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Sustainability Plan Lays Out the Groundwork for a More Sustainable Campus and Global Community

New plan builds on the three complementary pillars of sustainability: environmental stewardship, economic security, and social justice

April 22, 2021

When it comes to environmental stewardship and sustainability, WPI is more than committed. The university adopted its second five-year Sustainability Plan last fall outlining goals and objectives in a document issued after months of work and input of people from all academic disciplines and institutional services.

The first plan was implemented in 2014 and has served as a guide to advance sustainability at WPI. Over the intervening years, substantial progress has been made—with many goal areas exceeding expectations. This foundation sets the stage for the new plan to take the university’s efforts even further and will firmly establish WPI as a leader in sustainability.

Leadership and Guidance

To formulate the new plan, four working groups met to brainstorm and review ideas, and to sort through input from the larger WPI community. The initiative was led by the Office of Sustainability, in coordination with WPI’s Sustainability Operations Advisory Committee and various working groups. The Office of Sustainability, directed by Paul Mathisen, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering, provides leadership, direction, and support for the implementation of the sustainability plan and sustainability programs at the university. The office will coordinate and will tap into resources across WPI’s administrative, academic, and facilities areas to achieve the plan's goals.

Three Core Pillars and Four Major Goal Areas

In keeping with WPI’s holistic approach, the sustainability plan promotes literacy, engagement, and responsibility throughout the WPI community and beyond to local, regional, and global communities. Sustainability involves three complementary core pillars: environmental stewardship, economic security, and social justice. All three areas are needed to provide people with access to the means to support themselves and their families and to do so with the respect, rights, and opportunities to which all are entitled.

Sharing what we learn about sustainability is an important component of the plan and helps engage the WPI community to help us reach our goals.
Professor Paul Mathisen, Director of Sustainability

Building on these pillars, the plan includes goals in academics, research and scholarship, operations and facilities, and community engagement. The efforts coalesce into a sustainability ecosystem that represents the combined efforts of all members of the WPI community—faculty, staff, and students.

According to Mathisen, “When viewed comprehensively, sustainability includes all of the disciplines. From understanding the impact on society, natural resources, plants and animals, economies, and individual lives, there are many considerations and perspectives that play a role.”

Academic Advances

A major academic goal is for graduates to leave campus with both the mindset and the ability to develop sustainable solutions to the worlds problems. To accomplish this, sustainability is incorporated into the curriculum with an emphasis on projects that provide learning opportunities while also supporting external communities and partners. Various interdisciplinary initiatives such as The Global School, research centers, and campus offices will provide additional support.

These initiatives include a number of efforts to have an impact and address goals and targets such as the Engineering Grand Challenges and Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the United Nations.

“By embracing our campus as a living and learning laboratory, developing our local and regional community as a sustainability and innovation hub, and engaging with our partners worldwide to address global sustainability, we have an integrated, multidisciplinary framework that advances the plan’s sustainability initiatives,” says Mathisen.

Operations and Facilities Play a Major Role in the Plan

For those in Operations and Facilities, “reduce, reuse, recycle” is a familiar mantra. A major part of the sustainability plan includes assessment of the institution’s resource use, including energy, water, and waste.

The efforts will encourage the analysis of the items, products, and commodities being used with consideration given to their full life cycle, from initial development to final disposal.

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Is Critical to the Plan’s Success

Social justice and opportunity that enlists diversity, equity, and inclusion as a major consideration is an important part of the sustainability plan. As such, the plan includes consideration of DEI and social justice activities, and these efforts will be coordinated closely the Sustainable Inclusive Excellence initiative. Other steps include consideration of diverse and underrepresented communities in purchases and services, which could provide opportunities, offer stability, and create income for people of color and diverse backgrounds.

A Shared Effort

Sustainability is a process that requires a shared effort and responsibility by the entire community, and the new plan will engage everyone by providing education and awareness and encouraging action and service.

Sharing what we learn about sustainability is an important component of the plan and helps engage the WPI community to help us reach our goals,” Mathisen says. “Utilizing traditional and new media, forums and groups, programs and events, and engaging with stakeholders will help others learn about and adopt sustainability.”

Read the 5-year Sustainability Plan. View the plan overview.

-Sharyn Williams