SEAS Sustainability Efforts Recognized

Sustainability efforts at the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences were recognized early last week at the Green Carpet Awards, a University-wide ceremony honoring Harvard affiliates who have aided campus sustainability efforts.

The SEAS laboratory operated by Physics Professor David A. Weitz was one of the finalists for the “Green Building Project” award, which was eventually won by a building at the School of Public Health.

Weitz’s experimental soft condensed matter lab recently moved to a new and more environmentally friendly space on Oxford Street.

Thomas E. Kodger, a graduate student in this lab, was closely involved in the implementation of several green initiatives in the new venue.

He said that one of the most important changes was the efficient monitoring of fume hoods, which absorb and expel poisonous gases from the lab but consume enormous amounts of energy—as much annually as a four-person household.

Weitz said that the way forward for SEAS is to “continue exactly what they have been doing,” which should include refurbishing all the remaining labs and implementing similar green initiatives in them.

He emphasized that social demands push institutions to update their equipment and their operations and that Harvard has been excellent in effectively responding to those demands.

A recent SEAS shift in focus from physical to chemical projects necessitated a greater awareness of sustainability standards, Kodger said.

The changes within the Weitz Lab also included automated, energy-conservation lighting as well as a workspace oriented more towards utilizing natural light. The lighting was initially considered a hassle by several members of the lab but eventually gained favor due to its ease of use, Kodger said.

He added that the most surprising modification was the replacement of all the windows in two of the labs. He cited the enormous cost of the undertaking as the reason for his surprise, but acknowledged that heat loss through the windows is the lab’s largest energy cost. Kodger estimated that the changes would pay back on their initial investments within five to eight years.

Kodger said that Harvard has successfully shifted towards meticulously following Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED) guidelines for constructing new buildings and workspaces.

“Recycling of old materials might be the one thing [that could] be done better,” he added.

Two individual recognitions were also given to SEAS at the Green Carpet Awards. Matthew N. Hayek, a graduate student, was awarded for his work in the Student Sustainability Advisory Group and his climate change research. SEAS Custodian Joanne Carson was recognized for her initiative in recycling coffee grounds for innovative uses such as fertilizer.

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