Dare to Imagine: Sustainability at MIT

MIT's historically pioneering spirit is rooted in a deep commitment to create solutions for the problems that challenge our world.

This spirit was evident in the 1940s, when MIT dedicated its resources to improving radar technologies that were instrumental in bringing World War II to a close. In the 1960s, MIT was the innovative force behind pivotal technologies that put a man on the moon. MIT intrepidly sought answers to and achieved success in those tasks that might have previously seemed impossible.

Today, the world faces a different challenge — one for which a single solution cannot be engineered. This challenge spans all nations and peoples, and calls for an unprecedented level of cooperation, integration, and commitment. The task of our generation is to create a sustainable world.

Building a sustainable world is not likely contained in a single brush stroke of ingenuity; the stabilization of humanity's impact on the planet will be the legacy of a vast concerted effort between many hundreds of innovations from many institutions.

MIT can again be a guiding light— our mens et manus, mind and hand, can be applied to the greatest sustainability issues the world faces, and by doing so, fulfill MIT's mission to develop in each member of the MIT community "the ability and passion to work wisely, creatively, and effectively for the betterment of human kind."

Many of us continue to struggle with defining sustainability — it is difficult to integrate with one word the broad social, environmental, economic, and technical issues that compose our interactions with and impact on the earth. However, as an Institute, we should not be daunted by the magnitude of this challenge. MIT minds have both defined and overcome some of humanity's greatest challenges. Defining sustainability for MIT is part of the task ahead, and is a crucial part of focusing our efforts.

MIT has already exhibited strong leadership and focus by engaging the world's energy crisis through the Energy Initiative. However, developing sustainable energy solutions is only one part of the broader sustainability challenge.

A social and intellectual movement is emerging from the efforts and infrastructure of the past. Students, faculty and staff from around the Institute have united to respond rapidly to the threat of climate change, and to integrate and combine knowledge, talents, resources, and action towards a solution.

An impromptu Green Room has emerged, with undergraduates and graduates gathering every Wednesday evening to work on a variety of sustainability projects. These projects range from analyzing the environmental footprint of MIT itself to the creation of a sustainability pledge for graduating students. This year, the MIT Generator was born, aimed at mobilizing the talents at MIT to move our community towards "walking the talk" on energy and the environment. During Earth Week a multitude of activities will highlight the efforts across MIT. The sampling presented here is by no means complete.

MIT has been engaged in teaching and research activities for many years. There is a rich history of dedicated faculty, staff and student researchers who have impacted sustainability themes and we salute their ground-breaking work and spirit.

Now we call for a broader, unifying vision and commitment to sustainability that touches on all major aspects of MIT life and purpose.

Imagine an MIT where our day-to-day operations set a high standard for energy efficiency and positive environmental impacts. Imagine an MIT where we develop and showcase the best available sustainable technologies, invigorate and harness the collective intelligence of our community with sustainable outcomes at the forefront, demonstrate efficient operations, and empower individual responsibility. Imagine an MIT that isn't stalled by the debate of a globally-accepted definition of "sustainability" but instead sets ourselves to the task of defining it for MIT, within our unique understanding and capabilities. Imagine an MIT that sets a vision that unites and inspires us; a vision that is inclusive, transformational, and worthy of the task ahead. By doing so, imagine an MIT that rises to the greatest challenge ever faced by human kind and shows true global leadership — by walking the talk, by collaborating, by innovating, by shaping our futures, and the futures of those generations to come.

MIT's voice and actions echo around the world. The weight of our voice places upon us a profound responsibility, but also offers a thrilling and invigorating opportunity. Let's accept the challenge of making our world a healthier and more sustainable place for all life, starting here at MIT. Each of our contributions can be as simple as attending MIT Earth Week events or asking our professors and colleagues to incorporate sustainability into their classes, or as involved as helping to set Institute policy. Our time is just beginning.

For more information about or to get involved in sustainability efforts at MIT, see http://sustainability.mit.edu; you can also e-mail sustainability@mit.edu or any of the signatories below.

Jason J. Jay G (Walk the Talk), Kendra D. Johnson '09 (SAVE), Jonathan S. Krones '07 (UA Committee on Campus Sustainability), Chris J. Lyddy G (S*), Elsa A. Olivetti G (S*), Kate W. Parrot G (Environmental Task Force), Kara F. Penn G (S*, MIT Sloan Sustainability Initiative), Ari D. Shapiro G (SfGS), Stephen V. Samouhos G, Christopher J. Sequeira G (Graduation Pledge Alliance), James P. Schwartz G, Jialan Wang G (SfGS, EcoExpo), Lucille D. Ynosencio G, Bo Zhao '08