Pathway to Sustainability Leadership by MIT

Incubation, Transformation, and Mobilization

Section 2: Framing Our Approach

Organizations need to undertake the transformations necessary in order for the world to become sustainable. Such transformation also requires a systems approach that frames and articulates the benefits and impacts of sustainability. This document frames the proposed pathway at four scales: the individual, the campus, the city, and the globe. The challenges that MIT faces—climate change, energy production and consumption, materials management, mobility, food systems, and more—have implications at each of these scales. This report calls upon MIT to assess our ability to study, to innovate, and, where feasible, to transform systems across these four scales.

Just as an incubator provides the conditions needed for the start of life, we use the term here to promote our own campus as a source of the research, teaching, and operations ideas necessary to foster sustainability. We seek a “new normal” at MIT, in which anyone interested in contributing locally, regionally, nationally, or globally to issues of sustainability can find a supportive institutional setting. The challenges of sustainability invite all constituencies on campus to join in and contribute to the effort.

The Individual

MIT comprises a diverse set of individuals. Each member of the community—whether student, faculty, or staff—has the potential to contribute to a sustainable campus in unique ways. This report seeks to guide, incentivize, and empower individuals to make a sustainable campus the “new business as usual” and to welcome the contribution of each member of the MIT community in this endeavor.

Our ability to leverage the boundless imagination of the MIT community will fuel our commitment to sustainability. Success today and in the future depends upon our capacity to engage our community and to tap into our creativity and determination in the face of risk, uncertainty, and resistance from the status quo.

The Campus

The MIT campus operates 365 days a year, 24 hours a day. To carry out the Institute’s mission, our students, faculty, and staff rely upon a resilient energy system that provides electricity, heat, and chilled water; flexible multimodal mobility options to access the campus; a reliable flow of goods and services; potable water and wastewater services; healthy food; and high-performance buildings—all to ensure continuous research and education within a healthy and productive teaching and learning environment. The resiliency of the campus to fulfill its mission in the face of intensifying climate hazards is a high priority for MIT. Understanding the interdependence of these systems is necessary to the development and management of a sustainable and resilient campus—today and into the future.

At the campus level, a commitment to sustainability is multifaceted. We will need to make the right decisions oriented to sustainability by establishing systems and procedures that elevate sustainability as a value on par with scheduling and cost. We will need to continually update our standards to reflect new data, conditions, and best practices. This process calls for leadership from the highest levels within the administration as well as at the unit level, and for ongoing, broad stakeholder engagement and interdepartmental collaboration. We will need to set goals, and develop and test pioneering solutions that lead to greater unification of the community across the unit, departmental, and institutional levels.

The campus is the home to our actions—the place where we demonstrate what we have learned. It must be an inclusive home, with sustainability ideas emerging from research, educational activities, community building, internal problem solving, and related processes.

The City

We recognize that our success will be dependent upon a clear understanding of our actions within the broader context of MIT’s place in the city of Cambridge and the greater Boston area. Acting globally begins with local concerns. MIT is tied to and shares essential resources with Cambridge and Boston, ranging from infrastructure to the Charles River watershed. MIT’s long and productive relationship with Cambridge—100 years and counting—may become an even more intimate partnership as we pursue shared solutions to climate and environmental challenges facing our community.

At the city and regional level, a commitment to sustainability must consider our impact on the quality of life for MIT and its surrounding communities. MIT seeks to continue partnerships for sustainability with the cities of Cambridge and Boston, building upon shared challenges and seeking solutions that have a measurable impact, where feasible, on campus and beyond.

The Globe

MIT recognizes that the underlying challenges of sustainability are global. We rely upon an interconnected world of goods and services, and our impacts can be measured upstream to downstream. We already are a global institution integrated into the fabric of our local surroundings. We also recognize that we educate, host, and employ thousands of potential “ambassadors” on our campus who carry forth values learned not only through formal study but through our daily actions. Eleven percent of undergraduates, 43% of graduate students, 42% of the faculty, and 65% of our postdoctoral scholars are international. Each year, more than 900,000 students worldwide enroll in online MITx courses. The Institute has more than 350 internationally funded research projects.

At the global level, a commitment to sustainability calls for a vision that is measurable and replicable, and that can be the basis for mobilization throughout the nation and the world.