HDS Characterizing the Materials Footprint of a University Campus

Join Harvard Divinity School for the ninth session in their waste talk series, featuring Rachel Perlman, a Senior Associate for Policy and Programs at the Product Stewardship Institute.

RSVP for the Zoom Link

Universities are major consumers and disposers of many materials, but their specific flows are not well characterized. Both energy and material consumption drive a university’s environmental impact. Many universities collect data about their energy consumption (from fuel usage or utility bills) and assess some resulting environmental impacts. However, very little effort has been focused on understanding purchasing, materials handling, and the resulting environmental impacts. To date, there have been few material flow analyses of universities; most analyses concern cities or countries. This study describes a method for conducting a material flow analysis (MFA) of a university, and it offers the strategies used to obtain first-order characterization and quantification of the flows of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). The objective was to track all major material inflows to, stocks within, and outflows from the university’s campus, excluding construction materials, fuel, and water. The year of study was MIT’s Fiscal Year 2016. The study used procurement purchase records to understand inflows, minor property/assets data to characterize stocks, and waste handlers’ data in combination with primary data (waste audits) to estimate outflows. The study also reports the results of the waste audits. The study characterized material flows using a combination of product and material categories, and it created a new, university-specific material taxonomy. The study also estimated greenhouse gas emissions for procured goods and disposed materials, finding the emissions from material consumption to be significant, when compared to Scope 1 and 2 emissions (i.e., direct and indirect emissions from energy production). This case study demonstrates that an MFA of a university requires using a portfolio of diverse methods and piecing together the outcomes of those methods.

Please click on the titles below to find out more about the next sessions on Fridays, 12 to 12:30 am EDT. 

For more information, contact Sakiko Isomichi, MDiv '22 at sisomichi@hds.harvard.edu.