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Our Carbon Footprint

By Stephanie B. Garlock, Crimson Staff Writer

In July 2008, University President Drew G. Faust challenged Harvard to reduce all greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent from the 2006 baseline level within the next decade.

Since then, Harvard’s individual schools are making uneven progress towards the University’s target, with reductions ranging from a high of 27 percent at Harvard Business School to a low of 4.6 percent at the Graduate School of Design for fiscal years 2006 to 2009.

And as of July 2009, the University had reduced its emissions by 7 percent, including campus renovations and expansions.

At the center of a sprawling, decentralized University, the Office for Sustainability—established in the fall of 2008—has been tasked with keeping every Harvard division on track to meet the same 30 percent reduction in GHG emissions.

But given the unique starting point and varying operational needs of each school—Harvard Medical School’s energy expenditures include the electricity demands of its labs, where thousands of students and faculty conduct research, for example—it is unclear whether Harvard will be able to achieve 30 percent reductions across the board.


For the School of Design, meeting Faust’s challenge would require major renovations to its only building, Gund Hall,a 1970s Brutalist concrete building half occupied by a 35,000 square foot open studio space where the temperature varies by as much as 15 degrees between the bottom and top levels.

Gund Hall’s vast expanse of single-paned windows overlooking the large studio space is a major source of heat loss in the winter and overheating in the summer, the school’s facilities manager W. Kevin Cahill explains.

Additionally, the school has struggled to find an economically viable solution that would not ruin the architectural integrity of the building, says School of Design professor Christoph F. Reinhart, who has spearheaded many of the school’s sustainability efforts.

“This building was built before the oil embargoes, before the whole dynamic of heating costs,” Cahill says of Gund Halls’ energy-inefficient design. “They wouldn’t do that today.”

Similarly, Harvard Law School has run into difficulties in meeting its sustainability goals, as many buildings on campus were constructed in the 1950s, according to the school’s facilities director John Arciprete. The Law School has cut emissions by 14 percent thus far.

“The Business School would just have to change a setting on a pump to make it more efficient,” Arciprete says. “We would have to buy a whole new pump.”

The “growth inclusive” stipulation of the goal—meaning that any emissions associated with renovations or expansions must not push the school over its 30 percent targeted reduction—has proven to be another challenge for the Law School, which broke ground on a new construction project in 2007.

The Northwest Corner project, which is slated for completion by the end of 2011, will add about 250,000 square feet to the Law School’s campus—and a much larger real reduction goal in existing buildings, Arciprete says.

At the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, high-energy labs take up 25 percent of building space on Harvard’s Cambridge campus but account for half of FAS utilities costs, according to the Earth and Planetary Systems department website.

OFS Director Heather A. Henriksen adds that labs and computing systems—areas in which the University is growing most rapidly—have also presented problems for the Medical School, which has seen a 8.9 percent reduction in emissions.


Though the Business School has continued to finance seven to 10 substantial sustainability projects each year since 2005, the $11 billion decline in endowment value in the year ending June 30, 2009 has affected other schools’ plans for green infrastructure changes.

For example, the School of Design, which receives 41 percent of its revenue from the endowment, has had to dramatically cut back on planned renovations of Gund Hall—such as replacing the large windows in the studio area—after this year’s endowment payout declined by 8 percent from the previous year, Cahill says.

“It’s always interesting at Harvard to say this, but we’re one of the poorer schools,” Cahill says.

To facilitate sustainability projects with large up-front costs, OFS manages a Green Campus Loan Fund, which allows schools to borrow up to $500,000 for initiatives and upgrades that will generate net savings within five years. According to the OFS website, the fund has provided $11.5 million in loans for 153 projects—including lighting upgrades, improvements to heating and cooling systems, and composting programs.

“We’ve had pretty broad support from the schools and units using it,” Henriksen says.

OFS has also encouraged schools to roll out “occupant engagement” programs, where Green Teams comprised of staff and students promote environmentally friendly practices such as composting, recycling, and saving energy.

These grassroots efforts have contributed the most to the Law School’s reductions, according to Arciprete, who says that the school focused on behavior modification during the initial phases of their sustainability efforts due to high renovation costs.

At the Design School, Cahill says that 10 percent of the faculty and staff are members of the Green Team, which has encouraged composting and recycling of wood and other design materials, and Henriksen says that initiatives such as low flow fume hoods have been able to maximize efficiency in a typically energy-intensive environment at the science schools.

Simple steps such as running the heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning systems only when buildings are heavily occupied have contributed to significant cost savings, Henriksen adds.

“This isn’t the sexy stuff, but they’re also the stuff that have the big impact,” Henriksen says.


After evaluating Harvard’s GHG reduction efforts thus far, Henriksen says that OFS is reassessing the different divisions’ plans to create a University-wide master plan that will be released later this year, marking Faust’s efforts to bring together the University’s schools that have traditionally operated under the “every tub on its own bottom” philosophy of decentralization.

Though OFS assistant director Jaclyn Olsen says that the relative decentralization of green efforts provides room for innovation at the school level, the office would like to see more coordination among individual efforts across the University.

“It takes some time to build up the expertise to have the ability to implement these things,” Olsen says.

OFS has helped organize several successful cross-university initiatives, according to Henriksen, including the sharing of behavioral best practices, the Green Office certification program, and the implementation of the University-wide temperature policies.

“We’re very positive because all the schools and units are working together,” Henriksen says. “There’s a strategic plan that they’re moving in the same direction with.”

But in terms of achieving the 30 percent targeted emissions reduction, the outlook is more varied among the individual schools.

The Law School’s sustainability coordinator Cara E. Ferrentino ’08 says that it is difficult to engineer a University-wide initiative that will address all school-specific needs.

“You find areas for collaboration, but it ends up being a different project,” Ferrentino says. “Each program responds to the culture of the school.”

Cahill adds that he “really couldn’t say” if 30 percent is a realistic target for the School of Design.

“It’s a goal, but at the same time it’s a challenge,” Cahill says.

—Staff writer Stephanie B. Garlock can be reached at

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