Dartmouth Taking Comprehensive Steps to Address Climate Crisis

News subtitle

Research and education, energy resiliency, and strategic investments are focus.

Aerial view of campus in fall
(Photo by Eli Burakian ’00)

From more powerful hurricanes to increasingly severe droughts to longer fire seasons, the effects of climate change are real, far-reaching, and getting worse. Evidence that correlates the production and consumption of fossil fuels with the warming of the atmosphere is convincing and widely accepted. Experts say these damaging effects will continue to exacerbate existing threats to global health, nutrition, and biodiversity while also creating new hazards.

This reality presents complicated challenges for how to decrease reliance on fossil fuels, while at the same time creating an affordable, reliable energy system that will generate prosperity, especially in the developing world.

Dartmouth has launched a comprehensive plan to put forth solutions to help address the ongoing climate crisis, both locally and globally. The plan consists of a diverse set of measures focusing on three areas of impact: research and education, energy efficiency and resiliency on campus, and strategic investment of endowment funds, which includes investing in energy transitions while reducing all fossil fuel holdings to zero.

“As an academic institution, the greatest impact we can have to address the climate crisis is through our core mission,” says President Philip J. Hanlon ’77. “The creation of new knowledge and the development of future leaders ready to tackle the world’s most urgent problems is how Dartmouth can truly make a difference. As an institution and as individuals, we want all our actions to drive meaningful change and inspire others to act. Each of us has a role to play and the time to act is now.”

Responding to the Call

The three priorities of the Call to Lead campaign—advancing Dartmouth’s distinctive educational model, making discoveries that improve the human condition, and preparing students for lives of wise leadership—are advanced in how Dartmouth is taking on the climate crisis. To date, the institution has or will make more than $400 million in investments to fund programs, centers, and institutes that will in some way advance teaching, research, faculty-student partnership, and interdisciplinary collaboration to address climate change. These investments include:

  • The Arthur L. Irving Institute for Energy and Society, created in 2016, leveraging Dartmouth’s strengths in interdisciplinary teaching and learning, engineering, business, and sustainability by providing solutions to critical energy problems faced by communities and regions across the globe.
  • The Center for Engineering and Computer Science which will open in the coming year, enabling the growth in size and impact of Thayer School of Engineering faculty and students, many of whom are focused on the challenges and possibilities of green energy, energy storage, and transmission.
  • The Tuck School of Business, which in 2016 launched the Revers Center for Energy to further enrich learning opportunities for MBA students and the broader community. The Center today has many points of contact with the Arthur L. Irving Institute for Energy and Society on Dartmouth’s West End.
  • New investments have been made in John Sloan Dickey Center for International Understanding to intensify study of the impact on the Arctic and international relations issues brought on by climate change-induced human migration.

These investments, individually and in the aggregate, contribute to society’s understanding of climate change as well as potential technological and policy solutions. Each of them supplements a history of earth sciences, environmental studies, Indigenous environmental studies and related interdisciplinary collaboration within the Faculty of Arts and Sciences devoted to a deeper understanding of climate and the environment.

“The climate emergency is urgent, and Dartmouth has committed to being part of the solution by generating new knowledge through our research and continuing to educate leaders in the field of sustainability,” says Hanlon.

Thinking Globally, Acting Locally

Since the mid-1990s, Dartmouth has committed to constructing high-performance, energy-efficient buildings. Initial efforts focused on heat recovery, and then expanded to include integrated design and innovative and intelligent systems that are now applied to all new building construction and major renovations. 

“Our overall goal is a low-carbon, zero-combustion campus, with buildings that support our mission, are efficient, lovely to be in, and reduce carbon emissions over time,” says Rosi Kerr ’98, Dartmouth’s director of sustainability. “Our aspiration is to move steadily toward buildings that have a net positive environmental impact on the planet.”

One of a number of anticipated new arrivals to campus this year is the Arthur L. Irving Institute for Energy and Society. The sustainability goals for the institute are ambitious and consistent with its mission. The design of the 51,000-square-foot project demonstrates the building’s high performance and creates spaces for interdisciplinary research that will focus on advancing an affordable, sustainable, and reliable energy future for the benefit of society.

The building’s energy efficiency is derived from the reduction of indoor and outdoor water use, optimized energy performance through the building’s façade, radiant ceilings, natural ventilation systems, and renewable energy generated from photovoltaic panels. Other current or recently completed high-performance building projects include Anonymous Hall, the Center for Engineering and Computer Science, and the renovations to Dartmouth Hall.

Beyond buildings, the campus provides an opportunity for students to work on complex and practical energy problem solving with faculty and staff. Students have been involved in assessing the sustainability of food choices in the dining hall, developing proposals for a low-emissions greenhouse, reducing energy use in residence halls, and improving campus recycling and composting. The Office of the President has renewed funding for the Sustainability Corps, a program that engages students overseen by the Sustainability Office to enhance sustainability initiatives on campus and track progress towards Dartmouth’s sustainability goals.

An Ambitious Set of Sustainability Goals

On Earth Day in 2017, Dartmouth committed to a wide-ranging set of sustainability goals in the areas of greenhouse gas emissions, waste, water usage, transportation, and food consumption. Included in these goals is a commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emissions from campus operations by 50% by 2025, and by 80% by 2050. This is to be achieved through a combination of transitioning the campus heating system to a more sustainable fuel source, increasing the energy efficiency of buildings and establishing a better system to distribute energy across campus, improving efficiency by 20%.

The 2017 sustainability goals were informed by recommendations from the “Our Green Future” report Hanlon commissioned a year earlier. The report, authored by an interdisciplinary task force of faculty, students, and staff, called for reevaluation of the goals every five years to continue to drive innovation and allow for the integration of new insight. Hanlon will soon launch that review process and he anticipates that the new goals will call for the campus to have net zero emissions by 2050 as well as strengthening goals in other areas.

“As the consequences of a rapidly warming planet become clearer every day, coupled with the rapid development of exciting, new technologies, we must aim higher and be more ambitious in our goals,” he says.

In March, Dartmouth’s Board of Trustees established an Infrastructure Renewal Fund (IRF) to help address critical infrastructure upgrades by dedicating a percentage of a supplemental endowment distribution to the new fund, with $31 million allocated to the fund for the 2022 fiscal year. Sustainability upgrades in the buildings will be a part of all renewal projects.

“In the years since President Hanlon’s announcement, we’ve witnessed the increased urgency of reducing our carbon emissions,” says Executive Vice President Rick Mills. “The landscape has changed, and so has our focus. As we adapt our plans in response to emerging science and new technologies, we are increasing our investment in renewing our infrastructure and decreasing our focus on combustion to heat our campus.” 

Responsible Investment for a Sustainable Future

“The Dartmouth Investment Office believes the energy transition and a subsequent zero-carbon future are important and are influential themes in the economy,” says Alice Ruth ’83, the office’s chief executive officer. “We also believe the changes underway will create opportunities for aligned investment. As stewards of the endowment, our team is committed to understanding these themes and will make suitable investments, including renewables, the broad energy transition and other innovative technologies, that support a timely global path to net zero emissions.”

In late 2017, Dartmouth’s investment office decided to no longer make new investments in private fossil fuel extraction, exploration, and production funds. In addition, early last year the investment office changed its mandate for its direct public portfolio to no longer hold investments in fossil fuel companies.

“Our research led us to pivot away from fossil fuels and seek investment opportunities in the clean energy sector,” says Ruth. “The remaining exposure to fossil fuel funds, currently less than 5% of the endowment today, will decline over time to zero.” 

In addition, the investment office has increased its conversations on environmental issues with all prospective and current investment managers as part of its environmental, social, and governance due diligence process, consistent with its policy on environmental, social, and governance matters, says Ruth.

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