Sustainability and Resiliency

Safeguard Human Health

The outdoor environment as well as the indoor spaces in which people live and work can have profound effects on physical and mental health. The nature of those effects on human health are expected to change with the climate. Outdoors, rising temperatures and increased ozone pollution increase risks for heat stress and respiratory problems. Indoors, people can be exposed to myriad chemicals with unknown health effects, while mold contamination in buildings is expected to increase with higher temperatures and increased precipitation.

Brown will improve the indoor environment by reducing exposure to harmful building and cleaning materials, while improving our buildings to withstand the increased temperature, humidity and flooding that will come with climate change.

Brown is home to a diversity of building types and ages, from University Hall (built in 1770) to new state-of-the-art buildings still under construction. Throughout construction, renovation, management and landscape maintenance, Brown prioritizes products and designs that have health benefits. For example, current building standards encourage reductions in volatile organic compounds and do not allow furnishings with chemical flame retardants. 

The University is also committed to ensuring that the materials used on campus are as benign as possible by developing new building, cleaning and landscaping standards. That effort involves creating and maintaining a “red list” of products that are strongly discouraged. While it is not feasible to eliminate all of these products from existing buildings, it is possible to limit or eliminate their use during renovation and new construction, and the University is committed to doing so.

By defining Brown’s healthy materials framework we will identify classes of chemicals that the University will eliminate from future purchases. This initiative has the potential to have meaningful impacts on the health of our community.

Jessica Berry Director, Office of Sustainability

While outdoor air quality is more difficult to control, the University remains committed to initiatives that can improve local air quality. First in this effort is the elimination of fossil fuel combustion on campus. Air pollution associated with fossil fuel combustion kills more people worldwide each year than smoking and malaria combined.

For years, Brown has promoted sustainability-conscious modes of transportation. Those efforts include providing faculty, staff and students with free use of public transportation, increasing the presence of charging stations for electric vehicles and encouraging ride sharing. Brown is also in the process of electrifying its vehicle fleet, which will improve campus air quality. As fossil combustion is eliminated from buildings as part of Brown’s decarbonization efforts, air quality on campus and in Providence will also improve. Brown is committed to the further development of these and other efforts.


FY22 Updates

In FY22 the human health committee began development of a Healthy Materials Program that seeks to select healthier, vetted materials for campus building projects and avoiding products that contain chemicals of concern.

The Healthy Materials Program’s first step is to develop material-health criteria for avoiding chemicals of concern. These criteria can then be implemented/required for campus projects and operations.  The scope of this phase is to:

– Develop the type of program model and criteria framework that will be scalable in the future

– Develop key resources for the committee and project teams to begin taking action

In concert with Brown’s commitment to reach net-zero by 2040, the University has made progress on transitioning its grounds equipment and fleet to electric-based equipment and vehicles. This transition not only eliminates emissions but it improves the air quality in and around campus.