Sustainability

History

Brown has been a leader in environmental education, research and action for decades.

Brown developed one of the first environmental studies units in the country, and made impressive strides toward energy efficiency on campus long before it was commonplace. In 1995, the University made a major investment in integrated environmental research and teaching through the creation of the Environmental Change Initiative, a lively scholarly community committed to studying environmental issues from a variety of academic perspectives. In 2014, Brown expanded on the success of the initiative to form the Institute at Brown for Environment and Society (IBES), which continues as Brown’s hub of environmental study. Today, IBES is home to more than 50 researchers and educators serving as fellows at the institute.

Campus Operations

Brown's original sustainability program, Brown Is Green, was established and formally recognized by then-President Vartan Gregorian in 1990. In 2007, Brown made its first pledge to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, setting a goal to reduce emissions by 42% by 2020. Work toward that goal set the stage for an even more ambitious goal, announced by the University in 2019, to cut emissions to net-zero by 2040.

In 2012 the Office of Sustainability convened the Sustainability Strategic Planning and Advisory Committee to help decrease Brown’s overall environmental impacts, promote community engagement and inspire innovation and excellence. To ensure ongoing progress on sustainability efforts, the committee generated four faculty-student working groups focused on food, energy and water; transportation; waste and recycling; and environment, health and wellness. Among the accomplishments of these groups were:

  • A dining composting program that diverts an average of about 500 tons of organic material per year
  • The elimination of single-use plastic water bottle sales and distribution on campus
  • The adoption of building standards that restrict furnishings with chemical-based flame retardants 

Work in each of these areas continues at Brown today.

Addressing Climate Change

In 2017, the University made a major commitment to addressing sustainability more aggressively, convening two committees to specifically consider the University’s contribution to climate change. Shortly thereafter, the University was the first in the country to create an assistant provost-level position. This administrative leadership position oversees sustainability efforts from the Office of the Provost, working closely with the director of the Office of Sustainability. Together, these two leaders, along with a team of faculty, staff and students, worked toward aggressive greenhouse gas reduction goals to present to University leadership and Brown governing body, the Corporation of Brown University, in 2018. 

The most immediate outcome of those efforts came in February 2019, when Brown announced the aggressive goal to cut its campus greenhouse gas emissions by 75% by 2025, and to achieve net-zero no later than 2040. The Brown Corporation approved the goals as a cornerstone of Brown’s efforts to create a more sustainable campus and confront what scientists have declared an increasingly dire threat posed by global climate change. 

This greenhouse gas emissions goal is central to efforts outlined in Brown’s Sustainability Strategic Plan. After a campus-wide engagement process, the University released the plan in early 2021, with many initiatives to fulfill its objectives already underway. The plan is a living document, expected to be renewed and updated every three to five years.

University News Related to Climate Change