Sustain Sustainability

Harvard’s environmental policy has both bright spots and challenges to meet

Nick Batter

For the second year in a row, Harvard has been deemed one of the top 15 universities in environmental awareness and efforts. According to the College Sustainability Report Card, which is released annually by the Sustainable Endowments Institute, Harvard scored an “A-” on the campus sustainability scale. This report is a positive sign that campus-wide green efforts are paying off.

In an era in which problems of excessive human consumption and ignorance and apathy toward the gloomy prospect of climate change reign, taking charge of our environmental destiny is of utmost importance. Fortunately, recent semesters have brought about increased attention to environmental issues at Harvard. Small-scale changes, such as environmentally friendly appliances and fixtures in many undergraduate houses, have accompanied a broader commitment to the environment.

Not only has University President Drew G. Faust commissioned a task force to reduce greenhouse gas emissions at Harvard by 30 percent by 2016, but, more recently, she also signed the Campus Sustainability Pledge, which proved a major victory for Harvard’s environmentally minded students. In a letter to the Harvard community in late September, Faust highlighted the need to seek environmental reforms even beyond our own our campus. For instance, in describing campus expansion efforts across the Charles in Allston, Faust stressed her hope that Allston’s green example would serve as an example for the community beyond. “Every one of us has a stake in the outcome of these efforts—and a role to play in their success,” Faust wrote. This year holds enormous potential for Harvard’s green efforts—in Allston and elsewhere—and President Faust has demonstrated herself to be an excellent chief in this area.

While the College Sustainability Report highlighted many of our successes, it equally challenged Harvard to improve in two key areas: transportation and endowment transparency. In the area of transportation, Harvard scored a “B” grade for transportation because, according to the report, the university does not adequately seek alternative fuel sources or provide environmentally friendly transportation for students and staff. The “C” grade in the area of endowment transparency was likely earned due to a general lack of availability of information to the public and community at large about Harvard’s financial efforts toward sustainability. (Despite this low mark, however, Harvard still topped Yale, which scored an “F” in endowment transparency.) Hopefully, the poor grades will help to shepherd in reform in these two shortcomings, in addition to serving as encouragement for the university to continue to improve green efforts on the whole.

Later this month, the University will host a sustainability celebration event, with speeches by Former Vice President Al Gore ’69 and other important stewards of environmental efforts. We should use this celebration to remind ourselves that the struggle to stay green is far from over and to rally every member of the Harvard community to involve himself or herself in this battle. After all, we did score an “A” grade in the area of Student Involvement, and no one wants to bring our average down.