New Harvard Office Encourages Sustainability

A day after former Vice President Al Gore '69 called upon Harvard students and faculty to take action against climate change, panelists from the University’s recently formed Office for Sustainability further entreated students to cooperate with administration on campus sustainability efforts.

Speaking at yesterday’s Environmental Action Committee meeting, the panel, which included OFS directors, described the framework that is currently in place to make the University more sustainable and opened the forum to student input.

“The one thing about the implementation [of the greenhouse gas reduction goal] is that everyone has to be involved in this one way or another,” said Thomas E. Vautin, co-chair of OFS. “There is something that everyone on this campus has to do to make this work.”

University President Drew G. Faust established the office this summer to implement the recommendations of the Greenhouse Gas Task Force Report.

The report called on Harvard to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to 30 percent below 2006 levels by 2016 and coordinate broader University-wide sustainability efforts.

The panel also included Mitchell C. Hunter ’09, who spoke about the “fantastic” collaboration between students and administrators during his time on the Greenhouse Gas Task Force.

Campus environmental advocates in the audience were pleased with OFS’s active efforts to enlist undergraduate involvement.

“A lot of the time students feel alienated by the administration,” said Karen A. McKinnon ’10, co-chair of the Environmental Action Committee.

“This is a unique time in that the Office for Sustainability, a very important office right up there with the president’s office, wants to hear what students have to say.”

The panelists listed several concrete steps that OFS will take, including increasing building efficiency and employing more full-time staff dedicated to sustainability.

However, they noted that their plans are preliminary and will need to adjust to changes in technology, economic conditions, and climate science.

“This is not something that we can say, ‘We’ve got all the information, here’s the plan, let’s go forward,’” Vautin said. “This has to be continually adapted to be smart.”

Panelists also described an increasing environmental “energy” on campus.

“We know there’s support,” said Nathan Gauthier, assistant director of OFS. “Now we need ideas and to point that energy in the right direction.”

After the panelists spoke, audience members asked questions and offered suggestions for environmental initiatives.

The OFS directors, in the spirit of student-administrator collaboration, took notes on some of the ideas, which included a fund for student sustainable entrepreneurship and a unified directory of on-campus environmental research.

—Staff writer Natasha S. Whitney can be reached at


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