.

Students learn to apply advanced analysis and design to understand and solve pressing urban and environmental problems.

Air Quality

Electric car
Achieving and maintaining healthy air quality

Air quality is a measure of the concentration of pollution in the surrounding air over a period of time. There are many sources of air pollutants and factors that can effect air quality:  emissions from energy production, vehicle exhaust, solvent fumes, methane from waste, smoke, organic matter like pollen, and changes in the weather. The quality of the air, both indoors and out, can have a significant impact on the health of the MIT community and that of the surrounding natural environment.

Air pollution and climate change are also inextricably linked. Heat waves and flooding can lead to mold growth, for example. Climate change also fosters greater pollen production, increasing the concentration of allergens in the air.

Local air quality in and around Kendall Square

At MIT, scientists, transportation experts, urban planners, and engineers are working on ways to monitor and cut down on air pollution both locally and globally. At the MIT Office of Sustainability (MITOS), we’re supporting these endeavors by providing data on MIT’s campus emissions through our yearly greenhouse gas inventory to be used for mitigation strategies. We’re building connections between staff and researchers to put theory into practice and use our campus as a test bed for strategies to improve indoor and outdoor air quality.

Strategies

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

  • promoting sustainable transportation—public transit, biking, carpooling, and walking
  • sourcing food and materials regionally to cut down on fossil fuels burned in the transportation of goods
  • strengthening our infrastructure to withstand the challenges presented by climate change
  • designing all new indoor environments to meet LEED v4 standards
MITOS Focus Areas

MITOS is currently working collaboratively to improve campus air quality system via operations, education, research, and innovation in the following areas.

Leaf
Campus Greenhouse Gas Inventory

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

Kendall T stop
Access MIT

Access MIT represents the Institute’s progressive vision for rethinking the culture of commuting and encouraging sustainable transportation practices. One of its goals is to reduce parking demand – and traffic –in and around the Cambridge campus.

Additional MIT Initiatives
Sloan School
High Performance Buildings at MIT

New construction and major renovation projects on campus aim to meet the national LEED Gold (version 4) certification standard, which includes measures to achieve better indoor air quality.  At present, six buildings have achieved LEED gold or silver certification for new construction.

Clairity
Clairity: MIT's Air Quality Network

The MIT Civil and Environmental Engineering Class of 2014 deployed an air quality sensor network throughout MIT's campus. A website displays real-time data from the network and shows the quality of air around Cambridge.

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Key Air Quality Partners

The Department of Facilities develops and constructs sustainable buildings on MIT’s campus, in addition to maintaining and keeping them clean once the buildings are in operation.

The Environment, Health and Safety Office leads MIT's efforts for assessing and safeguarding indoor and outdoor air quality.