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BU Trustees Approve Aggressive Climate Action Plan

Effort prepares University for global temperature rise

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  • Plan reduces direct emissions to zero on BU’s campuses by 2040
  • Makes buildings more energy-efficient, resilient to flooding
  • Shifts away from fossil fuels to wind and solar sources

The Boston University Board of Trustees approved a Climate Action Plan on Thursday that will dramatically cut greenhouse gas emissions across both the Charles River Campus and the Medical Campus and fund broad infrastructure improvements in preparation for flooding or heat surges in the coming decades.

The board voted overwhelmingly to adopt the plan, which includes capital improvements estimated to cost about $141 million over 10 years. The plan is the result of a yearlong analysis by the University’s Climate Action Task Force, an 18-member group of faculty, staff, and students.

“Today the Board of Trustees voted that Boston University commit to doing its part in mitigating the impact of anthropogenic climate change and to begin to prepare our campuses for the effects of global temperature increases,” Robert A. Brown, University president, said after the vote. “The work of the Task Force has given us a framework for moving forward with these important efforts.”

Scientists agree that reducing energy consumption is the key to mitigating climate change.

The plan’s centerpiece is the reduction of carbon emissions on the campuses to zero by 2040, a decade ahead of a similar effort by the city of Boston. Direct emissions include pollution from the fuel the University burns to heat and cool the campuses, electricity and steam it purchases, and the exhaust from the University’s vehicle fleet.

Many of the changes involve updating BU heating and cooling systems to make them more energy-efficient. To reduce the cost of the University’s electrical demand, the plan recommends purchasing power from renewable wind and solar sources.

The task force, convened by Brown in September 2016, was asked to create a strategy to help address the threats caused by extreme weather patterns and the increased likelihood of problems related to flooding and heat waves on the campuses.

The plan presented to the board outlined three courses of action, titled as BU GOOD, BU BETTER, and BU BOLD. The task force specifically recommended the BU BOLD plan because it offered the most aggressive timeline for the changes.

Although the task force report estimates $141 million over 10 years, new costs will be incurred after that. But the report predicts that the financial benefits of its earlier improvements could cover those costs.

Adopting the plan puts BU’s efforts on par with climate change initiatives at New York, George Washington, and Syracuse universities.

Task force chair Anthony Janetos, Frederick S. Pardee Professor, director of the Frederick S. Pardee Center for the Study of the Longer-Range Future, and a College of Arts & Sciences professor of earth and environment, said the timing is right to switch to renewable resources. Increasing competition in that sector has brought down market prices, and costs are even lower than they were a year ago when the task force began its work.

“This is a sweet spot that we’re in,” Janetos said, “and we’re positioned to take advantage of it.”

Task force member and BU Sustainability director Dennis Carlberg said the plan also includes a recommendation to create an academic Initiative on Climate Change and Sustainability, which would study ways to expand research opportunities on climate change and incorporate it into BU’s broader curriculum.

“All of our undergraduate students should be touched by this effort,” Carlberg said. “It’s going to take some work. But this is a great opportunity to develop courses and use the campus as a living laboratory.”

Climate change in Boston today

These illustrations show water levels during a 1-in-100-year flooding event in Boston today and in 2070 (BU campuses in red). The data come from the Woods Hole Group and are based on climate projections from the <a href=

These illustrations show water levels during a one-in-100-year flooding event in Boston today (top) and in 2070 (bottom). The BU campuses are highlighted in red. The data come from the Woods Hole Group and are based on climate projections from the Boston Research Advisory Group, a team of the region’s top climate scientists. Mapping by Brett Sinica (GRS’18)

The plan also proposes a separate in-depth assessment of weather-related vulnerabilities at the BU Medical Campus, which sits in a low-lying area that’s extremely susceptible to flooding. The task force findings show that in the event of a one-in-100-year storm, the campus area could be a foot or more underwater by 2070.

The plan did not make recommendations about ways to curb indirect greenhouse gas emissions from faculty, staff, and student travel, University purchasing, or other transportation on campus. Those emissions are more difficult to quantify and are currently under study, Carlberg said, and for now, the effort means the University must lower its energy consumption 31 percent across the next 14 years.

“That’s aggressive, that’s bold,” he said. “This is critical work.”

Meg Woolhouse can be reached at megwj@bu.edu.

 

25 Comments

25 Comments on BU Trustees Approve Aggressive Climate Action Plan

  • Nathan Phillips on 12.08.2017 at 12:26 am

    Way to go, BU!!!

  • Wendy Heiger-Bernays on 12.08.2017 at 6:12 am

    Great news! Much work to be done, but a path forward. Thank you to the task force and kudos to Anthony Janetos for his leadership and hard work.

  • Tarik Haydar on 12.08.2017 at 6:30 am

    Congratulations to the faculty and students on the committee for all of your work and attention to this matter. Thank you for standing up for us – and thanks to the board for approving this necessary plan.

  • Logic Rules on 12.08.2017 at 7:13 am

    Very disappointing story….while it states that 141 million dollars will be spent over 10 years, never is the amount saved mentioned.

    • David on 12.08.2017 at 8:48 am

      Funds should be saved over time from reduced energy costs and consumption. This is a very fantastic story.

    • Alum on 12.08.2017 at 9:20 am

      This is a fantastic story, even if the amount saved is exactly nothing. Climate change is important and fighting our negative impact is worth the investment – whether or not we gain monetarily in the long run.

    • Marta Marello on 12.08.2017 at 9:31 am

      You can find all the financial details in the report, including projected savings for the first ten years. In addition, you can find detailed financial analysis for the energy efficiency projects, which constitute one of the most expensive pieces of the plan. Visit the website http://www.bu.edu/climateactionplan

      Marta Marello
      Climate Action Plan Project Manager

  • s on 12.08.2017 at 7:33 am

    There also needs to be re-education on sustainability. Often coming in early in the morning and on weekends, you can often see office lights left on. Sometimes you even see windows left open even in the summer and winter.

    • Laura on 12.08.2017 at 1:57 pm

      Not to mention that most BU buildings are lit up like a circus every night.

      • Logic Rules on 12.19.2017 at 1:09 pm

        Especailly of the Medical School Campus

  • Lindsey Butler on 12.08.2017 at 7:54 am

    Very proud day for BU! Thank you to the Taskforce, the Board of Trustees, and President Brown for positioning us to address these issues

  • Lauren Gladstone on 12.08.2017 at 8:24 am

    Animal agriculture and the consumption of animal products contributes more to global warming and greenhouse emissions than the entire transportation sector. What will BU do to help educate its students and faculty about cutting their intake?

  • David Franco on 12.08.2017 at 8:45 am

    Proud of my school for taking another step in the right direction. Major congratulations to the sustainability team and Dennis for this effort.

  • BUmom on 12.08.2017 at 9:40 am

    I feel sorry for all the kids who could have had an education paid for but instead we will have solar panels when it gets dark at 4 and the sun angle is so low it doesnt register. But kudos for the bike lanes and the greening of the T as shown… the trees and grassy roofs are great.

    • Andy Whitman on 12.12.2017 at 4:48 pm

      Your comment bothers me, and here’s why. While you are correct in saying that sun sets earlier, and the angle is lower than other parts of the world. I’d urge you to look at Germany and other northern European countries, who are in less ideal conditions than Boston yet produces a huge percentage of their electricity from not only renewable energy, but specifically solar.

      In fact, BU’s massive amount of rooftop real estate makes it one of the best places to install solar in the region.

      And as a ‘BUmom’, I get it, the burden of college is crazy, but it’s incredibly short sighted to only consider the capital cost of solar, and not it’s long term savings which will end up going right into the endowment for less fortunate students. Glad you can look out for the expensive bike lane they’re putting in though.

    • Michael Gevelber, member of task force on 12.12.2017 at 5:56 pm

      Actually, the on campus solar panels you mention (if they go through) will be done through a PPA (power purchase agreement) by a 3rd party, where the university will not put out any of the capital cost, and it will actually lower the university’s electric bill. So no impact on financial aid for students.

      I’ve put solar panels on my house in the Boston area, and they are paid off in ~5 years and my electric bills are near zero. Solar is not a bad economic investment for institutions or homeowners.
      and significantly reduces our carbon emissions.

      • LarryO on 12.13.2017 at 8:59 am

        For homeowners, the better deal is buying the solar panels like you did, and getting a more significant return on investment for the ~20 year expected lifespan of the solar equipment.

        I would hope that BU has looked into alternatives to a PPA (where the solar company reaps the greatest amount of benefits and savings.)

  • Kathy Jacobs on 12.08.2017 at 9:55 am

    Great job Tony!

  • Lindsey Chew on 12.08.2017 at 10:47 am

    This is excellent news! A very proud day for BU indeed. Kudos to the Board of Trustees and congratulations to the Climate Task Force and the sustainability@BU team for taking a bold step forward with this climate action plan.

  • Matt on 12.08.2017 at 12:31 pm

    Cool, let’s encourage people to bike by ticketing cars that stop in the already existing bike lanes on Comm.

    • Tony on 12.09.2017 at 7:24 pm

      Yes! Just on BU campus alone I pass ~15 cars parked illegally in bike lane every day!

  • Jim young on 12.09.2017 at 4:32 pm

    Interesting, no discussion on how long to get their return on investment. Wonder what all the faculty and students would do if they did away with all parking on campus? Think of how many new tenure track faculty could be hired or scholarships could be awarded for this money?

  • JJ on 12.11.2017 at 11:44 am

    Let’s not get over-excited or over-congratulatory here.
    1. Like most climate change “action plans,” this is far too little, too late.
    2. $141 million over 10 years is a laughably small investment for BU, which just raised $1.5 billion in their recent fundraiser. I bet the board of trustees will spend more 141m on their luxury retreats in the next 10 years.
    3. BU has flat-out refused to divest from fossil-fuel, because it has “fiduciary duties to its endowment” — never mind duties to the community and the environment.
    4. Don’t forget who’s running the show: Pres. Brown is on the board of Dupont, whose environmental and ethical record everyone is free to look up.

  • T on 12.12.2017 at 7:52 pm

    Just a heads up BU, from a technical standpoint, putting small-scale wind turbines along Commonwealth Ave as depicted in this rendering is an awful idea and green roofs, at least in terms of energy consumption, are far more trouble than they’re worth.

  • Roland Welter on 12.13.2017 at 8:48 am

    Glad to hear that BU, after an incredible amount of pressure by student activists, will commit to action on climate. Thanks DivestBU!

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