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MIT 2050 – Carbon neutral, sustainable & resilient. Driven by the new MIT ADAPT Center & realized through 7 key resilient interventions.



This proposal recommends a bold vision for MIT 2050 – a vibrant carbon neutral, sustainable and resilient campus – catalyzed through the creation of a new MIT ADAPT (Alumni Driven Adaptation Policy & Transition) Center for research and public outreach and realized through a series of 7 key resiliency interventions. 

Home of world-class innovation, the MIT campus itself has significant potential to demonstrate integrated solutions for the greatest crisis now confronting us – climate change. 

Starting with the imminent renewal of East Campus through MIT’s Kendall Square Initiative, the campus can become an exciting demonstration of replicable sustainable development and resiliency concepts and showcase for applied technologies and research initiatives. 

East Campus is the proposed home of the new MIT ADAPT Center.  This facility will serve as a catalyst, providing focus and generating energy for this essential campus improvement effort.  MIT planners, faculty and students, supported by engaged alumni through the ADAPT center will implement a series of 7 “resilient interventions,” that will, over time, transform the campus into an exemplar of resiliency:

1.     Kendall Square Initiative - Climate Adapted Buildings

2.     Carbon Neutral Campus Energy

3.     Flood Mitigating Shoreline

4.     Building Energy Retrofits

5.     Sustainable Roofs

6.     Transit Initiatives

7.     Resiliency Improvements

The MIT 2050 goals will be met by a community process starting with the establishment of the new MIT ADAPT Center.  This interdisciplinary center will bring together faculty, researchers, students, professional alumni, and alumni-led corporations to focus on climate adaptation using on-site MIT improvements to develop exciting new replicable strategies for resiliency.  Guided by an Alumni Advisory Council, the MIT community will identify leverage points for campus intervention and establish strategies for implementation.

What actions do you propose?

MIT ADAPT (Alumni Driven Adaptation Policy & Transition) Center

The ADAPT Center’s goal is to transition the MIT campus into a model of climate adaptation and resiliency strategies by 2050.

The Center seeks to accomplish this goal by focusing the energy of the broad MIT community, including faculty, researchers, students, and alumni partners on this central task necessitated by the effects of climate change. 

With climate change comes increasing likelihood that MIT will be impacted by flooding both due to more extreme precipitation events and due to rising sea levels and storm surges which are projected to flank and overtop the Charles River dams by mid-century.  The MIT campus along with significant portions of Cambridge are vulnerable.  Flooding will result not only in costly property damage, but also in compounding economic damage as storm surges will inevitably result in down time due to power outages and clean-up efforts.  MIT is not alone in this vulnerability and thus has the opportunity to emerge as a leader in climate action and adaptation in advance of potential impacts.  By responding to this imperative and improving its own campus, MIT will be doing a service to the global response to climate change.  Vulnerable communities world-wide will look to MIT’s example for adaptation strategies and implementation action plans.  But to be a leader in this realm requires strong action by MIT.

The ADAPT Center is founded on action.  To meet its goal will require not just active research and knowledge gathering, but also development of innovative technologies for immediate use, development of and rapid adoption of policy in collaboration with Cambridge and Boston, creation of innovative financing and development strategies, well designed infrastructure improvement strategies, and crisp implementation plans.  MIT’s ability to foster interdisciplinary research and collaboration is essential to the task.  To accomplish all of this will require the best and brightest of the MIT community.  It will require a truly interdisciplinary effort which will go beyond the academic to realize concrete solutions for the campus.  The ADAPT center aims to be the device by which this collective effort is gathered and focused on the issues at hand.

The Center is unique in being founded with a specific and measureable goal and seeks to implement key interventions on a definite timeline.  The impacts of climate change will not wait – adaptation to the impacts is on a deadline.  Unlike a center that might have an open ended goal of adding to a body of knowledge over time, the ADAPT center has a mission.  This ambitious mission is intended to energize the community.  In the spirit of Daniel Burnham’s famous quote “Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men’s blood,” the mission is intended to motivate the MIT community to make a big plan and to follow through on its accomplishment.  Doing so in advance of significant flooding and other climate change induced events will make MIT stronger and help make MIT pre-eminent in this field.  While the overall goal must be accomplished by 2050, it will be advanced by interventions over time.  Incremental progress toward the goal will provide a rewarding sense of accomplishment as improvements are unveiled and touted through MIT alumni networks and will maintain the momentum of the effort as others are drawn to the early success of the program.

The ADAPT Center builds on and interacts with existing interdisciplinary MIT centers – Center for Energy and Environmental Policy Research, Center for Global Change Science, Center for Real Estate, MIT Energy Initiative, and others; and also with academic departments including Architecture, DUSP, Engineering, and Science.  Through the agency of the ADAPT Center, Alumni will partner with the MIT Office of Sustainability and Office of Campus Planning to drive shared goals to physical implementation, building on current initiatives such as the Campus Sustainability Task Force, the Environmental Solutions Initiative, the Sustainable Roof Study, and, of course, the Plan for Action on Climate Change.  In addition, the Center will be a hub for MIT interaction with innovative industrial / commercial partners and the broader Cambridge and Boston communities.  The ADAPT Center is a necessary addition to the constellation of MIT climate change and sustainability initiatives because of its overarching mission and focus on actionable results and for the fact that it intentionally harnesses MIT Alumni for support.  The vision provided in this proposal crosses a multitude of disciplines (planning, real estate, law, policy, research, transportation, architecture, technology, etc.) all of which are necessary and integral to adapting the campus (and the world) to the effects of climate change.  MIT Alumni represent the best and brightest in the world across these disciplines and if harnessed, could produce the most positive response possible in the face of this crisis.

Organizationally, the center will be directed by an executive committee of MIT faculty and administrators chosen for their implementation focus and strong ties to development, commerce, and industry.  The directors will be supported by a global Alumni Advisory Council who will guide efforts and help to select sites and strategies for implementation focus.  The Alumni Council will draw on the broader global Alumni network for additional guidance, expertise, and funding support in realization of the 7 initiatives.

The Center will be influential in the results it produces and also in the replicable process by which it engages climate adaptation implementation.  This proposal suggests an incremental process through which MIT can move towards the resilient campus of 2050.


Seven (7) Resiliency Interventions 

This proposal offers a vision of 7 specific interventions toward the realization of a resilient MIT in order to convey the type of strategies that will need to be developed as part of this endeavor.  Intended to be far reaching in scope, thought provoking and exciting, these interventions would be the ends toward which the ADAPT center is focused.  Collectively, these 7 actions transform the MIT campus into an exemplar of climate adaptation. 


1. Kendall Square Initiative - Climate Adapted Buildings

The initial intervention must be exciting and highly visible, to ensure the success of the entire ADAPT project.  New construction projects on the MIT campus are the most highly visible agents of change for the campus.  For this reason, the initial initiative should be to fuse the ADAPT focus on resiliency with the new construction planned as part of MIT’s Kendall Square Initiative to make the development a global exemplar of resilient construction.  We propose that the ADAPT Center be inserted into the program for the SoMa (South of Main Street) planned unit development in two phases.  Initially, the ADAPT Center should be located in Building #5[i], sharing the building with the MIT Museum and retail and office space.  The future home of the ADAPT Center should be at the site for Building #2, at the intersection of Main Street and Broadway, which would be the ideal location for the new ADAPT Center space as a highly visible gateway to MIT and threshold site for outreach to the Innovation Cluster imagined for Kendall Square.  Along with the ADAPT Center, and already planned lab and office space, the Building #2 development should include a new district energy plant utilizing sub-basement thermal storage and a residential deep energy retrofit of the East Gate Apartments building.

With resiliency as a mandate, the development of the Kendall Square Initiative will be a catalyst - an exemplar of the best thinking and technology in resiliency, adaptation, and sustainability.   Just as the Genzyme Center set the bar for sustainability in Cambridge at the turn of the century, so will the new construction on MIT’s East Campus set the bar for a new generation of sustainability and resiliency for mid-century buildings.  Set in a prominent location at the gateway to MIT and in the heart of the Kendall Square Innovation Cluster, these new buildings will house the ADAPT Center and will be a demonstration of, and test bed for, the Center’s ambitious aims.

While Kendall Square is not at extreme risk of flooding due to rising tides, it is still a highly visible location in close proximity to the Charles River and the Broad Canal.  The proximity to rising water and susceptibility to more extreme weather events, makes this location relevant for resiliency planning.   The opportunity that comes with MIT’s intent to develop this area with significant new construction allows it to serve as a test bed for novel solutions.  To be a model for resiliency, the new construction should have resilient reinforced and waterproofed foundations and be able to accommodate a regular influx of water.  The ground floor levels must be floodable, non-critical uses, such as temporary exhibit space or pop-up retail that are active at street level bringing vibrant street life to this important East gateway, in accordance with MIT’s master plan for this area, but that are also easily prepared for storm events and easily cleaned following.  Infrastructure must be protected and building systems must be elevated out of harm’s way.  New buildings must incorporate potable water storage and / or water treatment systems in anticipation of public water supplies being temporarily interrupted or contaminated.  They should also strive for water efficiency and should capture rainwater and recycle greywater as a matter of responsible use of resources and also to increase resiliency.

To accelerate the City of Cambridge Net Zero Action Plan, the buildings must be designed and constructed to be net zero energy exemplars - highly efficient and able to generate all of their own renewable electricity on an annual basis.  This can be accomplished by driving building energy loads as low as possible through passive design, high performance envelopes, efficient lighting and HVAC equipment and then offsetting building energy use with cantilevered rooftop photovoltaic arrays that both produce power and shade the buildings to reduce heat gain.  As a retrofit in the not too distant future, innovative new MIT developed building scale battery solutions will allow these buildings to be standalone in times of power grid interruption.  The new buildings in this district should collectively serve as test sites for new and innovative technologies being developed by MIT or by Innovation Cluster companies in partnership with MIT.

A location in the Innovation Cluster will allow the ADAPT center to be at the nexus of development of new technologies for resiliency and at a prime location for community outreach. The Building #2 site is visible across the Longfellow Bridge from Boston and anchors the SoMa development on Main Street in Kendall Square. ADAPT Center space in this building could serve as a hub for conversations on the topic of resiliency by providing community meeting space and resources for public interaction on the topic.  Research and lab space in support of ADAPT’s mission aligns well with the master planned uses of the proposed Building #2.  An exhibit and outreach space on the first floor of the building would be a flexible and flood resistant use that would give the ADAPT Center a public presence and provide an opportunity for MIT to display a physical commitment to climate change action in a prominent location in this innovative development. 



2. Flood Mitigating Shoreline

To mitigate the effects of storm surge and extreme precipitation events on the more flood prone parts of MIT and East Cambridge, the banks of the Charles River should be developed as a flood mitigation zone.  This zone should be created along the full length of the MIT campus from the Charles River Dam to the Boston University Bridge.  Just as now, the water’s edge should be a recreational feature for strolling, jogging, biking, and boating along the Charles, but should be raised to contain the Charles in storm surge events and should store and infiltrate water to mitigate flooding due to heavy rains.  If well designed, this recreational flood mitigation zone will enhance the area’s beauty and functionality.

A raised flood protection zone along the Charles River will prevent storm surge tides rising up the Charles River from inundating the Campus.  Storm surge is likely to overtop the Charles River Dam by 2030 with increasing potential of flooding the MIT Campus by mid-century.  Raising the banks of the Charles would contain the surge.  It is important to note, however, that a levee won’t prevent all flooding on the Campus.  Increasingly severe rain storms, which may come along with storm surge, will also cause storm sewer systems to back-up and flood.  For this reason, water storage is a key component of a flood mitigation strategy.  The flood mitigation zone must also accept and store storm water that would typically flow into the Charles to mitigate flooding due to rain.

To be effective, the flood mitigation zone would need to be long enough to prevent outflanking, extending beyond MIT’s influence, requiring backing by Cambridge and Boston and collaboration with MIT’s neighbors.  MIT should partner with Cambridge to develop strategies from the Charles River Dam to the Boston University Bridge.  Other stakeholders must join the effort to extend the flood mitigation zone on either end.  MIT can help facilitate and encourage this type of multiple stakeholder initiative by providing research on investment cost benefit through disaster cost avoidance.

This flood mitigation landscape zone should extend from the current location of Memorial Drive out into the Charles River as necessary to give adequate room in which to construct an occupiable shoreline without re-building the roadway.  In so doing, the roadway will be left as-is, albeit particularly low and flood vulnerable at underpasses.  The increased shoreline will extend the green space along the river giving more ample opportunity for recreation.  Like the Esplanade on the opposite bank, the extended park setting will be a benefit to all residents of Cambridge.  Beyond the existing bike / jogging path, a new “north bank” esplanade could be developed with performance pavilions, an outdoor public swimming pool / winter ice rink, a much needed relaxation venue for MIT students, and improved access to existing rowing and sailing programs through additional pedestrian bridges over Memorial Drive.  The raised landscape of this new park, will provide a wonderful respite overlooking the splendor of the Charles River (in good weather.)


3.  Energy Independence and Carbon Neutrality

MIT should be a global leader in campus energy resiliency.  Already producing a significant amount of its own power through efficient co-generation, MIT should rapidly pursue renewables and upgrade to an intelligent microgrid to allow the campus to be completely independent from the grid when necessary and also to reinforce resiliency of the Cambridge grid as a whole.  MIT should immediately end the use of fuel oil for steam production and should work toward carbon neutrality, doing its part to eliminate further contributions to climate change. 

MIT’s current cogeneration facility is efficient, but is carbon based, burning natural gas and some fuel oil (which is being phased out.)  While more efficient than oil, combustion of natural gas continues to add to greenhouse gasses and to contribute to global warming.  MIT should commit to phasing out the use of natural gas over the next 15 years through conversion of its cogeneration plant to renewable biomass.  Renewable wood pellets or chips can be sustainably sourced from forests of northern New England and transported by rail to the campus.  Because biomass involves combustion, it unavoidably results in carbon emissions.  Those emissions must be offset by a sustainable program of planting to absorb the carbon that is released.  A sustainable planting program would be essential to making a biomass solution viable.  To offset the immediate release of carbon through combustion, and until MIT can renewably generate all of its power on-site, it should pursue carbon neutrality through offsets provided by off-site wind projects sponsored and financed by MIT.  It is imperative that institutions like MIT lead the way in this type of aggressive elimination of carbon based fuel sources and creative means of achieving carbon neutrality.  In the long term, solar advances may make a zero net energy campus possible, eliminating the need for offsets. 

MIT has a total roof area of more than 3 million square feet covering forty-two percent of campus area, or 70 of 169 acres.  Much of this roof area is the ideal location for south facing solar panels.  At 100% PV coverage, MIT’s roofscape could support a 45 megawatt array.  This would translate, with today’s PV panels, to roughly 60 gigawatts of electricity on an annual basis or roughly 25% of MIT’s annual electricity consumption.  While this would help wean MIT off of grid power, for MIT to be able to generate all of its own power renewably will likely require development of new more efficient technologies, power storage among them.  Building wide storage solutions will be necessary to match renewable power generation to times of peak demand.  New solar installations both on new construction in the Kendall Square area, and at other sites throughout campus will provide  test sites for the best in new MIT developments for energy generation and storage.

Along with the installation of additional renewable energy projects and net zero energy new construction, MIT should work toward an intelligent micro-grid, connected to, but independent from the primary power grid.  For MIT’s micro grid to be effective, it must be resilient.  The co-gen facility should be upgraded to be as robust as possible.  New renewable energy projects should be developed with resiliency and protection from storm events in mind.  And building retrofits should consider moving essential building electrical equipment above flood prone areas.  A resilient power infrastructure will allow the MIT microgrid to function independently in major storm events. 


4.  Sustainable Building Energy Retrofits

Existing building improvements / retrofits may be less visible than some of the other interventions proposed but are critical for overall campus sustainability and are readily achievable with today’s technology.  MIT is already achieving significant savings on energy use through basic energy efficiency measures and could achieve even more through a comprehensive, campus wide series of deep energy retrofits.  Deep energy retrofits generally allow savings of 50% or more in building energy use, often with short payback periods making these a smart investment.  Deep retrofits approach a building in an integrated manner, seeking envelope improvements combined with equipment and lighting upgrades to reduce the HVAC loads as much as possible.  This often results in the potential to reduce the size and capacity, and therefore energy use, of HVAC equipment. 

Upgrades to building envelopes should be considered on a case by case basis with an eye to improvements to the thermal and energy performance of a building.  Roof and wall insulation can be increased to improve thermal comfort and reduce heat loss / heat gain.  Air infiltration and the associated heat loss can be reduced by better sealing of windows, doors, and other openings assisted by thermal imaging to find sources of leaks.  Windows and glazing can be improved thermally through the use of triple glazing.  Daylighting can be enhanced (and lighting loads reduced) with lightshelves to bounce sunlight deep into the space while controlling glare at the perimeter, or window sizes can be adjusted or skylights added to maximize daylight.  Solar heat gain can be reduced by improvements in glass coatings or exterior solar shading devices. 

Along with envelope improvements, a deep retrofit can identify HVAC load reductions through improving efficiency of non-HVAC equipment such as computers or lab equipment.Lighting also represents a significant potential for energy savings through a combination of re-lamping or upgrading to new LED technologies, lighting layout adjustments to reduce unnecessary lighting density and lighting controls such as daylight dimming and occupancy sensors. Combined, envelope improvements and equipment load reductions can have a dramatic impact on the demand on the HVAC system.  This allows for a reduction in size, capacity, and energy use of the HVAC equipment, further reducing the energy consumption of a building.


5.  Sustainable Roofs

MIT’s roofs should be viewed as a resource to harness the sun’s energy, capture rain for process water, infiltrate storm water, support biodiversity and reverse the urban heat island effect creating a cool microclimate.  Roofs should be retrofit to incorporate such sustainable features as high albedo membranes, added insulation, green roofs, blue roofs, photovoltaics and solar thermal panels.  As these sustainable interventions are put in place, MIT will also gain vital research and teaching platforms and valuable community gathering spaces.  

Green roofs are an attractive strategy for MIT sustainable roof replacement projects for many reasons.  They have the potential to mitigate negative effects of stormwater runoff and can ease load on drainage systems and outfalls by allowing for staggered stormwater runoff through a mix of roof types.  They provide undisturbed habitat allowing for outdoor teaching and research space for habitat and biodiversity.  Green roofs reduce heat-island effect, thereby reducing energy costs.  They boost the durability of membrane roofs, increasing their useful lifespan. And they also provide the aesthetic benefit of attractive views from adjacent, higher roofsBlue roofs, like green roofs, can serve as part of MIT’s stormwater mitigation strategy and can be particularly beneficial in reducing pressure on combined sewer systems by temporarily storing water from a rain event in any number of rooftop detention systems.

By enabling MIT to continue to lead by example, a sustainable roofscape has significant potential to leverage MIT research and inspire future generations of students.


6.  Transit Improvements

The MIT campus of 2050, serving as an important hub of Cambridge and Boston transit, should be a model of sustainable, low carbon urban and neighborhood transportation planning with clear separation of pedestrian, bicycle, and vehicular traffic and priority given to mass transit options over single passenger vehicles.  MIT should be a test bed for the latest in transit technologies including power assisted bicycle sharing, subway improvements, dedicated bus lanes and shared on-demand driverless vehicles.

MIT’s Kendall Square Initiative will provide the first step toward this vision by incorporating transit and campus connection improvements with development strategies already underway.  MIT’s East Campus Study Final Report[i] describes a “shared space” concept for pedestrian friendly cross streets (Wadsworth, Hayward, and Carleton) and the goal of a “lively urban environment.”  This concept would be further supported by a bike / pedestrian bridge over Memorial Drive at Wadsworth Street to connect East Campus to the recreational shoreline.  The Kendall Square transit improvements can serve as a model for ongoing discussion with the City of Cambridge aimed at broader, city-wide improvements to modify roadways throughout campus and the city to appropriately segregate multiple modes of travel.

Bicycles should have a dedicated lane, separated by curbs from vehicles.  New technologies, already in development at MIT, will increase bicycle use by providing power assist and a data rich experience.  Electric busses should have their own lane to facilitate efficient surface mass transit through Cambridge.  Automobiles should have a dedicated lane -- by 2050 more and more populated with on-demand driverless vehicles.  MIT will have its own fleet of these small, lightweight and all electric vehicles (charged by the sun) housed on campus helping to attract faculty and students to this leading edge institution.

MIT sits at a rail hub and should partner with the MBTA to advocate for safer, more resilient, and more efficient subway service connecting MIT to Boston and points beyond.  The existing Grand Junction line that runs adjacent to MIT could be used to efficiently provide MIT’s cogen. plant with renewable biomass from points north of Boston. 

In the act of improving its own campus, MIT will necessarily interface with the MBTA, Cambridge and Boston to help move an improved transit agenda forward.  While MIT can’t be expected to finance broader transportation reform, the ADAPT Center and MIT Alumni can play a strong positive role in advocating for improvement and by lending needed multidisciplinary research and policy planning to help make this vision a reality.  Once achieved, MIT’s transit improvements will be a model to other institutions and cities worldwide.


7.  Campus Resiliency Measures – Refuge, Evacuation, Floodability

Overlapping with and adding to the mitigation strategies included in the other 6 interventions, MIT should prepare for severe storm events resulting from climate change with infrastructure dedicated to response to and recovery from emergency events.  Community refuge centers should be identified to remain operational through storms and flooding.  To the extent possible, they should provide facilities to house those in the MIT community who would be affected by flooding and an evacuation plan to empty the most vulnerable sites should be implemented.  Increasing resilience of campus buildings, will also reduce the recovery effort in the aftermath of severe storms. 

MIT should identify existing buildings that could be renovated to serve as resilient community refuge centers.  These buildings can operate in a day-to-day mode as athletic facilities, or other non-essential transitory functions that transform in the days preceding a major storm event.  Like the ADAPT Center building, these buildings should be retrofit to raise essential utilities above ground level.  They should ensure an uninterrupted, power supply with roof mounted PV and on-site power storage.  They should have water treatment and storage facilities and resilient communications infrastructure to accommodate likely interruptions of public infrastructure.

Flood prone facilities on the campus should be retrofit to minimize impact of flooding.  Essential systems should be moved out of harms’ way and ground level spaces should be finished with flood resistant materials and should be used for non-essential transitory functions like meeting space, galleries, pop up retail, etc.  These efforts will help the MIT community weather severe storms in the safest manner possible and will help reduce monetary damages and minimize time lost to major storm events.


Process and Implementation

Immediate next steps to move this proposal from vision to reality are:

Adopt ADAPT                                                                                      2016

  • Identify the need for ADAPT and accept this proposal in principle. 
  • Appoint Executive Director to implement the new Center.


Establish the MIT ADAPT Center                                                       2016

  • Define ADAPT’s mission: research opportunities and commercial applications [i]
  • Define Sponsorship Levels:  founding sponsors, additional corporate sponsors[ii]
  • Plan and commence outreach - potential Alumni Advisory Council participants, MIT centers, Cities of Cambridge and Boston


Infuse Kendall Square Initiative with ADAPT Focus  2016 - 2020                                                                                                                         

  • Solidify MIT Commitment to Making the Kendall Square Initiative an Exemplar of Resiliency
  • Engage consulting team with MIT Alumni ties to review and advise on existing development plans and to establish Resilient Design Criteria for new MIT construction.
  • Engage MIT, Cambridge and Boston community members in sustainable/resilient design workshops.  MIT community should include researchers, faculty and students, administration and facilities planners, operators and maintainers
  • Identify research opportunities and incorporate them into the new buildings.


Additional Resiliency Initiatives Directed by the ADAPT Center             2020-2050

·       Carbon neutral campus energy solutions implementation

·       Flood mitigating shoreline project

·       Building energy retrofits

·       Sustainable roof installations

·       Transit initiative deployment

·       Resiliency improvement implementation


To confront and reduce the effects of climate change, MIT must act boldly.  The ideas outlined in this proposal are intended to persuade MIT to go beyond the academic and to be a leader in putting climate adaptation solutions in place, starting with the MIT Campus and current plans for capital improvement.  MIT Alumni are a phenomenal resource only waiting to be tapped to respond to the crisis of our generation.  As founding partners of and engaged advisors for the new ADAPT Center, Alumni will be central to the discussion and implementation of strategies for the MIT of 2050.