BU Sustainability Q&A

BU Sustainability Q&A: Engaging in New Educational Technologies 2021 and Beyond

Digital learning initiatives are happening across all BU campuses. This Q&A series highlights innovative ideas, collaborative thinking, cutting-edge perspectives and those leading the digital teaching and learning charge.

Boston University’s Sustainability team has been reimagining, reinventing, and re-enforcing its mission. In recent months, the administrative team-of-six, led by Associate Vice President Dennis Carlberg, completed several milestone projects. In March, the group announced the University’s Zero Waste Plan; redefined its objectives and developed a new mission statement; and more recently, launched a new website featuring two cutting-edge data dashboards and BU’s Zero Waste data collection and monitoring technology efforts. 

Digital Learning & Innovation connected with the BU Sustainability team: Lisa Tornatore, director; Erica Mattison, assistant director of communications; Stephen Ellis, data manager; and Kaity Robbins, zero waste manager, to discuss these newly launched technology-driven initiatives and their intended impact on the BU community.

What are some of the new technology-driven sustainability projects and practices BU will take into the post-COVID-19 environment?


Lisa Tornatore, Director: BU Sustainability is working with BU Wind developer ENGIE to acquire access to real-time data from the wind farm in South Dakota. This data will be published via an online dashboard for student and faculty researchers to develop innovative research projects related to the project. In addition, we plan to host a digital screen on campus for the community to be able to see the energy generated by the wind turbines.

Please tell me about the newly developed vendor waste services initiatives and the technology/real time data aspect of the project.


Kaity Robbins, Zero Waste Manager: BU’s Zero Waste plan outlines several ways to rethink and redesign how we collect data and monitor progress through improved metrics that can then be communicated in an actionable way to change behavior. With better data, analysis can support engagement and institutional decision making.

Historically, BU has used industry standard practices for waste data collection. We’re now at a point where we’re looking to achieve a greater level of specificity to inform how we manage our resources. BU recently contracted with two new waste haulers, Casella Resource Solutions and CERO, who will weigh our trash, recycling, and food waste with scales on their trucks before it leaves campus and utilize a customizable PowerBI online dashboard. This data will be used to optimize services and influence behavior change. 

I understand BU Sustainability is launching new data dashboards. Please describe the new dashboard(s), why it was important to develop, and benefits to the BU community.


Stephen Ellis, Data Manager: The new dashboard utilizes PowerBI to produce data visualizations which will allow members of the BU community to interact with the data in new ways. Historically, BU Sustainability was limited to embedding infographics onto its website once a year. In the near future, this dashboard will be connected to other Power BI datasets provided by Informatics & Strategic Initiatives. This will allow granularity of energy and waste metrics down to the building level. 

Per the Zero Waste Plan, BU Sustainability will also connect its dashboard to BU’s waste vendors to achieve close to real-time data. These new developments are intended to increase the level of engagement the BU community has with sustainability metrics and the Climate Action Plan. Sustainability will continue to use the BuildingsOS dashboards, currently associated with LEED certified projects, and plans to expand them to other buildings.

BU Sustainability launched a new website mid-May. Please describe the new website, user experience, and new technology features. 


Erica Mattison, Assistant Director, Communications: The new BU Sustainability website offers a variety of important reporting features including progress updates on the Climate Action Plan, such as BU Wind, the construction of the Center for Computing & Data Sciences, and BU’s Zero Waste initiative. The site also features a gallery of “Doers” — students, faculty, staff, and alumni whose sustainability work and daily actions are an inspiration. Visitors have access to variety of resources funding opportunities like the Campus Climate Lab and Sustainability Innovation Seed Grant; videos highlighting events such as the Exploring Environmental Justice webinar series; and tips to help you integrate sustainability into your everyday life. You can also get to know the members of the BU Sustainability team. We are grateful to Marcom for the in-depth work with us over the past couple of years to help us develop a new and dynamic website.

About the Author: Maureen McCarthy is the Communications Manager for Boston University’s Digital Learning & Innovation and Editor of DL&I News.