Sustainability

Reduce Nutrient Pollution

Brown is committed to reducing nutrient pollution (specifically nitrogen and phosphorus) by 15% by 2025, and by 25% by 2030.

Seeking to minimize nutrient overuse and pollution through University practices and purchases is integral to Brown’s sustainability goals.

Nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus are essential for life. But an overabundance creates algae-choked waterways, carcinogenic drinking water, unhealthy air and acid rain. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency cites nutrient pollution as one of America’s “most widespread, challenging and costly environmental problems.”

To do its part in combating this problem, Brown has committed to reducing its nitrogen and phosphorus footprint by 15% by 2025, and 25% by 2030.

Brown was one of the first schools to join the Nitrogen Footprint Network and to quantify the amount of nitrogen that flows through campus. Food purchases — red meat and dairy in particular — make up about 85% of Brown’s nitrogen footprint. Phosphorus is more difficult to quantify, but it is also inexorably tied to food production and consumption.

Reducing Brown’s nitrogen footprint will require reducing red meat consumption and supporting agricultural practices that minimize nutrient pollution. With this in mind, Brown’s objective is to reduce red meat consumption on campus by 25% by 2025. Lessons learned from this first step will allow a push to a 50% reduction, or beyond, by 2030.

Initiatives at Brown

Brown actively supports its local community by sourcing food products from local farms and vendors.
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Brown is working to make it simple for community members to direct waste to the right place.
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A commitment to reducing red meat to reduce nutrient pollution doesn’t mean sacrificing protein availability. Brown’s goal is to transition toward protein sources for the campus community that keep nutritional value high and reduce nutrient pollution.

This commitment will have the added benefit of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, since red meat production is responsible for more emissions than any other component of food production. While red meat is a small component of Brown’s greenhouse gas emissions, it is a large component of the average American’s emissions and of student emissions when they are on campus. So reducing meat consumption on campus helps to educate our students, staff and faculty about choices that have an impact on their carbon footprint.

Related Academic Research

If the world turns to intensive farming in the tropics to meet food demand, it will require vast amounts of phosphorus fertilizer produced from Earth’s finite, irreplaceable phosphate rock deposits, a new analysis shows.
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Combining data collection in the field with work in lab, Michael Demanche is developing techniques for using satellites to monitor a key environmental indicator in Narragansett Bay.
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