The Greening of the Crimson

Harvard Considers Environmental Initiative

After years of leadership in the academic study of the environment, the University is now seeking to move ahead in the arena of environmental practice.

Harvard has undertaken a new initiative, named Greening the Crimson (GTC), to unify the University effort to make Harvard committed to "environmental sustainability."

Leaders of the initiative, which was an outgrowth of the already-established University Committee on the Environment, say GTC will initially focus on two significant changes: the establishment of an interest-free loan fund for environmentally-beneficial renovation and the effort to include green concerns in large-scale University planning.

"The quest is about empowering the organization [Harvard] to undertake continuous improvement," says the Coordinator of GTC initiative Leith Sharp. She says that the new program has the potential to be "quite transformational."

Sharp is currently creating a proposal to be submitted to Provost Harvey V. Fineberg '67 next month on the specific actions the initiative will take over the next few years to advance this mission.

Getting everybody together

While Harvard has put environmental concerns at the top of the list for years, according to Tom E. Vautin, associate vice president for facilities and environmental services, up until now these efforts have lacked some broad University-wide plan.

And these past efforts have often been made without participation or cooperation with students or faculty members. GTC, however, has pledged to "engage and involve the Harvard community of Faculty, students and administrators."

"By bringing the capacity of all students, staff and faculty together this [environmental efforts] can become much bigger," Vautin says.

Leaders of the initiative, like Vautin and Sharp, envision students and professors through GTC testing out academic environmental theories using the University as their laboratory. The lessons learned at Harvard could then be applied on a broader scale.

If this ideal is realized, then GTC could become a leading worldwide model of university environmentalism, Sharp says.

Sharp has qualifications that make her uniquely suited for this position. She worked for several years in Australia in such a position and spent the last year studying environmental practices of several dozen American and European universities. She began her work for Harvard in late March. She was offered the position after giving a presentation at Harvard last winter on her findings.

The nitty-gritty

The first component of GTC, the interest-free loan fund is essential to providing the schools with the money they need to undertake this new effort.

The loan would allow the individual schools to borrow money for up to five years from the GTC without interest to make building and other infrastructure environmentally friendly. The loans would be paid back by the savings realized from the reduction in utility costs from the improvements, according to Sharp.

Sharp says that often the major roadblock to undertaking environmentally beneficial projects is the up-front costs which must be made several years in advance of the savings from these changes. The loan fund would attempt to eliminate this barrier.

A similar fund proposal was undertaken by the University on a trial basis between 1994 and 1998.

In that five-year trial, called the Resource Conservation Incentive Program, $1.5 million in loan funds was able to fund 35 projects which reduced the University's pollution production through energy consumption by the equivalent of taking 670 cars off the road. This reduction in energy consumption also helped lower Harvard's bottom line, creating $900,000 in annual savings.

The other component of working to include environmental concerns in capital projects would be a new idea for Harvard.

Specifically GTC hopes to include "green building" practices in the design and construction of new buildings by the University's various schools. Such practices include designing buildings to take advantage of sunlight in an effort to reduce the demands of artificial lighting, making buildings retain heat better in winter and coolness better in summer and improving indoor air quality.

According to Vautin, this is a very new area of design and construction. GTC hopes to potentially set the standards in green building practices and perhaps even establish a certification process.

Sharp notes that adopting green building practices has benefits beyond improving the environment. Employee retention and happiness can be improved by working in green buildings. She also said that designing buildings in such a way could improve community relations, with the large popular support for environmental efforts. This improved community support would make it easier for Harvard to receive local development approvals.

Transportation and purchasing decisions would also be made with a critical eye on the environment under current plans.

Fitting within the tubs

In making the plans for the GTC leaders say they must keep in mind the unique feature of Harvard's organization: the decentralized relationship between the various schools and the central administration.

"We really need to approach this with a broad sweeping strategy, but respect the [University's] decentralized goal," Sharp says. "There is no way we can dictate or command and control."

Sharp says that she realizes that she must work with the schools to get their support for the initiative and specific proposals, as the schools make individual decisions on their operations and infrastructure. However, she says that she has received very positive responses so far.

"There is an interest there at the moment to go forward voluntarily," Sharp says. She says the main hold-up in such attempts is a lack of information and expertise on environmental issues, which the GTC initiative will in the future be able to fill.

Members of the central administration share this belief in the initiative being a cooperative effort with the schools, not an effort to centralize University operations.

"The idea [of GTC] is not to take away prerogative," says Assistant Provost for Interfaculty Programs Sean T. Buffington '91. "What we'd like to do is to create a situation where there is an awareness of sustainability."

Buffington says that the GTC initiative is actually an example of exactly the role the central administration plays best: gathering the resources and information for the individual schools to take advantage of. Additionally, schools will be able to learn from each other with the joint participation in GTC.

Sharp expects as part of GTC to give financial and personnel support to the schools to compensate for the extra time and money required to include environmental concerns in plans. The initiative also will probably include several central staffers to coordinate efforts.

To get off the ground, GTC received slightly more than $70,000 in seed money from the provost's office at the start of this calendar year.

Initial plans for the initiative call for receipt of a significant sum of money at the program start next year and for the next few years to fund the initiatives initial activities. GTC is looking to not only receive funds from the University but from external grants.

However, the plan hopes to be self funding within five years, using part of the savings achieved by the environmentally friendly renovations to pay for continuing operations.