Sustainability Action Plan progresses with help from working groups

By Olivia LeDuc

Emerson refined its pledge to carbon neutrality last month after unveiling the Climate Action Plan. The plan has since moved into its second phase—the formation of working groups. 

Emerson committed in 2007 to achieve carbon neutrality on-campus by 2030. Following its commitment, the college released its Climate Action Plan in 2009, outlining goals to achieve carbon neutrality within the institution. 

With eight years separating Emerson from its projected carbon neutrality, the college’s sustainability plan requires updating, to create a clearer plan of action, according to Campus Sustainability Manager Jennifer Lamy. 

“We have made a lot of progress over the last 15 years,” Lamy said. “However, there is still lots of planning to do to push emissions down.”

Preparation for updating the Sustainability Action Plan began at the start of the fall semester, alongside the introduction of six working groups. The working groups intend to map out fresh recommendations and strategy developments for achieving the 2030 goal. The groups will create a waste diversion plan, which the college’s current sustainability efforts do not account for.  

The working groups are divided into six topics: emissions and offsets, resilience, equity and justice, waste, curriculum and research, and finance. The group’s planning structure is guided by the Green Ribbon’s GRCx Collaborative Climate Action Planning cohort. Emerson is one of seven higher education institutions in the Boston area working toward carbon mitigation under the cohort. 

Each group has a range of faculty members and students interested in sustainability. Beginning next month, the working groups will convene in the first of four 90-minute meetings to discuss ideas, strategies, and goals for approaching new objectives related to the 2030 target. 

The drafted plan will be presented to the Emerson community with an open-comment period. In the spring, each group will finalize a draft plan to propose to college leadership. 

Lamy said she feels optimistic that the service of the groups will steer the college toward tackling the threat of climate change in its “ambitious” 2030 neutrality timeline. 

“I’m excited about all the brainstorming from these working groups to see where we can continue to lower our impact,” Lamy said. “Having this plan for the next eight years will provide us with more continuity and a clear call to action.”

Some of Emerson’s continual climate initiatives to mitigate its carbon footprint include buildings upgraded to environmental standards under the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) system, composting its food waste, and limiting emissions by supporting the use of public transportation.

The inclusion of student and faculty members in the groups ensures all community members are fairly represented, Lamy said. So far, the groups have roughly 50 faculty members and a handful of students. Applications are still open. 

She believes students are a necessary part of the process in reaching the college’s 2030 neutrality goal because of their ability to make the drafted sustainability plan student-approachable. An online suggestion box is open for Emerson community members to provide suggestions for the working groups throughout the fall semester. 

“The students [who are] a part of the groups will be really instrumental in helping push the conversation of goals for neutrality going forward,” she said. “Everyone who is a part of a working group brings a different point of view.”

September’s sustainability listening sessions invited participants to share their thoughts on ways Emerson can foster a more sustainable campus. Of the concerns raised by students, Lamy said many asked about waste diversion and a desire for stricter climate initiatives.

According to Lamy, another interest among students is the social impact of climate change. This will be a focal point for the equity and justice working group, whose main concentration will be defining how climate justice and action on sustainability will affect the local community. 

Among those involved in the sustainability working groups, progress to targeting the 2030 goal is shaped through team coordination by the college’s stakeholders. 

Nejem Raheem, chair of the Marketing Communication department and an environmental economist, is the curriculum and research working group facilitator. Within his role, he is looking to lead efforts to broaden the coordination of sustainability at Emerson.

“I want the groups to demonstrate sustainability and its connection to the environment,” Raheem said. “It’s like the water we swim in, some people feel it’s unrelated to the art we make, but it’s all connected.”

While Raheem believes that the 2030 neutrality goal is “entirely sensible,” he said identifying an accountability structure and connecting community members would ensure change.

“I want to make sure we have an impact and connect those who want to be in on diversity and inclusion,” he said.

Students involved in the working groups share similar sentiments of hoping to improve sustainability on campus.

I hope our group will represent the diverse community of Emerson’s needs with more sustainable practices and continue to make progress towards Emerson being carbon-neutral,” said Avanika Lefcowitz, a freshman communication sciences and disorders major who is part of the equity and justice group. 

Lefcowitz joined the working group to further environmental practices on an urban campus. Her goals for the plan include making the dining hall more sustainable and “uplifting underrepresented students” through sustainability.

Abigayle Arsenault, a sophomore creative writing major who is a part of the waste working group, said she wants to address the environmental issue of excess waste produced on campus.

“I hope to accomplish [the 2030 goal] by defining strategies to decrease waste and increase recycling and composting practices with my working group,” Arsenault said. 

The finalized plan will be implemented in the summer of 2023. Each spring, Lamy will prepare an annual report on the college’s progress and make necessary adjustments to the plan, according to the Sustainability Action Plan webpage

Lamy said the trajectory of achieving a carbon-neutral campus by 2030 is a reasonable strength in the Sustainability Action Plan, especially with the aid of the working groups.

“We can be ambitious at this point,” she said. “I am looking forward to setting these goals with stakeholders across the college.”

Regular updates on the draft will be provided on the Sustainable Emerson blog and in the monthly Sustainable Emerson newsletter.