Some Say Harvard's Greening Efforts Lack Student Support

Since University President Drew G. Faust and fellow deans made a public commitment to sustainability efforts in 2008, the University has passed several milestones in its campaign to become more environmentally friendly.

In April, President Faust announced that Harvard had achieved a 10 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions since 2006, a significant achievement  for the “Green Is the New Crimson” initiative, which aims to achieve a 30 percent reduction by 2016.

And on August 1, Harvard was granted its 50th building certification for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), an award indicating that a building is energy and resource efficient.

But despite the increased visibility of green programs, some students say they wish their peers would take sustainability more seriously.

“We always need more involvement from the student body because compared to other colleges, we aren’t as committed,” said Rebecca J. Cohen ’12, social chair of the Harvard College Environmental Action Committee. “At the same time I think that there’s a very supportive face of students, and as a whole, students are aware of environmental issues.”


Colin B. Durrant, Harvard’s manager of sustainability communications, similarly emphasized the importance of student involvement in campus sustainability efforts.

“Throughout the university over 50 student REPs and Student Sustainability Associates work in dorms, houses and in the campus community to educate their peers about steps they can take to reduce energy and conserve resources,” Durrant wrote in an email.

Although the Office for Sustainability encourages students to participate in the “Green Is the New Crimson” campaign, some students said they feel that the initiative is more of a one-sided effort and that it desperately needs more student support.

“Regardless of what Harvard does as an institution, we need to change the way students feel about the environment, because our actions as individual students have a bigger impact than any poster campaign that the university puts on,” said Gorick K. H. Ng ’14. “I’m talking in terms of whether it be using fewer paper towels, taking only what you can eat in the dining halls, or unplugging appliances when they’re not being used.”

Danielle G. Rabinowitz ’14, a student not directly involved in the green initiative on campus, noted that she has repeatedly witnessed student wastefulness in her experience as an undergraduate.

“I’ve noticed that in the house dining halls, the copious amount of paper and plastic that is used by students says that we have a lot to work on in terms of usage of non-recyclable items,” Rabinowitz said.

In his statement, Durrant noted that there are many nontraditional opportunities for students to get involved in sustainability advocacy.

Among these are the Office for Sustainability’s grant program, which  funds creative environmental projects by undergraduate and graduate students that help contribute to Harvard’s on-campus sustainability goals.

Another program is the Green Cup competition, in which undergraduate houses compete to reduce their carbon footprint.

“Students have always been a key driver of Harvard’s sustainability efforts,” Durrant wrote. “They advocate for action on campus and explore creative ideas to help address environmental concerns.”

—Staff writer Mark Guzman can be reached at


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