Behind the Climate Action Plan: 3Qs with Susy Jones, Office of Sustainability
MITOS is working to promote environmental justice, equity, and belonging at all levels of our work, in partnership with many offices across campus and the community. This is demonstrated often by the work of Susy Jones, who has been with the MIT Office of Sustainability (MITOS) since its start in 2013. In her role as senior project manager, Jones has helped implement the strategic framework that MITOS is built upon—a focus on the role of the campus in creating scalable solutions from the local level to the globe. With a portfolio that covers food systems, environmental justice, and community partnerships, Jones says experiential learning is a unifier across all her different projects. “My work has expanded to be able to be creative in these spaces and fill in the knowledge by going places, eating things, meeting people in the field (literally!). I think that the classroom and the office don't always provide that space,” Jones says. “Getting out to the farm or the supermarket as learners is an important aspect to figuring out how to transform systems on campus.”
Jones’s collaborative work can be seen in many places around campus including the Green Building Education signage (a project with partners in Campus Construction) in E38, New Vassar and Hayden Library as well as the Launchpad in W20, a food startup incubator that brought diverse, sustainable, and local food options to campus as the result of years of relationship-building with campus partners and CommonWealth Kitchen.
To learn more about her work and its impact, Jones recently shared her answers to three questions on her work and how it contributes to the goals of Fast Forward: MIT’s Climate Action Plan for the Decade.
What is a typical day like for you at MIT?
My days often involve facilitating interesting conversations around food systems and an array of other topics. What that looks like can vary. A few weeks back, I worked with the Asian American Initiative to bring chef/community builder Tracy Chang to campus to talk to MIT about the intersection of food security, entrepreneurship, culture, and the best vegan chocolate cake recipe—all important topics for the work I’m doing on sustainable food systems. The week before that, we partnered with MIT Anthropology to take students to a local farm, run by a passionate farmer working to support healthy food systems and access to cultural veggies.
Earlier in the fall, we also partnered with a horticulturalist to design a hands-on workshop with students at The Hive Sustainability Garden to learn about the different types of plants in the garden, learn how to propagate certain plants (to expand pollinator habitats), and do a fall clean up. Students got to get their hands in the dirt and learn about the real ways that the campus can support healthy ecosystems. I think many MIT students don’t always get a chance to experience plant life and biodiversity in that way.
For me, it's important to be engaged with MIT community members in exciting ways each day. It may be collaborating with Ana Fiallo—our student researcher who's working on campus greenhouse gas data—to understand how we can transform our purchasing records from dining halls into a carbon footprint analysis of our food system. Or it may be joining in on an environmental justice seminar with Justin Steil in the Department of Urban Studies and Planning to talk to students about the intersection of environmental justice and MIT’s campus sustainability work. It might also be setting up a meeting at Simmons Dining Hall to talk to staff about their food waste management systems and how MIT Dining is innovating on that.
How does your work support the goals of climate action plan?
The big way my work intersects with Fast Forward is setting a food impact goal in partnership with Mark Hayes and his team at MIT Dining. It’s about recognizing that the food system is accountable for about a third of global greenhouse gas emissions and thinking, “What role can the campus play in creating a food system that operates with an eye towards its climate impact?” And how might we rebalance menus to feature more climate friendly foods and less waste?
The piece of the climate action plan that I also carry with me every day—in the food work and beyond—is the imperative of justice and using a justice lens in any work that touches climate and sustainability. I’m always thinking about how our office’s efforts on sustainability, diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives, and community partnerships can help realize that imperative of justice—this idea that we can’t solve the climate crisis if equity isn’t front and center.
What do you wish people understood about your work?
One thing I like to talk about is that a sustainable food system is one that is accessible, affordable, and culturally meaningful. For me it's about all those things coexisting in the same conversation and working towards all those things together. Knitting together the conversations at MIT around food security. Local farmers, climate change, food justice—each of these aspects is so complimentary in the work of creating a sustainable food system on campus.
Another little thing I’m proud of is our pilot to install Green Building Education signage in new buildings. MIT is building these incredible high-performance buildings on campus with cutting edge energy efficiency and resiliency measures, but occupants don’t always know about the features when they walk in. Along with Randa Ghattas and Nicole Imbergamo of Campus Construction, we started to think about how to invite the community into those stories behind all the hard work that Facilities and Campus Planning and more do on the design side. This pilot was born to incorporate signage into the construction of these new buildings and to demonstrate the holistic criteria that goes into making sure buildings are accessible, connected to local transportation networks, resilient, energy and water efficient and built with healthy materials. We wanted to be able to tell that story through the building signage to engage people.
In developing this signage, we also started to experiment with some behavior prompts around everything from unplugging personal equipment to saving energy to closing your eyes, taking a deep breath. The products that emerged are meant to give occupants a few key ways to engage with their buildings and learn more about little actions they can take.