Scott Sandberg would not just walk into an office, said a friend. He would run in, full of energy.
Sandberg, a building services coordinator at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, died in a 2002 mountain climbing accident at the age of 32. But colleagues say his energy lives on and still provides an inspiration for Harvard innovations that answer the mantra of sustainability: reduce, reuse, and recycle.
Those same three words appear underneath “Scott F. Sandberg Square” on a black sign at the corner of James and Brattle streets, near Radcliffe’s Gilman Gate.
“Scott was such an extraordinarily engaging personality, whose enthusiasm for sustainability was completely infectious,” said the institute’s executive dean, Louise Richardson. “His method was the force of his personality, the charm of his personality.”
It was a charm that worked. In 2000, a year after he started at Harvard, Sandberg won an award from the city of Cambridge for ratcheting up the recycling rate at Radcliffe from 25 to 72 percent.
Some of his methods were unorthodox, said Richardson. One night Sandberg raided every office on the 15-building campus, taking away wastebaskets and replacing them with blue recycling bins. Each had a tiny basket on the side for what couldn’t be recycled.
“In all aspects of his life, he paid attention to eliminating waste,” said John Horst, the director of facilities at the Radcliffe Institute, who hired Sandberg in January 1999. Horst described his old friend as straightforward, honest, and friendly.
Sandberg, a Navy veteran with a degree in fire science, was dubbed the “recycling king” at Radcliffe, and carried his passion beyond the blue bin. He started recycling centers for outdated keys and discarded CDs. He turned old stationery into scratch pads. And his food composting program at the Cronkhite Center dining hall included tabletop signage that read: “Are you going to eat that?”
Institute Dean Drew G. Faust, president-elect of Harvard University and Lincoln Professor of History, said Sandberg brought “a quiet revolution to Radcliffe.”
He was passionate about the environment and social justice, she said, “but he sought his goals with an insistent and unrelenting gentleness and a wonderful sense of humor.”
Just a few years ago at Harvard, sustainability wasn’t the watchword it is now, said Richardson, remembering Sandberg as a merry, sensitive man who favored flannel shirts and hiking boots. “He was definitely ahead of the curve.”
Granted, Sandberg “was operating in an environment that was predisposed to being green, and doing the right thing,” she said. “But he was a particular catalyst.”
Sandberg, an outdoorsman who biked to work in all seasons and spent weekends hiking and climbing, translated his environmental commitment into action at Radcliffe, said Horst, despite the fact that recycling or waste reduction wasn’t even part of his job description.
“He recognized that the Earth is a fragile system,” said Horst of Sandberg, a compact man who loved engagement. “He latched onto the environment. That was his focus.”
Richardson called Sandberg “an enormously attractive presence” who embodied the institute’s environmental ethic. “It speaks to the power of the individual,” she said. “We just all got on board behind him.”
The individual is gone, but the power has stayed. “We have certainly felt after his death that we owed it to Scott to keep it up,” said Richardson. “To honor his legacy.”