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Alliance for the Arts in Research Universities conference recap

conference logo

I was lucky enough to attend the Alliance for the Arts in Research Universities conference at the University of Georgia, Athens, in the beginning of November. The 2018 theme, Arts Environments: Design, Resilience, and Sustainability, explored the relationships between artistic processes and environmental practices.

A recurring topic discussed in panels and plenaries was art as a way to communicate science. Art can inspire a sense of wonder, thereby imparting value on parts of the world we regularly ignore and degrade. Combining artistic and scientific research methods fosters interdisciplinary dialogue and collaboration. However, employing art as merely a design tool runs the risk of translating ideas without recognizing art as its own investigative process.

To create a culture and center for combining art and science, equal time must be spent on social, active, and reflective steps, which form a cycle and build off of each other. For example, a social event where members of a university meet each other across disciplines and roles should precede an activity where people develop relationships through shared projects. Then, intentional time to reflect on the process allows for growth and change.

Below are a few sessions that I found especially inspiring:

Artful Rainwater Design:

This speaker gave numerous examples of how sculpture, landscape design, and infrastructure can be used to both conserve water and to help people visualize and appreciate the water cycle. Art is used as a strategy for humans to collaborate with the environment.

High Tide: Public Landscape Art Installation by Carolina Aragon in Boston’s North End

Carolina Aragon described her approach of “making very pretty things about very scary topics.” Through a study using social science data collection techniques, she discovered the importance of site-specificity, or making art in a location that directly addresses the experiences of the population in that location. The sculptural installation illustrates future sea levels in a Boston neighborhood.

Tyler School of Art. Dye Garden

Students, faculty, and administration worked together to create a visible, functional garden at the Tyler School of Art, part of Temple University. Textile and other art students will use the garden to dye materials and learn about social practice, gardening, and the history of certain plants, especially cash crops’ ties to slavery and race.

If you are interested in how art is used in research, consider attending next year’s conference, titled “Knowledges” at the University of Kansas.

The Future of Carbon Neutrality at Tufts

At the beginning of November, the Tufts Office of Sustainability along with Tufts Capital Projects and GreenerU planned and executed a community engagement event with students, staff, faculty and the local public. The goal was to educate participants about what’s already happened with sustainability and carbon neutrality on the Tufts campus and to inform about what’s planned for the coming years. We also wanted to understand community priorities, concerns and areas of interest for future sustainability efforts. More than 60 people attended, 2/3 of whom were students!

During the event, participants walked through a maze of info posters to review all of our sustainability initiatives, progress and plans throughout the Medford campus. There were several interactive posters that attendees marked up with color coded stickers and sticky notes. (If you would like to see the questions and add your input, click here for the online version!) There were also several small break-out sessions for people who wanted to have more in-depth discussions about the process, goals and staying informed.

Some findings from the event:

  • 100% of participants said they believe carbon neutrality is a worthwhile pursuit
  • There was strong support for divestment from the fossil fuel industry
  • People are concerned that our goal of achieving carbon neutrality by 2050 isn’t acting fast enough
  • Other hopes included more of a focus on renewable energy and social/environmental justice initiatives
  • The community would like to stay involved and informed, especially around short term goals/benchmarks

Don’t forget to take a look at the video from the event, and check out some pictures and the info posters here!


Distinguished Speaker: Bill McKibben

Last night, Bill McKibben, the founder of and driver of the first global grassroots climate change movement, spoke to more than 200 Tufts community members about the outlook for the environmental movement. The conversation was engaging and a little disheartening, but it was a pleasure to learn from the author, activist and environmentalist about his work and perspectives.

The tone of the conversation was not all together up-lifting. McKibben spoke about his reaction to the recently released IPCC report and acknowledged that we have reason to be scared. He’s not overly hopeful about what the future holds, or about our ability to make it over this hurdle.

As far as practical solutions, he said the individual actions we take may not ultimately achieve that much; the most important thing for an individual to do is be less of an individual. He urged us to join and grow the movement, noting that civil disobedience is one of the few truly effective ways to mobilize action. Civil disobedience was an important part of every 21st century movement that changed the zeitgeist, and that’s what we need to do today.

He emphasized that connecting social justice and climate change is critical: Climate justice isn’t just a way of thinking about this problem, it is what we are going to need to win this fight. We must recognize that the ones who are most affected by climate change, and those who are out in front of the movement, are not the ones who caused the problem – and yet they are the one’s engaged in addressing it.

Divestment was a key message too, recognizing that big business can have big impact. Our investments can be profitable without financing the fossil fuel industry, he explains, and divestment is a way to speak the language that politicians and corporations will understand.

Finally, McKibben urged everyone to stay committed, and take action that can have real impact. Most relevant today? Vote! Make sure our elected leaders represent the interests that are most important to us and to the future of our planet.

McKibben was invited as part of Tufts’ Tisch College Distinguished Speaker Series. He is currently the Schumann Distinguished Scholar in Environmental Studies at Middlebury College. Previously, McKibben founded, the online mobilization platform that has organized more than 20,000 rallies around the world (in nearly every country!), and which spearheaded the resistance to the Keystone Pipeline and launched the fossil fuel divestment movement.

“Be sure how you recycle reflects why you recycle.”

A few weeks ago, Tina Woolston and Shoshana Blank attended the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education conference. With a community of sustainability coordinators from all over the U.S.(as well as other countries), Tina and Shoshana attended workshops, talks, and all vegan meals. Fellow conference attendees, although from different colleges and universities, have similar tasks, challenges, , and breakthroughs.

Tufts has a strong composting and Eco-Reps program. We engage with students in residence halls, as well as with faculty and staff, through the Eco-Ambassador program and Green Office Certifications. At the conference several ideas were shared that we haven’t yet tried:  

  • Recycling bins with a sign attached to the back of the bin and extending up, rather than the wall. This way, the bins and their signs can be moved around together. Plus, sometimes signs are not allowed to be fixed to the wall.
  • Mattresses made of recycled materials. They have one firm side and one soft side, and can be sent back to the company to recycle again.
  • Quieter, waterproof electric leaf blowers to avoid noise pollution and fumes. They are much safer for the health of facilities workers.

At a pre-conference talk, Boston University described their commitment to achieving 100% renewable electricity by the end of this year. Because Boston and New England in general have relatively “clean grids” (meaning we use less coal and oil for energy), financing a renewable energy project in a part of the country that uses less clean energy. In this case, BU is offsetting emissions in North Dakota.

Tufts University might consider a similar approach in an effort towards carbon neutrality on our Medford/Somerville campus.

Other highlights of the conference include:

  • A discussion with sustainability directors who report directly to university presidents
  • LEED certified buildings in Pittsburg
  • How efforts to reduce dorm waste during move-out can reduce carbon emissions
  • Internal carbon tax: how much are people willing to pay per unit of carbon on campus?
  • Northeast colleges: some issues are specific to New England institutions. For example, Middlebury college can use wood as biomass for energy instead of oil, coal, or natural gas.
  • Carleton College’s geothermal project: restoration rather than expansion. Alternative to steam was to replace steam with hot water
  • Three University of California schools working together as part of a system to reach STARS platinum level . Reminding senior leaders that STARS is a strategic tool, not just a marketing one
  • Panelists also highlighted that we should “be sure how we recycle is why we recycle.” Thoughtful and intentional messaging and recycling infrastructure is necessary to ultimately reduce input to landfills.

Conferences are a great way to reach outside of Tufts and meet people who are also interested in sustainability. If you are interested in attending a conference as a student leader, look into the Student Sustainability Leadership Weekend Conference, which will be held at the Bard Center for Environmental Policy.


November 30-December 2, Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson NY

C2C workshops are for undergraduate students and recent graduates who want high-impact sustainability careers that can change the future, in policy, business and politics. A registration fee of $30 covers meals and housing. Led by Dr. Eban Goodstein, Director of Bard’s Center for Environmental Policy, C2C trainings focus on key leadership skills: vision, courage, developing your network, telling your story, and raising funds. Graduates of the workshops join a national network with access to continuing educational and professional opportunities, including dedicated scholarships to attend Bard’s Graduate Programs in Sustainability: Masters of Science degrees in Environmental Policy and Climate Science and Policy; a new M. Ed. Degree in Environmental Education; and the Bard MBA in Sustainability.


  • Registration:  $30 includes meals and housing.
  • Conference begins at 5 PM Friday 11/30 and ends on 12 noon Sunday 12/2.
  • Bard College is 90 miles north of New York City, and is easily accessible by Amtrak from Penn Station in NYC.
  • Questions? Please contact Agim Mezreku,


Zero Waste Week

interns with zero waste week bags

When we throw away our trash, it does not just go “away.” It goes into a landfill. You might have seen people carrying around clear ziplock bags full of trash on their backpacks this week. Instead of disposing of their waste immediately, where it is out of sight an out of mind, Zero Waste Week participants will collect their landfill-bound waste for one week to visualize how much we contribute to that landfill. How much trash do you think you produce in a week?


  • Place all non-recyclable, non-compostable waste into the plastic bag.
  • Compostable and recyclable items should be properly sorted into their respective toters or bins.
  • We include disposable plastic water bottles in our bags, since 50 billion of them were bought in the US last year. Carry your reusable water bottle instead!
  • Do not include bio-hazards

Zero Waste Week stories from OOS interns:

Michaela: Zero Waste Week has compelled me to start composting my Kleenex because I didn’t want to see them go into my bag. So now I have a compost in my bathroom.

Ana Sophia: I have a Keurig coffee machine and so I feel bad about having so many K cups in my bag. I’m going to look into finding reusable cups where you just fill it up with coffee.

Isabel: Most of my waste would come from food, but I buy a lot of my food in bulk, so I don’t have a lot of packaging waste. I found out that some granola bars I eat are not foil-lined, so I cannot put them in the terracycle.

Maria: I have not started Zero Waste Week until today. Last year, the wind blew my bag off of my back pack on my way home. I was so worried that I had littered a whole bag of trash. But later that night, I retraced my steps and found it snagged in a bush. I was on my way to a concert, where I was pretty sure they wouldn’t let me in with my trash bag, so I stashed it in another bush, and picked it up on my way home to continue with my Zero Waste Week.


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