Climate Change Action at Tufts University

The Declaration, Volume 5, Number 2: May 2002  [Operations]

By Sarah Hammond Creighton

The problem of global climate change is a problem of unprecedented urgency and magnitude with international and intergenerational implications. In April 1999, Tufts University’s president pledged that the university would meet or beat the goals of the Kyoto Protocol in university operations, reducing carbon emissions 7% below 1990 levels by 2012. This goal was recently reaffirmed in March by Tufts’ new president, Larry Bacow. This commitment is consistent with our leadership position in addressing environmental issues and creates enormous learning opportunities for our community. Still, putting one’s own house in order and converting good rhetoric into reality is a significant challenge.

The Tufts Climate Initiative (TCI) was created to help the university meet our emissions reduction goal. In three short years, TCI has worked closely with Tufts Division of Operations to better understand the goal, identify strategies to make progress towards the goal, and to implement programs that slow the university’s carbon emissions. The TCI staff includes two faculty members (a few hours/month), a part-time project manager, a part-time outreach coordinator, and one graduate student research assistant. As a catalyst and resource, we introduce new initiatives and provide additional resources to existing and ongoing climate change-related efforts around the university. Our approach is one of cooperation and partnership rather than criticism and opposition. TCI’s activities are focused in three major areas: 1) reduction of greenhouse gas emissions; 2) research into possible technologies and approaches and monitoring of past projects; and 3) education and outreach both inside the university (students, staff, faculty, and administrators) and outside the university. This article highlights our activities around measuring our emissions and beginning to reduce them.

Creating an Emissions Inventory and Gauging Attitudes: A Starting Point
As one of our initial projects, TCI undertook an inventory of the major greenhouse gas emission sources at each of Tufts’ three campuses and then calculated the resulting emissions. The results of our inventory are shown in Chart 1 and the full report is available on the TCI website at Given the university’s projected growth rate, a 23% emissions reduction by the year 2012 is needed in order for Tufts to meet our Kyoto target. The inventory process yielded several other important insights including: 1) the university’s emissions are rapidly increasing; 2) campus growth and the increasing prevalence and use of electronic equipment, particularly computers, is largely responsible for this increase; 3) the carbon resulting from heating is going down on a per square foot and per student basis (our buildings are getting more efficient) but increasing in total (we have more buildings); 4) our carbon from electricity use, however, is increasing in total, per student (up 16% between 1990 and 1998), and per square foot; and 5) our actual electricity use is increasing even faster, but the result is not evident in the carbon inventory since our electric utility has decreased its carbon/kWh over the same time – largely through increased use of nuclear power for generation.

Missing from our inventory are what the World Resources Institute calls Scope 3 emissions, which are defined as indirect greenhouse gas emissions that are a consequence of an institution’s activities, but are produced from sources owned and controlled by another. Certainly these indirect sources of emissions are important and can be influenced by the university’s vast purchasing power. Initial results indicated that one of the largest single contributors to Scope 3 emissions at Tufts is air travel for university business.

It is our intention to broaden the scope of our inventory and we are currently in the early stages of identifying other greenhouse gases, some with large warming potential, that are prevalent in university operations. In particular, we hope to quantify our emissions and the global warming potential of two potent greenhouse gases: 1) hydrofluorocarbons (HCFCs), used commonly as refrigerants, and 2) nitrous oxide, commonly called laughing gas, used in our School of Dental Medicine. By better understanding the scope of the use and impact of these greenhouse gases, we hope to develop best management practices to reduce or eliminate their release.

The emissions inventory is a useful step in beginning a dialogue about climate change on campus. It is important that it be done carefully, but it is equally important that the inventory be considered a learning process rather than a definitive result. Thus, other institutions looking to undertake a similar inventory (instructions are on our web site) should be cautioned not to spend more time than is necessary for planning future commitment and action on campus.

Reducing Carbon Emissions: A Strategy for Action
TCI used the emissions inventory to determine that meeting the goals of the Kyoto Protocol is reasonable and achievable through a variety of scenarios. A combination of strategies could meet the goals: for example, increasing electrical efficiency, increasing heating efficiency, purchasing a portion of our power from green sources, fuel switching from oil to natural gas in a portion of our boilers, and leveling demand for fuels. Other scenarios include implementing co-generation or large-scale renewable energy systems.

While the university’s carbon emissions continue to rise, we estimate that through our direct involvement, TCI has slowed the growth of these emissions. Our focus includes attention to new and existing buildings, alternative fuels, and personal action. Highlights for these initiatives are described below.

Energy Efficiency in New Buildings: In addition to small and large renovation projects, Tufts is constructing new buildings. We are beginning to recognize the important potential in avoided emissions that new buildings provide by “doing it right the first time” and creating “high performance buildings” that are super efficient, durable, and healthy.

TCI worked cooperatively with the design team for the Wildlife Clinic at the School of Veterinary Medicine on the Grafton Campus. TCI supported a third party design review, evaluation of the alternative design schemes, and a portion of the cost of the resulting energy improvements. As a result of TCI’s participation and support, the building includes heat recovery and sophisticated controls, a simplified roofline for lower construction and material costs, and a long lasting siding material. In addition, TCI supported the installation of an energy-efficient front-loading washing machine at the clinic. By modifying plans for the Wildlife Clinic, we estimate that we reduced energy consumption by 50% and reduced carbon dioxide by about 150 tons/year (about 30% of the impact of all of the recycling at the university’s main campus in Medford).

TCI is currently working closely with the construction department to implement significant energy savings in a dormitory which will be built in the next two years.

Energy Efficiency in Existing Buildings: New buildings, regardless of how green, add carbon emissions to a campus profile, albeit less carbon than would have resulted without intervention. In comparison, one can realize real reductions immediately by working on existing buildings. At Tufts, we own buildings that are over a hundred years old and have undergone dozens of changes in use. Our challenge is determining how to operate those buildings and their systems efficiently. We are meeting this challenge on many levels.

Schmalz House renovations included a solar hot water system.Using graduate students in our department of Urban and Environmental Policy, Tufts assessed the reductions in carbon dioxide emissions that could be realized when renovations were undertaken in “Schmalz House.” Students and facilities staff worked collaboratively to implement recommendations in this residence that houses twelve undergraduates. A few of the new features include solar hot water, sophisticated lighting controls, and energy efficient appliances. Our goal was not only to reduce emissions, but also to demonstrate technologies new to Tufts. Students continue to monitor and assess this project, and it is projected that these improvements will pay for themselves within five years.

In addition, each summer Tufts University undertakes projects designed to address deferred maintenance concerns including fire and life safety, aesthetics, heating control and comfort, lighting, etc. In its first year, TCI partnered with the Facilities Department to identify properties that were already scheduled for summer maintenance and therefore already had funds appropriated to them. TCI and the Facilities department were able to identify four additional projects at the School of Nutrition offices, the Dining Department offices, and two residence wood-frame houses. TCI’s participation resulted in energy engineering prior to regularly scheduled maintenance. The results included the installation of new windows, lighting and insulation; a new boiler; and the replacement of two oil-fired boilers with a single natural gas fired boiler.

In 2001, Tufts installed 695 occupancy sensors in academic buildings to turn off lights in unoccupied rooms in order to save over 700,000 kWh/year and reduce our annual emissions of CO2 by 468 tons. The result is dramatic as you walk through campus at night and observe dark academic buildings, previously lit and unoccupied. Efforts to install more sensors and other lighting improvements are ongoing.

Many other efficiency improvements are constantly being implemented and/or evaluated. These include the installation of premium efficient motors, shutting off unneeded ventilation in kitchens and laboratories, heating and air conditioner efficiency improvements, and building envelope improvements.

Alternative Fuels and Fuel Switching: In cooperation with the Medford Solar Project, TCI installed two solar panels on one of Tufts’ wood-frame homes, the Fairmont House, in June 1999. The two solar panels cost Tufts $3,000 and produce over 700 kWh of electricity annually. They generate enough energy to power approximately 10% of the annual electricity usage of an average household as well as prevent the release of 1,200 lbs. of carbon dioxide annually.

John Vik, Tufts Grounds Manager, shows off the Toyota Prius.At Tufts, transportation (university vehicles and commuters) is the third largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions—behind electricity and heating—accounting for 6% of the university’s total emissions. TCI researched, tested, and in April 2001, bought a Toyota Prius, an electric-gas hybrid vehicle, for the Building and Grounds department, replacing a Crown Victoria which gets 17-24 mpg. The Prius is the first mass-production hybrid gasoline/electric vehicle, and it gets 42-55 mpg, reduces CO2 emissions by 50%, and carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons, and NOX by 90%. In addition, the grounds manager loves the car and is always happy to show it off.

Personal Action Initiatives
A significant source of CO2 emissions, to say nothing of cost, is the demand for electricity across campus. Since 1990, the university’s electricity use has grown by about 18%, despite aggressive conservation efforts in lighting and mechanical equipment. A student survey conducted two years ago revealed that 80% of students leave their computers on all day, whether or not they are in their rooms. This costs the university at least $50,000 per year and produces 490 tons of carbon dioxide. Faculty and staff also use increasing numbers of powerful computers, left on much of the day, and dormitory rooms now look like electronics shops. TCI’s “personal action initiatives” focus on two of the largest individually controlled energy uses: computers and lights.

Computers: Tufts University owns about 4,300 personal computers. Much of the increase in electricity consumption at Tufts over the last few years can be attributed to the large increase in technology usage. In addition to the university-owned computers, there are about 3,000 student-owned computers. The majority of Tufts’ staff shut down their computers at night, but very few shut off their monitors during the day when they are not using their computers. Most people use screensavers, which, contrary to what their name implies, do not save any energy. TCI has developed a computer brochure and distributed it to faculty, staff, and students. The brochure gives energy use information and explains how they can reduce the energy consumption of their computers. In addition, TCI’s website offers recommendations on how to lower electricity consumption of computers, advice on power management for computers, and information about energy consumption and climate change.

Lightbulbs: Between July 2000 and September 2001 TCI replaced approximately 1,100 bulbs, primarily on the Medford campus. Old bulbs, ranging from 40 to 150 watts, were replaced by efficient compact fluorescent lightbulbs (CFLs) ranging from 15 to 26 Watts. The original target audience for the task light (desk and floor lamps in work spaces, offices, and common areas) replacement program was faculty and staff. Since most campus work areas are lit with overhead lights, a smaller overall numbers of bulbs were replaced—approximately 200. This audience was also a focus of education outreach and TCI distributed brochures and behavioral change information about the benefits of using lights more efficiently.

Planning and Policy Development
In order to move from a project-by-project approach to a more comprehensive program involving university decision-makers, TCI encouraged the Tufts Administrative Council to form the Energy Affairs Council (EAC) in May 2001. The EAC is composed of representatives from throughout the university and its mission is to address energy costs, reliability, and environmental impacts.

Initial policy discussions have led the EAC to recommend the development and implementation of a university-wide temperature policy that includes temperature targets, off-hour and weekend setbacks, and mechanisms for exceptions. The policy should also address management of air-conditioned spaces and purchasing of space heaters and window air conditioners. The EAC also made it a priority to provide mechanisms for funding energy conservation measures and is considering creating an independent Energy Fund as well as undertaking a comprehensive survey of energy conservation opportunities.

In the short run, the EAC has helped to increase university investment in additional efficiency measures, raise awareness about energy efficiency, and begin detailed discussions at all levels about specific ways to meet Tufts’ goals. More information about the EAC is available at

Lessons learned
TCI has accomplished a great deal in three years, and we have learned a great deal about technology, budgets, contracting, and follow-through. Several important lessons have emerged repeatedly:

First, effective climate change action must involve a strong partnership with the university operations division. Tufts’ efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions are undertaken largely by the people who work in this division, which operates the physical plant, constructs new buildings, runs dining services, and manages the grounds. To be sure, TCI has played the role of advocate, researcher, and assistant in action, but the real implementation almost always involves close work with our energy manager, director of facilities, campus directors, mechanics, dining managers, and others.

Second, in most cases the technology exists to curb energy use, improve efficiency, generate electricity without greenhouse gas emissions, etc. The problem most often lies in successfully and pragmatically implementing the solution given the range of competing priorities, financial constraints, timing considerations (the academic calendar can pose huge constraints), lack of familiarity with the technology, and existing problems that the status quo already solves. Furthermore, while the technology may exist, selecting the most qualified person (e.g., consultants or engineers or contractors) to design and implement a solution in the unique campus context can be more challenging. In short, the process can be as important as the technology.

Third, money and time are always in short supply. While an advocate such as TCI can develop creative strategies to keep projects on track or find funding, nearly every university seeks additional resources. These financial considerations can emphasize lower initial cost rather than life cycle cost decision making, simply as a matter of immediate pragmatism. We know that even while Tufts has made investments in energy efficiency and alternative fuels, the tendency to do business as usual will persist.

Lastly, successful advocacy for action requires persistence, follow through, and perhaps most importantly, a willingness to admit mistakes. This is not to disparage the hard-working members of the university community who are making progress, but rather to acknowledge that they are busy, have other priorities, or may lack experience with many new technologies. We have learned that it is entirely insufficient to simply identify a problem without working for a solution. Furthermore, we can no longer say, “let’s just do it” because we have learned that “doing it” in most cases is complicated, and that unless we address the details, the result will be certain failure. It is critical to focus on the logistical details and address questions such as who installs it, who maintains it, what happens if there are problems, and who will pay for repairs.

Tufts’ commitment to climate change is bold, comprehensive and action-oriented. Certainly our ultimate success will be seen in the future accounting of our greenhouse gas emissions. We will also be successful if through our efforts all members of the Tufts community begin to look at their surroundings differently and take greater responsibility for their actions.

Sarah Hammond Creighton is Project Manager for the Tufts Climate Initiative. You may contact her at Tufts Institute of the Environment, MillerHall, Medford, MA 02155; (617) 627-5517;

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