Stanford University is ahead of schedule in meeting many of its sustainability goals and is on track to be 80 percent carbon-free by 2021, according to university leaders speaking at the Faculty Senate meeting on Nov. 8. In their presentation to the senate, leaders from the Department of Sustainability & Energy Management also outlined Stanford’s ambitious strategy for achieving zero waste by 2030.

Also at the meeting, the co-chairs of the Provost’s Committee on Lecturers presented the committee’s findings on the role of lecturers at Stanford and offered recommendations for improving career development opportunities within the lecturer ranks.

Sustainability report

Fahmida Ahmed Bangert, director of sustainability and business services, speaking to the Faculty Senate on Thursday. (Image credit: L.A. Cicero)

Representatives of the Department of Sustainability & Energy Management said on-campus innovations and expertise have helped drive the university’s success and next steps in the effort to reduce emissions and minimize waste.

Jack Cleary, associate vice president in Land, Buildings and Real Estate, said the university’s concerted efforts, including support from leadership, collaboration among faculty and students, and implementation by staff, have produced “phenomenal results that really set the bar for many higher institutions across the country.”

Joseph Stagner, executive director of sustainability and energy management, said Stanford plans to increase its use of clean, renewable electricity from 65 percent of total supply today to 100 percent by the end of 2021. This will enable the university to reduce campus greenhouse gas emissions, which are currently down by 68 percent from peak levels, to 80 percent from peak levels by 2021 – four years ahead of its long-range planning goal.

This project began in earnest in 2008-09 and entailed rebuilding the university’s energy system and implementing the cutting-edge Stanford Energy System Innovations. SESI has updated more than 155 buildings on campus and transformed an energy supply based on fossil fuels to an electrically powered heat recovery system.

“Basically, it’s a clean-electrification strategy. Electrifying everything we can in terms of energy, heating, cooling and power to buildings, transportation – our Marguerite buses and so forth. And we’re supplying that with clean, renewable energy,” said Stagner.

When the SESI electricity-powered heating/cooling plant replaced an aging gas-fired plant in 2015, greenhouse gas emissions dropped by 50 percent below peak levels. Stanford’s solar plant went online in 2016 and the university added on-campus rooftop solar power in 2017, increasing its clean electricity portfolio to 65 percent. Prior to that, Stanford’s portfolio was at the state minimum of 27 percent.

Stagner said Stanford is pursuing additional innovations that will enable the university eventually to be totally carbon-free.

Fahmida Ahmed Bangert, director of sustainability and business services, discussed a comparable effort by the university to achieve zero waste by 2030.

She said the campus produces about 22,000 tons of waste annually. Stanford’s ambitious strategy for achieving zero waste, which by definition means diverting at least 90 percent of campus waste from the landfill, began in the long-range planning process. The university’s current diversion, or recycling, rate is 63 percent, up from 30 percent in 1994.

“That means 37 percent is ending up in the landfill. But if we look at what’s in the landfill, that’s really where the answer is,” she said. “Only 23 percent of what’s going to the landfill today is real landfill. Everything else could easily be either recycled, reused or composted.”

Bangert described the new effort as a data-driven, analytic approach, with a comprehensive waste audit, peer review by stakeholders and plans to incorporate feedback from the Sustainability Design Team. Rather than the traditional focus on recycling and landfill disposal, the new approach begins earlier – through the purchasing process, greater reuse of materials that otherwise would be sent to a landfill and composting. For example, Stanford will implement a purchasing policy directed at goods and services from sustainable sources that can be disposed of in a sustainable manner.

Committee on Lecturers

The Committee on Lecturers was charged by the Office of the Provost with examining the role of lecturers in the teaching mission of Stanford and making recommendations for career definition, development and advancement within the lecturer ranks.

The committee found that lecturers play a crucial role in the teaching and research mission of the university.

“There really was a palpable sense in the units that we talked to that the lecturers aren’t just coming in to teach a class that needs to be taught, but the lecturers really are infused in the teaching mission of the department, helping to teach critical programs and collaborating with faculty,” said committee co-chair Mehran Sahami, professor and associate chair for education in computer science.

In the 2016-17 academic year, lecturers taught approximately 27 percent of course units at the university.

The report details some of the reasons why lecturers play such a large role in teaching, such as meeting objectives where tenured faculty do not have specific expertise, increasing the instructional capacity for large-enrollment introductory courses and teaching specific topics that augment the university’s curriculum. In addition to teaching, lecturers also often play significant roles in helping to administer programs or coordinate course sequences.

The report also notes that the committee found great diversity in the roles, career paths, needs and uses of lecturers throughout the university.

In the presentation, Sahami outlined the recommendations of the committee. These include efforts to ensure job security, better definition of career advancement pathways and job titles, expanded career ranks, more clarity about involvement in departmental matters and opportunities to access professional resources such as research funds.

The committee also recommended the development of a lecturer handbook that would outline policies on hiring, retention, resources, benefits and other relevant topics. Ways to recognize the contributions of lecturers were also proposed, including teaching awards and appreciation events.

Co-chair Caroline Winterer, the Anthony P. Meier Family Professor in the Humanities and director of the Stanford Humanities Center, said that in the course of its research and outreach activities, the committee discovered that one of the primary concerns of lecturers is compensation, which was not a topic included in the charge to the committee. The committee recommended that the university administration examine the issue in the near future.

Provost Persis Drell said the report was an important step forward to understanding the critical role that lecturers play at Stanford. “I think it’s a great report. I take the recommendations very seriously,” she said.

Drell said that one of the first actions that the university would take would be to develop a lecturer handbook. She said that the compensation issue would be looked at following the work of the Affordability Task Force.

The complete report from the Committee on Lecturers can be found on the provost’s website.

The full minutes of the meeting, including the questions and answers that followed the presentations, will be available soon on the Faculty Senate website. The next senate meeting is scheduled for Nov. 29.