27 November 2007

MIT Campus as Living Learning Lab

I had a great chat with Jason Jay and Elsa Olivetti at the MIT Muddy Charles Pub this evening about "Greening MIT" and turning the MIT campus into a Living Learning Laboratory for exploring energy and sustainability innovations. Rather than just studying or helping others be sustainable, the idea is to Walk the Talk and actually be ever more sustainable. Inspired by the new MIT Sloan Porter Building, which will achieve the highest level of LEED on campus, I suggested we try to generalize and begin to think about creating a LEED Campus (and for that matter aspiring towards LEED Cities, LEED Countries, and indeed, a LEED Planet).

Just a few hours earlier I hosted Professor Steven Lerman as guest speaker at our Understanding MIT seminar. Dean Lerman shared with us his experience starting and running Project Athena, a 1980's campus computing initiative. Project Athena was a remarkable technology testbed which also incubated several key inventions, including Kerberos authentication, X windowing system, and Zephyr instant messaging. Athena made it possible for MIT students to be among the first and fastest adopters of the web in the early 1990's. The key thing is that any anthropologist (or market researcher) observing student behavior would have seen the future first. Athena made MIT a predictive microcosm of the world to-come with people experiencing web-equivalent services -- e.g. anywhere email, online file storage, served applications, pervasive IM -- roughly 5-10 years before people in the rest of the OECD.

The ambitious Living The Future initiative (f.k.a. MIT Project Mercury) seeks to do the same thing at MIT for all things mobile and wireless.

This is starting to happen with energy and sustainability at MIT. Elsa's own efforts to document and minimize energy use in research labs lead to tangible efficiency gains. Other students are pushing for using biodiesel in campus vehicles. And more. But more coherent and faculty-driven support is needed to take this from being fragmented and extracurricular to central and enduring.

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