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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Passing the sustainability baton: UMass Boston engages students in green initiatives

Saichand Chowdary
Students enjoy a walk through the newly opened campus quad. Photo by Saichand Chowdary / Mass Media Staff.

As Earth Month encourages us to reflect on sustainability efforts, it’s clear that both individuals and institutions are earnestly striving to create a more environmentally conscious world. Recently, UMass Boston hosted an event that facilitated student engagement with a myriad of clubs, groups and organizations dedicated to advancing sustainability initiatives. Amidst these collective efforts, the ongoing infrastructure development projects at UMass Boston stand as visible symbols of progress and change.  

Documented plans available on their website, coupled with insights from Janna Cohen-Rosenthal, the Sustainability & Resiliency Planner at UMass Boston, affirm the significant impact these initiatives are poised to make. Beyond mere construction, these projects aim to not only enhance our institution but also profoundly influence the lives of our student community and the broader landscape of Massachusetts. They promise enduring transformation—it looks like this promise is on its way to being fulfilled. Although these constructions are ongoing, UMass Boston’s proactive approach to sustainability stands as a model for others to emulate.  

While many institutions aspire to achieve net-zero carbon emissions, it is interesting to know that many have yet to produce a plan. UMass Boston not only harbors these aspirations, but has a concrete plan in place, embedded in their 50-page Energy and Carbon Master Plan to deal with about 90 percent of carbon footprint by 2050. This document, crafted by engineers and experts, lays out the institution’s roadmap to decarbonization. Although this is commendable, a brewing question is: Is this plan too ambitious?

Cohen-Rosenthal, a dedicated member of the sustainability committee, explained the pioneering role of UMass Boston in this endeavor and the steps the institution is taking toward achieving the goal.

She underscored the many energy efficiency projects underway across campus, from solar panel installations on buildings like the West Garage and University Hall to the adoption of battery storage systems. These initiatives not only reduce fossil fuel energy use, but also showcase innovative solutions for sustainable energy generation and management. 

There are also plans to transition away from fossil fuels, beginning with the replacement of natural gas-powered boilers. The institution aims to harness the power of the ocean to meet its heating and cooling needs. By utilizing seawater, a form of geothermal power, UMass Boston plans to revolutionize its energy infrastructure.

Also, financially, they are making things work. Cohen-Rosenthal underscored the collaborative spirit driving these efforts. Through strategic partnerships with third-party stakeholders, UMass Boston navigates financial constraints while maximizing the benefits of renewable energy adoption.

The plan to eliminate 90 percent of carbon emissions doesn’t just sound great; the Chancellor’s Sustainability Committee’s supervision, coupled with concrete actions being taken to achieve these goals, demonstrate that this plan is achievable. We have a while to go, and many projects to take up, but this is the first time the launch of Sustainable UMass Boston is being celebrated—and there is a lot to be celebrated.

It doesn’t end there. UMass Boston students may be wondering how they can get involved in such large-scale projects, since the nature of these projects can be complex and require skilled professionals to handle.  

A positive development to address this is the sustainability committee, as well as other sustainability advocates such as the Leadership Foundations Program, who are actively working on enhancing student engagement in waste and compost through quizzes and workshops. These workshops help students learn about sustainability, waste management, recycling and other related topics, even if they don’t take such classes. 

When Mridhul, a student who was involved in the conversation, was asked how he views the recent efforts channeled toward student engagement, he mentioned it seemed to him that a baton was being passed on. He elaborated further, saying that these engagement projects are basically a way to get everyone on campus prepared to take the right steps, because as we graduate and become leaders, the baton is approaching us.

With plans to decarbonize, stop burning fossil fuels on campus, reduce waste and open doors to involve the community in the activities, the sustainability committee and UMass Boston are out to create impact. However, we must recognize that we all have a part to play, and it all begins with receiving this baton being passed on to us.