WPI’s Office of Sustainability is collecting campus-wide input to develop WPI’s next sustainability plan. A sustainability planning kickoff event was held last month to jump-start this effort, with students and other members of the WPI community offering some ideas on how to improve on the university’s efforts to make the community more sustainable as a new 5-year plan is drawn up. Since it addresses all three pillars of sustainability (environmental, social, and economic), the team says broad participation is important.
Interim Provost Wole Soboyejo provided his perspective on approaches for advancing sustainability. “We need to make sustainability part of who we are at WPI and imagine the next phase of what sustainability will be,” he said. “I would like to see a holistic approach to sustainability—one that includes projects that take the university to the next level.”
“There are ways to refresh the campus with new methods of sustainability research projects that imagine the next frontier,” he added. “These kinds of projects facilitate engagement in a holistic way from all departments into an integrated platform that can really push the campus into the frontiers of sustainability.”
Paul Mathisen, director of sustainability and associate professor of civil and environmental engineering, said sustainability is ingrained throughout WPI’s programs and mission. “The development of this plan provides an opportunity to bring the community together to help us further our goals and initiatives in this area,” he said.
Executive vice president and CFO Jeffrey Solomon noted that WPI has already completed numerous initiatives that align with the plan’s goals, including reduced energy consumption initiatives; construction of two additional LEED-certified buildings on campus; establishment of a Green Revolving Fund; development of a greenhouse gas reduction plan; and launch of a minors program in sustainability engineering.
Sustainability and WPI’s Strategic Plan
WPI’s sustainability plan serves as the university’s roadmap for long-term planning around which academic, research, community engagement, and operations sustainability initiatives are developed.
“Sustainability is an important component of WPI’s Strategic Plan, because it is an area that crosses over all aspects of the plan and represents a necessary foundation for our university’s success,” Solomon noted. “Inherent in sustainability are other crosscutting characteristics that are key aspects of our Institution’s initiatives and guiding principles items such as innovation and entrepreneurship—and especially diversity, equity, and inclusion. I would like to see our sustainability efforts tied closely to these other initiatives as well.”
He added that three working groups in the areas of facilities and operations, academics and research, and community engagement are being formed, which will take the prioritized objectives, refine them, and identify tasks that can help to achieve the objectives.
Students, staff, and faculty are invited to join these working groups; they're also encouraged to provide input on the objectives and topic areas by voting on the objectives they consider to be priorities. Additional opportunities for input will be provided throughout the year ahead.
“Engaging students in the process of updating the plan is key,” said Liz Tomaszewski, associate director of sustainability and facilities systems manager. “Students have fresh eyes that can see what might be possible, and they’re concerned about their future air and water and resources. So, with their new perspectives and their concern for their environment, they will be the ones who engage and will solve our sustainability and climate problems.”
WPI graduate student Rajendra Kante, majoring in data science, said he attended the kickoff event because he wants to help contribute to saving the planet through electricity, heat, and water conservation.
“We need to think about how we are using our resources in dorms and think about waste management,” Kante said. “We need to use more biodegradables and recyclables that all add more value in sustainability.”
Chemical engineering major Maya Sun ‘21 agreed that the plan should promote waste reduction by students. She is a member of the Green Team and an intern in the Office of Sustainability.
“A lot of people don’t know what happens when you throw stuff away,” she said. “Education through community engagement can change habitual actions.”
Kyle Corry ’20, a computer science major who is president of the Green Team and vice president of Students for a Just and Stable Future, also spoke at the event. He emphasized the importance of student involvement, and pointed out that impacts of WPI’s sustainability decisions are something students can see firsthand.
“When I came here, I saw that WPI was a sustainable school with an innovative face that challenges people who are willing to do it and make changes,” he said.
WPI is a leader in sustainability, Corry said, and can become a “national face” for sustainability efforts throughout the world. Students can make a difference starting right here,” he said. “Share your thoughts and choose what’s important to you. Get involved.”
––By Paula Owen