Dear Members of the Brown Community,

After more than a year of extensive campus engagement and development, Brown now has a Sustainability Strategic Plan that outlines the aggressive actions the University will take to combat the urgent environmental challenges we face as a local and global community:

For many years, Brown has worked to confront the climate crisis and address issues of sustainability through its mission of research, teaching and community engagement. This work has taken many forms, including our pledge to reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2040, the recent launch of our Climate Solutions Initiative, and the Brown Investment Office’s actions to divest from companies that directly extract fossil fuels and apply Environmental, Social and Governance criteria in all investment decisions.

The new Sustainability Strategic Plan builds upon that work and provides a clear path forward through a focused set of key commitments through which Brown can have the greatest impact on mitigating the effects of campus operations on the natural environment. The plan also addresses ways in which Brown will expand education and community engagement around sustainability issues and complements the themes of the University’s strategic plan, Building on Distinction.

Unlike sustainability plans of previous decades that were based upon the notion that we simply must “do better,” Brown’s plan is designed for a net-zero era. It also considers the very real impact the University can make in the areas of greenhouse gas emissions, nutrient pollution, biodiversity loss and more. As there is no shortage of work to be done, the plan recognizes that we must focus on what science tells us are the gravest threats and the areas in which Brown is best positioned to make meaningful change.

In the coming decades, climate change and other environmental challenges will have profound impacts not only on the natural world, but on societies and economies around the globe. As an institution committed to research and education aimed at a bettering our world, it’s incumbent upon us to lead by example to create a more sustainable campus community. This plan focuses our attention on those challenges that are the most critical and establishes a set of ambitious yet achievable goals, whose progress will be overseen by a new Sustainability Steering Committee with Brown’s Office of Sustainability playing a key role.

The steering committee will be led by colleagues that worked with deep expertise and dedication over the past year with a team of faculty, staff and students to develop the Sustainability Strategic Plan for Brown: Stephen Porder, assistant provost for sustainability and professor of ecology and evolutionary biology; Jessica Berry, director of the Office of Sustainability; and Leah VanWey, professor of environment and society and sociology who also serves as the dean of the School of Professional Studies. The committee soon will begin work to coordinate the implementation of this plan.


I encourage you to read the full plan and learn more about the work we’ll do as a community in five key areas. These objectives were refined through a process of extensive campus engagement — through online comments, meetings and forums — after a draft of the Sustainability Strategic Plan was shared for comment with the campus community in December 2019.

(1) Reducing greenhouse gas emissions

Work is well underway in this area, which represents the largest sustainability investment in Brown’s history. In 2019, Brown pledged to reduce campus greenhouse gas emissions to net-zero by 2040, with 75% of reductions happening by 2025, as part of efforts to confront the increasingly dire threat posed by climate change. This included commitments to wind and solar projects that will offset 100% of Brown’s on-campus electricity use, while a separate thermal efficiency project will have the equivalent impact of taking 5,800 cars off the road. Combined, these efforts mean that Brown is well-positioned to meet its goal to achieve net-zero no later than 2040.

(2) Reducing nutrient pollution

Brown has committed to reducing its nitrogen and phosphorous footprint by 15% by 2025 and 25% by 2030, primarily through reduction of the consumption of red meat in campus dining halls and support of sustainable agricultural practices. While these nutrients are essential for life, an overabundance can create unsafe drinking water, unhealthy air and acid rain.

(3) Preserving biodiversity 

Brown has committed to protecting biodiversity by adhering to the same principles that form the basis for the International Convention on Biodiversity, which has been adopted worldwide. These efforts will include sourcing materials for construction and other projects with biodiversity in mind and using sustainably sourced food options.

(4) Reducing water impacts

Brown is committed to reducing its impact on water quality by lowering consumption and managing stormwater runoff. Freshwater resources continue to be threatened by overuse and pollution. For example, increased stormwater runoff resulting from increased paving in urban settings burdens treatment plants, which work to remove pesticides, fertilizers and other pollutants.

(5) Safeguarding human health

Brown is committed to reducing or eliminating the use of many potentially toxic chemicals, and decreasing noise pollution and air pollution by fiscal year 2024. We also must work to determine the extent to which climate change could impact the health of members of the Brown community. This work will be done by Fiscal Year 2025.


One of the most important ways in which Brown has long sought to address the impacts of environmental challenges is to convene scholars to advance research and education through the work done at the Institute at Brown for Environment and Society, among several other departments. It’s important that we expand upon these efforts so that all members of our community have a greater understanding of how the decisions we make about food, transportation and more impact the world around us.

This work will include efforts such as educational initiatives for all Brown community members that address energy consumption and waste generation. In addition, we will also consider how we can work with local partners outside of our community, including the City of Providence, to deepen engagement on sustainability issues.

This work will include engaging with city and state leaders on renewable energy guidelines; providing input on state and federal legislation; developing stakeholders engagement and resilience in light of sea-level rise in Rhode Island; remediation of hazardous sites and identification of emerging contaminants; and exploring heating and cooling systems for the Jewelry District that are less energy intensive.

Further engagement will occur through initiatives including Brown’s Climate Solutions Lab and the Climate Social Science Network of researchers. Separately, a new committee will be tasked with exploring ways in which Brown can most effectively expand community engagement. This effort, combined with the new Sustainability Steering Committee, will help to guide this critical work.

I want to thank Professor Porder, Director Berry and Professor VanWey, along with all those in our community who contributed to the plan. Our greatest asset as we work to build a sustainable future is the depth of the commitment of our students, faculty, staff and friends of Brown in addressing these pressing challenges.

I look forward to the work we will do together to address the urgent challenges to our environment.



Christina H. Paxson