College greenhouse gas emissions increase with Little Building reopening

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Media: Jakob Menendez

The Little Building residence hall.

By Patrick Pierce

An annual city report found that Emerson’s greenhouse gas emissions saw a slight increase in 2019 with the reopening of the Little Building residential hall. 

The Little Building alone has added 1281.3 metric tons of carbon dioxide emission equivalent—roughly the same as the output as 48 homes, according to Boston’s Building Energy Reporting and Disclosing Ordinance, or BERDO.

The Colonial and Piano Row residence halls have reduced their emissions by a combined 243.7 metric tons since 2018. The Paramount Theatre and residence hall, which generates the most emissions of any Emerson building, decreased its emissions by 35.2 metric tons. The Paramount is also the only Emerson residence hall without a LEED certification, which is awarded by the U.S. Green Building Council to buildings it deems environmental friendliness in terms of technology and construction.

BERDO requires all of Boston’s medium and large buildings—those that are larger than 35,000 square feet—to report their energy and water use yearly, with the goal of lessening emissions.

Emerson is without a sustainability manager, following the departure of Catherine Liebowitz in March of this year. Duncan Pollock, interim assistant vice president of facilities management and campus services, told The Beacon the college plans on moving forward with the climate plan laid out by the city and BERDO. 

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“We’ve reduced our carbon footprint incredibly over the past seven years,” he said. “We’ve put in a lot of LED lighting where we’ve can…We have come totally off of fossil fuels to heat our buildings.” 

All Emerson buildings are currently heated with renewable energy, Pollock said. The last building to switch over, the Tufte Building, began using renewable energy for heat in October. Natural gas is only used for the stoves in the dining center, and the college has purchased 100 percent wind energy for electricity since 2018, Pollock said.

Pollock said that the Paramount Building’s high emissions are largely due to the theatre spaces housed in the building.

“The Paramount residence hall is very efficient,” he said. “Where we have higher use of energy is in the theater. The theater put on a lot more productions than [in] the previous year.”

Emerson’s residence halls, on average, have a higher emissions intensity—emissions divided by the floor area of a building—than other colleges in the area, like Boston University, which has also received LEED certification for many of its buildings. 

In terms of total carbon dioxide emissions, when accounting for every campus building Emerson trails behind larger, more densely populated colleges in the area. Northeastern’s main campus buildings produced 41,804.3 metric tons of emissions in 2019. Emerson buildings, by comparison, produced 8,042.4 metric tons of emissions. Northeastern’s campus is significantly larger, with an undergraduate population of 14,676 students, as of 2019, compared to Emerson’s 3,714.

Though progress has been made, some students are still concerned about Emerson’s trajectory in sustainability. 

Co-president of Earth Emerson Nadezhda Ryan said she believes Emerson can still improve its effort to reduce emissions. Ryan said that the COVID-19 pandemic is partly to blame for some of Emerson’s less environmentally-friendly actions.

 “I know they’ve moved very much towards single-use plastics and single-use products and utensils [in the dining hall], so that’s unfortunate,” she said. “As an org, we’re working with them to try to meet a middle ground.” 

Students can also do their part to lower the college’s emissions by changing their behaviors while living at Emerson, Ryan said.

“The little things like turning the lights off when you leave the room, or [if] it’s daytime,” she said. “Until Emerson starts picking up on this, research yourself on what you can do to be sustainable in your career, and implement when you’re on set or doing a shoot or interviewing.”