In Depth: Fast Forward Campus Climate Commitments
Fast Forward: MIT’s Climate Action Plan for the Decade, published in May 2021, calls on MIT to “mobilize its strengths” in working to address the climate crisis. Fast Forward focuses on both investment in new research and applied technologies to reach global goals as well as immediate action on campus to reach the Plan’s goal of eliminating MIT’s direct campus emissions by 2050 with a near-term goal of achieving net-zero emissions by 2026. MIT established several campus commitments to help reach these goals. These campus commitments demonstrate the broad scope of actions needed to address the Institution’s contributions to climate change as well as the need for developing climate adaptation and resiliency strategies. The campus climate action commitments can be broadly broken into three areas of focus: mitigation, resiliency, and leadership.
Mitigation efforts center on developing a full assessment of direct and indirect emissions resulting from the diverse operations of the Institute and the undertaking of strategic measures to continually reduce and ultimately eliminate these emissions.
Resiliency is the work needed to support and build an MIT that continues to fulfill its mission in the face of the impacts of climate change that include flooding from more frequent and extreme rains, storm surges, and rising sea-levels as well as extreme heat events.
Climate leadership focuses on work MIT is doing to expand campus climate action by setting new goals and empowering the MIT community to develop ideas, strategies, and metrics to reach those goals. The MIT campus will continue to be a “test bed for change” as we navigate a path towards net-zero creating a mission driven approach to solving for climate change.
Implementation team: Office of Sustainability; Facilities Operations; Capital Construction; Systems Performance and Turnover; Environment Health and Safety
Why this goal is important: These two goals and MIT’s overall efforts to continue to reduce emissions demonstrate the Institute’s desire to accelerate the reduction of GHG emissions in the world and on campus concurrently. MIT’s goal is to eliminate its direct GHG emissions by 2050 while the 2026 net-zero commitment recognizes that these emissions need to be reduced immediately and at scale while new technology and a cleaner grid evolve to enable MIT to lessen and ultimately eliminate its direct emissions.
The net-zero emissions goal means that MIT will balance GHG emissions produced from campus activities with GHG emissions reduced, avoided, or removed from the atmosphere elsewhere, measured in the form of verified, market-based carbon offsets and renewable energy certificates (RECs). The commitment to eliminate MIT’s direct emissions by 2050 means that no greenhouse gases will be released through use of campus buildings and owned vehicles. Reaching this goal will require decarbonization of the regional electric grid as well as other technological advances in addition to MIT’s current mitigation efforts which focus on building energy efficiency, the electrification of buildings and fleet, and on-campus renewable energy installations.
What work has been done to date: MIT began efforts to track and reduce its emissions with the release of its first climate action plan, A Plan for Action on Climate Change, in 2015. MIT’s initial emissions reduction goal was a 32 percent reduction of emissions below 2014 levels by the year 2030. As of 2022, net emissions were lowered from the 2014 baseline by 15 percent, with reductions attributed to our solar power purchase agreement in North Carolina, on-campus mitigation measures, and carbon improvements to the local electricity grid. This work set the foundation for the Institute to be on track to reach its 2026 and 2050 goals.
How will MIT reach this goal: The majority of MIT’s campus carbon footprint comes from directly burning natural gas for heating, cooling, and using electricity for lighting, appliances, and research equipment. To offset these emissions with the goal of total elimination of them, MIT takes a multi-pronged approach. The current approach includes MIT’s campus efforts of building energy efficiency projects, building electrification, sustainable design, rooftop solar and other renewables, acceleration of the decarbonization of the regional energy grid, electrification of our fleet, and the evolution of our district energy system powered by MIT’s Central Utilities Plant. For campus emissions that have not yet been eliminated, MIT will also invest in new, high-quality, off-site renewable energy and carbon reduction projects that need investments to be economically feasible.
Implementation team: Campus Construction; Facilities Finance and Administration; Facilities Operations; Office of Sustainability; Office of Campus Planning; Environment, Health and Safety
Why this goal is important: Increasing solar production on campus is a valuable strategy to eliminate direct emissions. Though the urban environment of MIT's campus, current technology, and storage options limit the ability for onsite solar to meet all the campus’s electricity needs, maximizing the potential capacity of onsite solar aligns with clean energy investment plans.
What work has been done to date: MIT has several small-scale, on-site renewal energy systems on its Cambridge campus. On campus today, there are five rooftop solar photovoltaic (PV) systems that provide 86 kilowatts generating capacity. These are located on buildings N52, W20, 14, 57, and E62.
How will MIT reach this goal: MIT will continue to assess its current building inventory as well as new construction for the ideal spaces to place new installations to meet the minimum 500kw goal. As a matter of practice, MIT has for several years assessed each new building project or renovation for feasible and effective sustainability features, including rooftop solar. Academic stakeholders have also been engaged to enable opportunities for continued research on solar at MIT.
Implementation team: Campus Construction; Facilities Finance and Administration; Facilities Operations; Office of Sustainability; Office of Campus Planning; Environment, Health and Safety
Why this goal is important: Artificial intelligence and machine learning have the potential to better manage and optimize building energy use on a large-scale to increase operational efficiency. Machine learning can improve building control systems by modeling and predicting impacts from future weather conditions and occupancy of a space, as well as respond to varying levels of carbon intensity in the grid to power up or down to limit intensity or take advantage of times of cleaner sources.
What work has been done to date: The Schwarzman College of Computing and the Department of Architecture’s Building Technology Program are engaged as project co-sponsors and research partners in a pilot to test this technology. Pilots have been conducted in individual classrooms as well as Building 66 to understand how AI can best be used in a broader swath of campus to drive energy efficiency. Read more about these pilot programs at MIT News.
How will MIT reach this goal: At the completion of the pilots, partners and researchers will refine and embed an energy use prediction model into an optimization framework that will generate daily temperature set-point profiles that minimize GHG emissions. An overall assessment of the pilot phase will be completed to determine campus scale-up feasibility and opportunities.
Implementation team: Facilities Operations; Office of the Vice President for Finance; Facilities Finance and Administration; MIT Police
Why this goal is important: MIT is committed to eliminating campus emissions from Scopes 1 and 2—including buildings and fleet—no later than 2050. In light of this commitment, MIT is working to replace its current fleet of vehicles with alternative electric vehicle (EV) models when available on the market. MIT’s campus fleet has approximately 144 vehicles with the potential to be replaced with EV vehicles as the market evolves.
What work has been done to date: The student-led Electric Vehicles Research Team worked alongside MIT staff and researchers to study the costs for replacing existing vehicles with EVs on the market now, versus buying new gas vehicles or leaving the existing ones in place. The research team produced a set of specific recommendations about fleet vehicle replacement and charging infrastructure installation on campus that supports both commuters and an MIT EV fleet in the future. Research found that there is not a drastic difference in the cost of new EVs versus new gas-powered vehicles.
How will MIT reach this goal: As recommended in the Electric Vehicles Research Report, this commitment is likely to be conducted in phases, based upon availability of EVs in the marketplace. Phasing in the use of electric vehicles also allows MIT to evaluate the best technology for campus needs while allowing time for the market to mature.
Implementation team: Facilities Finance and Administration; Office of Campus Planning; Facilities Operations; Office of the Vice President of Finance
Why this goal is important: MIT’s current bus and shuttle fleet is composed of five 34-seat buses, four 31-seat buses, and four 14-seat buses for a total of 13 vehicles. SP Plus Corporation, a third-party fleet management company manages the insurance, fuel, cleaning, and maintenance of MIT buses and shuttles, which are fully owned by MIT at the end of the 60-month lease period. MIT campus shuttles currently use a biodiesel fuel blend as specified by the contract agreement.
What work has been done to date: The student-led Electric Vehicles Research Team conducted research and analysis on the transition to electric buses (e-buses) and shuttles. The group found that a phased replacement of the current fleet of buses and shuttles with electric alternatives is both feasible and achievable by the 2026 goal date. The research team concluded that MIT must decide whether to lease-to-own these buses, as is the current model, or procure them outright. The team recommended starting the procurement process with a Request for Information (RFI)— soliciting responses from several vendors on the details of their EV shuttle offerings and services—to support decision making.
How will MIT reach this goal: In addition to the work of the student team, the project team has conducted research on EV shuttles, spoken with peer institutions about their experiences in this realm, and investigated potential locations for charging stations. An RFI has been completed. The project team is now in the process of putting together a Request for Proposals (RFP) for a competitive bid process.
Implementation team: Facilities Finance and Administration; Office of Campus Planning; Environment, Health and Safety; Office of Sustainability; Facilities Operations; Office of the Vice President for Finance
Why this goal is important: Expanding electric vehicle charging stations is a goal to support MIT’s expanded electric vehicle fleet and shuttles buses as well as to provide increased options for campus guests and commuters. These efforts will help reduce MIT’s GHG emissions Scopes 1, 2, and 3.
What work has been done to date: As of August 2022, there are 128 car charging stations on MIT’s campus with the installation of 22 new spaces in progress.
How will MIT reach this goal: As MIT works to reach this goal in phases of installation, there will be an ongoing assessment to identify locations based on space availability and demand from both commuters and MIT’s EV fleet.
Implementation team: Office of Sustainability; Facilities Operations; Facilities Finance and Administration; Office of Campus Planning; Environment, Health, and Safety; Bates/Haystack Operations; Endicott House
Why this goal is important: Previous greenhouse gas portfolio assessments by MIT have been limited to the Cambridge campus, but MIT has several off-campus locations—the Bates Research and Engineering Center, Haystack Observatory, and Endicott House—which will now be accounted for. Including these locations in the portfolio to provide a full understanding of the emissions MIT is contributing and drive comprehensive solutions toward reaching net-zero and zero direct emissions.
What work has been done to date: MIT has been capturing and tracking greenhouse gas emissions from its Cambridge campus since 2014. This data can be viewed in the GHG inventory page as well as the Energize_MIT data visualization. This baseline of work will allow for level setting as data begins to be collected and tracked in off-campus locations.
How will MIT reach this goal: MIT is working to account for and collect this data from each off-campus location to include it as part of its greenhouse gas portfolio. The gathered data will be made available in Energize_MIT and inform MITs future work in reducing and eliminating its greenhouse gas emissions.
Implementation team: Office of Sustainability; MIT Climate and Sustainability Consortium; Facilities Finance and Administration; Environment, Health and Safety; Office of the Vice President for Finance; Office of Campus Planning; MIT Dining
Why this goal is important: In working toward a full assessment of one’s greenhouse gas portfolio it is standard practice to differentiate between emissions an institution is directly responsible for (campus building emissions and owned vehicles) and those that are not directly created on our campus. Those emissions resulting from activities or assets not owned or controlled by the reporting institution are known as Scope 3 or indirect emissions. A full accounting of these sources referred to as Scopes 1, 2, and 3 is needed to inform actions to reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions.
What work has been done to date: Since 2018, MITOS has collaborated with Dr. Jeremy Gregory, Executive Director of the MIT Climate and Sustainability Consortium and a research scientist specializing in lifecycle assessment. Dr. Gregory has worked as a MITOS Faculty Fellow to build a preliminary estimate of Scope 3 GHG emissions activities and develop methods for rapid data analysis. To understand our Scope 3 emissions MITOS has been collecting available MIT data including purchased goods and services, MIT-sponsored travel, commuting, waste and capital goods.
How will MIT reach this goal: Using the World Resources Institute/ World Business Council for Sustainable Development GHG Protocol for Scope 3 (referred to by the organizations as “Corporate Value Chain”) framework, MIT is working to catalog the full breadth of emissions involved in operating the Institute. MIT uses the above protocol to ground the categories (for example, capital goods) which make up Scope 3 emissions and identify the owners of the data within those categories in order to collect that data regularly. The World Resources Institute/ World Business Council for Sustainable Development GHG Protocol enables MIT to convert this data into GHG emissions impact.
Once this data is converted into impact, MIT will develop visualizations to help the community understand the accounting of our Scope 3 portfolio. This accounting and communication of such will enable the further advancement of other goals outlined in Fast Forward which need this information, including the impact goals and travel offset goal.
Implementation team: Office of Sustainability; Office of the Vice President for Finance; Vice President for Campus Services; MIT Climate and Sustainability Consortium; MIT Center for Transportation and Logistics; Sloan School of Management
Why this goal is important: This decarbonization strategy will assist with tracking, accounting for and offsetting GHG emissions from business travel through emissions generated from air travel. At present time, carbon offsets remain the most impactful option to reduce unavoidable emissions from travel.
What work has been done to date: In efforts to develop a centralized Carbon Offset Program, the project team has studied MIT’s business travel landscape, including: existing travel policies, how the community purchases travel, and travel booking and expense systems. Leveraging this understanding, the team continues to work to develop a robust Carbon Offset Pilot Program that includes strategies, policies, communication content, and implementation plans. This pilot phase will be launched as a voluntary program in Fall 2023.
How will MIT reach this goal: The pilot will help inform future programming and policies to enable MIT departments to easily calculate the impact of their travel and select and engage in offerings to offset it.
Implementation team: Office of Sustainability; Office of Campus Planning; Facilities Operations; Office of Vice President for Finance; Emergency Management; MITIMCo, Housing and Student Life; Campus Construction; Risk Management; Environment, Health & Safety
Why this goal is important: MIT is committed to fulfilling the mission of the Institute and thriving in the face of disruptions from intensifying climate risks, including more frequent and extreme flooding and heat. By 2025 MIT will have a foundational strategy by which to plan for a changing climate to inform future construction, renovation, space use, and the safety of our community in the years ahead.
What work has been done to date: In 2015, MIT launched the Climate Resiliency Committee, managed by MITOS, to collaboratively assess, plan, and operationalize a climate resilient MIT. The Committee seeks to ensure a campus community that continues to fulfill its mission in the face of current and future climate risks and disruptions due to flooding from more frequent and extreme rains, storm surges, and rising sea-levels, as well as extreme heat events.
Managing the uncertainty of climate risks requires understanding challenges and identifying adaptive opportunities through integrated "layers of resilience": community, buildings, infrastructure, and site. These organizing layers are both inter-dependent and collectively critical to supporting MIT's mission. Experts from the MIT Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change, the MIT Urban Risk Lab, and the Concrete Sustainability Hub serve as partners contributing new research to reduce the uncertainty for operational decision-making.
In 2020, MIT debuted the MIT Climate Resiliency Dashboard, a predictive model that illustrates potential future events in the form of flooding on campus.
The tool displays projected flooding data laid over a campus map of MIT, allowing users to zoom in on a portion of campus under a specific scenario and see the projected potential peak rain or storm surge water depth at that location. The dashboard has informed new building designs, such as the MIT Schwarzman College of Computing, which is designed to be resilient to a 100-year flood event anticipated under a changed climate 50 years from today. The underlying flood risk model visualized in the dashboard is harmonized with the City of Cambridge flood risk model. The dashboard will continue to evolve to include additional potential flooding scenarios as well as heat risks.
How will MIT reach this goal: This goal empowers and enables the continuation of this work on a comprehensive level, considering MIT’s unique campus and the potential flood and heat risks posed to it and its function.
Implementation team: Office of Sustainability; Campus Construction; Environment, Health, and Safety; Facilities Operations
Why this goal is important: MIT’s actions and data in waste, water, and food have been reported in MIT’s sustainability assessments for several years but have not been explicitly tied to overall climate change goals or net-zero accounting.
Water, waste, and food each have their own unique GHG emissions associated with it. For example, GHG emissions related to food may account for the production of that food as well as the travel associated with bringing it to MIT.
What work has been done to date: To establish these goals, cross-departmental and cross-functional teams—with the input of the Carbon Footprint Working Group and the Climate Nucleus as well as community members—have worked together to create the set of goals and strategies to meet them, with both 2026 and 2030 goal dates. The goals were released in the spring of 2023 and can be viewed here.
How MIT will reach this goal: The Goal Setting Working Group will then consider how best to set goals for these metrics and how to evaluate and measure progress over time. Additionally, the teams will be considering the process of how to achieve the goals.
Implementation team: Office of Sustainability; Campus Construction; Utilities; Campus Services; Environment, Health, and Safety
Why this goal is important: Climate Action Plans (CAP) at the DLCI level empower groups to gain a better understanding of their unique contributions to campus emissions and the impacts of climate change, engage their community, and devise and implement strategies to address them where they can.
The first school-level CAP was released by the School of Architecture and Planning (SA+P) in 2020. The plan articulates the rationale for acting as a school; develops an analysis for each department, lab, and center within SA+P; and presents a menu of options for action. These actions included goals, commitments, and pilot projects that all aim to reduce the school’s greenhouse gas emissions and seed broader campus-wide strategies.
What work has been done to date: The SA+P CAP originated in research via a graduate student class undertaken by graduate students in the Department of Urban Studies and Planning (DUSP), with assistance from faculty and the Office of Sustainability. The plan—which presents detailed analysis of SA+P carbon emissions for a single calendar year (2019), and outlines steps to reduce these through changes in procurement, waste tracking, airline travel, and other areas of operation—serves as a model for other schools and departments throughout MIT.
How will MIT reach this goal: Through the guidance of a dedicated project manager, MITOS the Office of Sustainability will assist and develop standard practices and support to enable Departments, Centers, Labs & Institutes (DCLIs) to craft their own climate action plans.