Climate Ready in Higher Ed


“Projections indicate that by 2100, it is likely that the Boston area will experience sea level rise of up to 6 feet.  At this level, what we now consider a “100-year storm event” will happen at each high tide, and the new 100-year storm event will mean flooding of up to 30% of the City. Redesigning our city and region to prosper under these changed conditions is a serious undertaking that will require deliberate and informed decisions over multiple decades,” noted John Cleveland, Executive Director of the Boston Green Ribbon Commission as he kicked off the GRC’s Higher Education Working Group Climate Preparedness meeting hosted at Boston University on January 8th.

The purpose of the gathering was for members of the Higher Ed Working Group to share the current status of their climate preparedness planning and explore how our institutions can collaborate and share knowledge in a City-University partnership. Each member of the Higher Ed Working Group described their approach and where they are in their process, in addition to one non-member.

Boston University

Sustainability Director, Dennis Carlberg explained Boston University is wrapping up its initial climate change vulnerability assessment addressing the impacts of flooding, higher temperatures, and more intense storms. He described the process and findings developed through the work of Professor Sucharita Gopal’s Environmental Remote Sensing & GIS graduate students. In addition to the preparedness planning underway, Carlberg also discussed the body of BU’s ongoing climate change research, and how the Fredric S. Pardee Center for the Study of the Longer-Range Future and the Initiative on Cities are engaged in this effort.

Harvard University

Heather Henriksen, sustainability director and Nick Hambridge, associate director of Emergency Management described how Harvard’s Climate Preparedness Working Group was formed to lead the University’s operational efforts to prepare for and respond to the impacts of climate change, most notably through the development of resilient design standards for critical buildings and infrastructure. Harvard expects to share these standards with GRC members upon completion in about a year.


MIT’s Deputy Director for the Office of Sustainability, Steve Lanou outlined the current focus on developing and implementing integrated, campus-wide emergency management and business continuity plans and strategy. An important component of MIT’s planning efforts is close integration and coordination with the City of Cambridge emergency management teams for a unified response structure. MIT is currently undertaking limited climate vulnerability (flood and heat island effect) risk identification and establishing a mechanism for advancing campus-wide climate adaptation planning.

UMass Boston

Jack Wiggin, director of the Urban Harbors Institute at UMass Boston, spoke about the efforts to coordinate faculty and staff of UMass Boston and the other UMass campuses who offer courses, conduct research or public service projects related to climate change mitigation and adaptation. UMass Boston is also planning a statewide Climate Change Adaptation Leadership Summit in 2015.

Jennine Talbot, UMass Boston campus planner, shared ways that climate change is influencing hazard mitigation and emergency preparedness planning, as well as Campus Master Planning and capital projects at UMass Boston.

Although the meeting was convened by the Green Ribbon Commission’s Higher Education Working Group, non-members were in attendance at the event as well including Tufts University, Boston College, and the Boston Architectural College. The BAC also shared their progress.

Boston Architectural College

Shaun O’Rourke, director of sustainable design, discussed the Green Alley project and associated curriculum development. The Boston Architectural College’s Green Alley project demonstrates that immediate and long-term environmental challenges facing the City of Boston can be addressed through creative partnerships between experts and institutions. The success of this project extends beyond the physical impact to include student and community engagement and applied learning opportunities. It is a replicable design, which has sparked a culture shift at the institution by demonstrating the challenges and opportunities of their location in the dense Back Bay neighborhood and the ability to create measurable environmental change.

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