Green Is the Not-So-New Crimson

Harvard eyes its goal as it reduces its carbon footprint

Green is the New Crimson
Muhammad H Tahir

Harvard eyes its four-year-old goal as it aims to reduce its carbon footprint.

Those in Harvard’s Office for Sustainability have a list of success stories to tell.

To date, more than 75 of Harvard’s buildings have earned LEED green building certifications, more than any other higher education institution. Since 2010, over 60 percent of Harvard Yard’s hot water needs have been provided for by a solar thermal and heat recovery system located on Canaday’s rooftop. And Harvard’s Gordon Indoor Track Center will soon become home to the University’s largest solar panel system, providing more than 600 kilowatts of power to the institution.

The current movement to put the University on the path to environmental sustainability began in earnest in July 2008. It was that year that University President Drew G. Faust, after convening the Greenhouse Gas Task Force, announced that Harvard would attempt to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent from its 2006 baseline by 2016.

“What is at stake is nothing less than a change in the culture of how we work and live,” Faust said at the time.

But four years later and halfway into its commitment, Harvard has only logged a 7 percent reduction in GHG emissions, according to the Office of Sustainability’s website. Having reached the project’s halfway mark, the University is taking time to evaluate its progress and reassess its goals. This fall, a committee will examine what has already been done to reduce GHG emissions and achieve Harvard’s other sustainability priorities.


But before the committee presents its findings and recommendations—which may involve a tweaking of its greenhouse gas reduction goal—much work remains to be done, and faculty, students, and staff members have affirmed the need for more creative methods of reducing Harvard’s emissions.


Ambitious is a word that many—including Faust herself—have used to describe the 30 percent goal.

“It’s very challenging, but it was intended to be,” said Business School professor Robert S. Kaplan, one of the faculty chairs of the GHG Reduction Executive Committee, an advisory group that regularly meets to devise Harvard’s sustainability strategies.

In its drive to reach the GHG emissions reduction goal, Harvard has focused thus far on ways to reduce the energy used by campus facilities, which emit 95 percent of the greenhouse gases emitted by Harvard.

“The strategy was that we’re going to assess and target all the stuff we can do on campus first,” said Office for Sustainability Director Heather A. Henriksen. “As a community, we agreed to make all the hard stuff—everything we have control over in our energy supply and our buildings—more efficient.”

With that in mind, energy audits were conducted on buildings across the University to determine the energy needs of existing structures, many of which were built over a century ago. To date, more than 800 energy conservation measures have been implemented and 200 more are in the works.

Perhaps the greatest difficulty in reducing emissions is the growth of Harvard’s campus. If the 3 million new square feet added to Harvard’s campus during the last four years are not included in the calculation, then Harvard has already reduced GHG emissions by 18 percent, according to the Office of Sustainability.

Newly constructed buildings are often home to energy-intensive laboratories, which comprise about a fifth of Harvard’s square footage but account for 40 percent of its energy use. But the fact that the Task Force’s benchmark includes growth makes the University-wide effort to reduce emissions “a moving target,” as Kaplan put it.



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