NU among best for sustainability
By Anne Steele, News Staff
Northeastern was ranked the fourth-greenest campus in the world last month by the GreenMetric Ranking of World Universities, established by the University of Indonesia (UI).
The school was among 95 universities worldwide and eight in the United States that were ranked Dec. 16. Other American campuses included the University of California, Berkeley, which finished first, and Cornell University, which finished fifth.
“When it comes to sustainability, we are indeed a model for others to emulate,” President Joseph Aoun wrote in a Nov. 15 campuswide e-mail. “Commitment goes beyond our physical campus — it also infuses our mission … [and] is one of three national imperatives that serve as focal points of our ambitious research agenda.”
According to its website, the UI GreenMetric was established in April 2010 to provide a method of comparing the commitment of universities towards going green and promoting sustainability.
In it’s methodology, the UI GreenMetric considers five categories: green statistics, energy and climate change, waste management, water usage and transportation facility.
Malcolm Hill, chair of Earth and Environmental Sciences Department and member of the provost-level Academic Sustainability Committee, said Northeastern has made excellent strides in sustainability.
“Whatever the details of these kinds of rankings, you can’t score as highly as we do without being able to demonstrate serious attention across a range of campus activities,” he told The News in an e-mail.
Jessica Feldish, executive director of Husky Energy Action Team (HEAT), an undergraduate student group that advocates environmental sustainability and carbon neutrality on campus, said she was surprised to hear about the ranking. These rankings are not the sort of things the organization dwells on, she said.
“I don’t think that HEAT really pays any attention at all to the rankings mostly because our members know what is actually going on on campus whether it be student life, student attitude, things that are happening, rather than some of the broader things,” Feldish said.
Feldish noted that there are many sides to sustainability.
“Research and infrastructure are really great to have but its just one aspect of it, a really small aspect of it,” she said. “Before we can ask people to invest money in renewable energy, they need to stop buying bottled water; they need to turn the lights off when they’re not using them.”
The university has invested in research for renewable energy, but some suggest increased transparency around the university’s endowment could help even more.
“The Green Report Card that comes out every year by The Princeton Review rates universities on endowment, and it’s something that the university has consistently had its lowest grade in as one of the categories,” Feldish said. “Although the investment is more economy driven, endowment is really important to have transparency and to make sure what we’re investing in is really sustainable.”
Feldish said she sees flaws in Northeastern’s sustainability at basic levels.
“There are still problems for recycling in residence halls,” she said. “If we can’t even move past recycling, which is really baseline, it’s hard to try and want to do other things. We would like to have recycling bins outdoors, and we’ve asked and we’ve been shut down a couple times.”
However, Feldish said she is optimistic about the future. She mentioned raised garden beds on campus and volunteer programs at local urban community gardens and farms at which members of HEAT have been active.
“I think a lot of effort and a lot of good intentions are there, but a lot of times good intentions don’t necessarily translate into positive action right away. So I think that we’re on the right track, but not quite fourth in the world yet,” she said.
Jennifer Cole, director of the environmental studies program and member of the provost-level academic sustainability committee was not surprised by the ranking.
“I think Northeastern as a whole doesn’t strive for it. I think it’s a natural result of Northeastern having a mission to be green,” she said.
She also said the campus could not have earned the ranking it did without the history and depth of measures taken toward sustainability.
“We’ve been sustainable, really since the ‘80s,” Cole said. “From the president’s office down, people care about sustainability issues and about having a lighter footprint on the earth and have been that way longer than it’s been cool. We couldn’t come out with being number four I think if we just hopped on the recent bandwagon.”
Cole said she thinks that the urban location of the Northeastern campus is great for sustainability.
“Concentrated buildings and larger buildings make for more efficient ways of doing things, as opposed to a spread out campus … where there is more heat loss, more water and sewer lines going to and from buildings,” Cole said. “So I think the fact that we are urban is actually good.”