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Harvard’s Greenhouse Gas Emissions Flatline for Seventh Straight Year in 2022

Harvard's net greenhouse gas emissions flatlined for the seventh year in a row, according to the University's sustainability report for 2022 emission levels.
Harvard's net greenhouse gas emissions flatlined for the seventh year in a row, according to the University's sustainability report for 2022 emission levels. By Julian J. Giordano
By Isabella G. Schauble, Crimson Staff Writer

Harvard’s campus net greenhouse gas emissions continued to flatline for the seventh straight year in 2022, as the University experienced its first full year of normal functioning since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Net emissions, which include carbon credits and offsets, remained at the level achieved in 2016, when Harvard met its goal of reducing emissions by 30 percent from a 2006 baseline, according to the University’s annual sustainability report.

Overall emissions on Harvard’s campus, however, rose from their previous flatlining during the Covid-19 pandemic to a level similar to that of 2019.

Jaclyn Olsen, director at the Office for Sustainability, wrote in an email that the “2022 emissions look higher because 2020 and 2021 were slightly lower due to operations disruption during the pandemic.”

Although the University’s net emissions still continue to flatline, Olsen wrote that the University remains focused on “meeting voluntary and regulatory” climate goals.

The annual report found that between the 2006 baseline year and 2022, “emissions fell by about 27% while the total square footage of emitting buildings grew by roughly 19%.”

Harvard previously pledged to make its campus fossil fuel-neutral by 2026 and then-University President Drew G. Faust said in 2018 that Harvard would seek to become fossil fuel-free by 2050.

“We are in a planning phase right now as we evaluate the decarbonization solutions for our district energy systems, buildings, and vehicles, and develop roadmaps and plans to meet our goals,” Olsen wrote.

Heather Henriksen, Harvard’s chief sustainability officer, wrote in an email that the University’s goal of becoming fossil fuel-free by 2050 — dubbed “Goal Zero” — is a “major focus.”

“We are in the middle of deep planning for how to remove fossil fuels from our district energy plants, purchased electricity, our buildings, and our vehicles,” Henriksen added.

The 2022-23 sustainability report provided an update on the University’s “Coolfood Pledge,” which seeks to achieve a 25 percent reduction in Harvard’s food-related emissions by 2030.

David Havelick, assistant director at the Office for Sustainability, wrote in an email that “this is the first time we are highlighting our progress toward meeting the Coolfood Pledge.”

The University’s return to pre-pandemic levels of functioning affected its food waste, according to the report. Per-plate emissions fell by 14.3 percent between 2019 and 2021, but increased by 16 percent again in 2022.

The report also provided an update on Harvard’s Sustainable Building Standards, which were first developed in 2007.

Harvard received five new “Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design” certifications for campus buildings since 2021, according to the report. The certification, commonly referred to as LEED, is a globally recognized benchmark of sustainability that evaluates “green” buildings.

Andover Hall, Cumnock Hall, Claverly Hall, Klarman Hall, and the Science and Engineering Complex were all recognized over the past two years with LEED certifications.

“Harvard currently has 148 LEED-certified buildings, more than any other higher education institution, and we feel we can and should do better, so we are in the process of implementing Living Building Challenge certification on major building projects going forward,” Henriksen, the University’s chief sustainability officer, wrote.

The report also detailed progress on the University’s value-chain emissions, which include water usage levels and waste reduction.

Harvard’s water usage levels were also affected by the return of students and faculty to campus after the Covid-19 pandemic. In 2022, the University’s water usage increased by more than 70 million gallons compared to 2021. The 2022 levels, however, still marked a 24 percent decrease from Harvard’s 2006 baseline.

Trash levels also increased in 2022, rising by nearly 2,000 tons from 2021. Compost and recycling, however, held steady at their pandemic levels, with only slight increases from 2021.

Henriksen wrote that Harvard, through its sustainability efforts, is hoping to set an example for other institutions.

“I especially want to highlight that in creating sustainable spaces at Harvard we are using our campus as a testbed in which we pilot, test, prove, and model the latest research and leading innovations with the hope of serving as a resource to others,” Henriksen added.

—Staff writer Isabella G. Schauble can be reached at

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