Our Sustainability Plan aligns Harvard’s decentralized campus around a holistic vision and sets clear University-wide goals and priorities in the areas of emissions and energy, campus operations, nature and ecosystems, health and well-being, and culture and learning. 

It also encourages students, faculty, and staff to continue piloting sustainability solutions throughout the University by using Harvard’s cutting-edge research and teaching to tackle real-world challenges on campus.

The Harvard Sustainability Plan recognizes that creating a sustainable campus strengthens our core research and teaching mission, and it acknowledges that the challenges before us are complex and interconnected, demanding an ever-developing approach to sustainability.

- President Drew Gilpin Faust

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Foreword by President Drew Faust

Worldwide scientific consensus has clearly established that climate change and the challenges of environmental sustainability pose a serious threat to our future—and, increasingly, to our present. Harvard has long recognized its responsibility to confront these challenges as part of its special accountability to the future. Fulfilling these obligations must be our common purpose and our shared commitment.

Each member of our community has a role to play in this effort. 

We must continue to generate new ideas and spur exciting innovations by collaborating across disciplines as we develop solutions to pressing global challenges. From creating new materials that revolutionize solar energy production, to probing the human influences on climate change, to providing analysis to policy-makers, faculty and students are making important contributions and helping to ensure a more sustainable future. Our teaching and research across Harvard—in climate science, engineering, law, public health, policy, design, and business—has an unparalleled capacity to accelerate the progression from nonrenewable to renewable sources of energy.

Harvard must also be committed to modeling an institutional pathway to a more sustainable campus. Our goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is the University’s most ambitious effort to date, but our students, faculty, and staff have also harnessed their creativity to build a healthier campus in which to learn, work, and live. Harvard’s commitment to sustainability has united individuals across our Schools around common goals and a strong vision for a more vibrant community. 

The Harvard Sustainability Plan, developed in consultation with a wide range of University stakeholders, seeks to build on our progress. It considers the University’s role in the world and recognizes our shared responsibility to build and operate a campus that contributes to the well-being of every member of our community—and ultimately to the health of the planet. It recognizes that creating a sustainable campus strengthens our core research and teaching mission, and it acknowledges that the challenges before us are complex and interconnected, demanding an ever-developing approach to sustainability. 

The Harvard Sustainability Plan is a critical and necessary step forward in building a more sustainable future, a future in which our research and teaching inform solutions to problems on our campus and far beyond it; in which ideas, innovation, and discovery are considered indispensable elements in combating global challenges; and in which actions related to energy and the environment are complemented by efforts to improve human health and well-being. Students arriving today ought to leave Harvard with a deeper understanding of the complexity of sustainability challenges and be ready to address them no matter where their lives may lead. 

Together, we must create that future. I want to extend my deep appreciation to Executive Vice President Katie Lapp and the Office for Sustainability for leading the development of this Plan. I also want to thank the hundreds of faculty, students, and staff in facilities, Campus Services, and elsewhere who contributed to the creation of the Plan. Their work across disciplines and Schools speaks to the power of collaboration and teamwork, and it embodies the perennial goal of using the great talent that exists throughout the University to achieve something even greater together.

Drew Gilpin Faust 
President, Harvard University

In October 2008, President Faust hosted a Sustainability Celebration to rally the community around Harvard’s greenhouse gas reduction goal—15,000 people attended, and Vice President and Nobel Laureate Al Gore delivered the keynote address. One bag of trash was created.In October 2008, President Faust hosted a Sustainability Celebration to rally the community around Harvard’s greenhouse gas reduction goal—15,000 people attended, and Vice President and Nobel Laureate Al Gore delivered the keynote address. One bag of trash was created.

Introduction by Professors William Clark and Jack Spengler

What does sustainable development mean for an institution like Harvard University?

The United Nation’s Brundtland Commission Report of 1987 concluded that humanity has the ability to make development sustainable if it meets “the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” 

The Brundtland Report was the catalyst that helped focus humanity on our obligations to future generations as well as to the importance of developing people, not just protecting the environment. However, there is a growing consensus among scholars and leaders around the world that we must now build on the Brundtland Report by incorporating a deeper consideration of human well-being into the evolving approach to sustainable development on local, regional, and global levels.

That consensus argues that when governments, firms, and other organizations consider their possible paths toward sustainable development, they should focus on implications for the well-being of individual people aggregated within and across generations. Well-being depends, of course, on conservation of natural resources and the environment. But there are also other assets from which a society can draw to shape its own wellbeing to pass on to successive generations. A systematic approach to the challenges of sustainable development must appreciate the contributions to our intergenerational well-being of each of these assets, plus the trade-offs and interactions among them:

  • Natural capital (e.g. biodiversity and capacity to fix energy from the sun)
  • Manufactured capital (e.g. housing, electrical generating capacity, and transportation)
  • Human capital (e.g. population size and distribution, personal health, and education)
  • Social capital (e.g. norms, values, laws, institutions, and trust in them)
  • Knowledge capital (e.g. public knowledge created through experience, invention, and research).

Organizations, including Harvard University, must ask themselves: “How will these important determinants of well-being be explicitly considered in our sustainable development plans?” and “What steps will we take on our campus to manage this full range of assets so as to benefit human well-being over the long term?” In Harvard’s case, grappling with these questions becomes a device for asking what we want to promote in order to help make our campus, and the communities of which we are part, more sustainable. What are the specific constituents of well-being that most concern us? How are we thinking about them in terms of consequences, not just for us, but also taking into account positive or negative impacts we have on others today and in the future?

Harvard is a thriving academic community that is uniquely positioned to engage in a robust dialogue around these questions and what it truly means to be an organization that supports sustainable development
not only through its research and teaching, but also through its operations. Sustainable development at Harvard involves more than simply reducing our campus’ impact on the surrounding environment. Rather, we must strive to cultivate a robust community that supports the well-being of everyone who passes through our gates, even as we pursue our broader missions of research and teaching.

The creation of Harvard’s first University-wide Sustainability Plan is much more than an exercise in strategic planning. It is an opportunity for every member of our community to reflect on what role they can play in enhancing our collective well-being for a more sustainable future.

The creation of Harvard’s first University-wide Sustainability Plan is much more than an exercise in strategic planning. It is an opportunity for every member of our community to reflect on what role they can play in enhancing our collective well-being for a more sustainable future.


-William Clark, Harvey Brooks Professor of International Science, Public Policy and Human Development, Harvard Kennedy School

-Jack Spengler, Akira Yamaguchi Professor of Environmental Health and Human Habitation, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health

Roadmap to a Sustainable Community

Climate change and environmental degradation are global problems that require a bold, clear response from organizations, governments, and businesses. Harvard University is confronting these challenges through research and teaching, and by turning research into action in order to model an institutional pathway to a more sustainable future.

The University’s network of campuses is a living, breathing ecosystem set within an urban environment that includes 12 Schools, dozens of administrative and operational groups, a broad range of building types and land uses, and a diverse group of tens of thousands of faculty, students, and staff. From an institutional standpoint, we aim to transform the University into a sustainable community that contributes positive social, economic, and environmental benefits. We are dedicated to institutionalizing best practices in sustainable operations and translating research and teaching into practice by using our campus to pilot innovative solutions that can be widely replicated. We also have a deeper mandate that goes to the heart of Harvard’s research and teaching mission: to educate and empower our students while on campus to become leaders who will use their knowledge to create sustainable impact in service to the world.

Harvard’s commitment is driven by Sustainability Principles, adopted in 2004, which provide a broad vision to guide University-wide sustainability initiatives. In 2008, President Faust and the Deans approved Harvard’s most ambitious sustainability commitment to date: a long-term commitment to reduce the University’s greenhouse gas emissions by the maximum practicable rate aligned with the best available science, and a short-term goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 30% by 2016, including growth, from a 2006 baseline. This goal mobilized the University community and allowed the Office for Sustainability to establish a framework for creating, scaling, and achieving University-wide goals by facilitating teamwork across disciplines and sectors. In addition, the University has achieved significant progress in areas beyond energy and emissions including sustainable transportation, healthy operations and maintenance, employee engagement, and student green living.

The centerpiece of Harvard’s strategy is scaling sustainable change for maximum impact. We empower our community to innovate on the local level and then identify those solutions that can be replicated and scaled up across the University. These replicable models are also shared with our peers in the business, government, and higher education sectors to scale change beyond the boundaries of our campus.

The Harvard Sustainability Plan builds off of this framework and is the next step in the University’s evolving commitment to sustainability. It is our roadmap for building and operating a healthier, more sustainable campus community. The Harvard Office for Sustainability led the development of the Plan with extensive feedback from hundreds of faculty, students, and facilities and operational experts
across the University.

The Plan aligns our decentralized campus around a holistic vision and sets clear University-wide goals and priorities based on the innovations and solutions that have been developed at our individual Schools and departments. It is intended to be practical and operational from Fiscal Year 2015 through Fiscal Year 2020 and covers the entirety of Harvard’s campus in North America, spanning all Schools, administrative departments, and properties.

The existing short-term goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is integrated into this Plan and will be revisited in 2016 when a Task Force is scheduled to recommend new greenhouse gas and energy reduction goals as part of a quadrennial review process. We fully expect that, in many cases, Harvard’s Schools and departments will exceed these goals and continue to innovate and push for the next generation of sustainability solutions.

We tap into the creative ideas that our students, faculty, and staff are generating and then work to replicate them University-wide for greater impact.

-Heather Henriksen, Director, Office for Sustainability 

The Harvard Sustainability Plan is organized around the five core topics of Emissions and Energy, Campus Operations, Nature and Ecosystems, Health and Well-Being, and Culture and Learning. Each topic includes areas of focus with specific actions that are organized within three categories:

1. GOAL | University-wide resource reduction goals with a specific target within a set timeframe.

2. STANDARD | Operational standards to facilitate alignment across the University, ensuring that a consistent approach is being implemented. Standards are designed to allow flexibility for how they are implemented by individual Schools and administrative departments.

3. COMMITMENT | A statement of commitment or recommendation for future research in areas where there was not enough information to set a specific numeric goal or standard.

This Plan should be seen as a living document. It sets a University-wide baseline from which we can continue to innovate and explore new ideas for the greater good. By providing a foundation for improved reporting and accountability, it also helps us create a stronger platform for better assessing our true University-wide impacts and results. We expect it to evolve and change over time, with a formal
process to review and set new goals every five years.

Helping students access the tools to live more sustainably at Harvard is one of our core priorities and we hope they’ll take those tools with them in the classroom to explore the next generation of solutions that will lead to a healthier planet.

-Jasmine Waddell, Resident Dean of Freshman, Elm Yard

Goals, Commitments, Standards 

We have a special role and a special responsibility to confront the challenge of climate change by reducing campus greenhouse gas emissions by the maximum practicable rate. Reducing energy and emissions remains one of the University’s top priorities, and we will continue to meet this challenge through best-in-class innovations in energy efficiency, energy management, and renewable energy.

In 2008, Harvard established a long-term commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions based on the best available science and set a short-term goal to reduce University-wide emissions 30% by 2016. In 2016, the University will develop new greenhouse gas emissions and energy reduction goals based on the recommendations of a planned Task Force composed of students, faculty, and staff. This Plan will be updated at that time to reflect the University’s new goals.

Greenhouse Gas Emissions

In February 2018, Harvard set ambitious new climate action goals to be fossil fuel-free by 2050 and fossil fuel-neutral by 2026. Learn more

GOAL | Reduce University-wide greenhouse gas emissions 30% by 2016 from a 2006 baseline, including growth. (Adopted in 2008) Learn more

COMMITMENT | Maintain a long-term commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by the maximum practicable rate, aligned with the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s recommendations to reduce emissions 80% by 2050. (Adopted in 2008)

COMMITMENT | Track and report Scope 3 greenhouse gas emissions.

Energy Reduction

COMMITMENT | Identify and implement net present value positive energy conservation measures in our buildings as part of the five-year capital planning process.

COMMITMENT | Assess energy use by building and space type to inform goal setting by the 2016 Greenhouse Gas Reduction Goal Review Task Force.

Renewable Energy

COMMITMENT | Conduct a University-wide on-site renewable energy study to inform goal setting by the 2016 Greenhouse Gas Reduction Goal Review Task Force.

COMMITMENT | Recommend that the 2016 Greenhouse Gas Reduction Goal Review Task Force consider setting a renewable energy purchasing goal.

We will aim to have a restorative impact on the surrounding environment and our community of students, faculty, and staff by developing and operating Harvard’s campuses to conserve resources, reduce pollution, and enhance personal well-being.

New Construction

STANDARD | Maintain University-wide compliance with the Harvard University Green Building Standards, reviewed annually and revised every four years. Learn more

Building Operations

GOAL | Reduce waste per capita 50% by 2020 from a 2006 baseline, with the aspirational goal of becoming a zero-waste campus.

GOAL | Reduce University-wide water use 30% by 2020 from a 2006 baseline, including process, irrigation, and potable water usage.

STANDARD | Achieve University-wide compliance with the Harvard University Green Cleaning Standards by 2020.

STANDARD | Achieve University-wide compliance with the Harvard University Sustainable IT Standards by 2017.

COMMITMENT | Recycle or dispose of hazardous and electronic materials in a responsible and ethical manner, with a priority to minimize the use of hazardous materials, as appropriate.

COMMITMENT | Develop a best practices guide for managing and operating buildings in a sustainable and energy efficient manner in order to assist facilities teams in meeting sustainability-related goals, standards, and commitments.


COMMITMENT | Develop a University-wide plan by 2016 for reducing campus fleet and shuttle emissions.

COMMITMENT | Maintain and continuously improve sustainable transportation opportunities, programs, and incentives for Harvard affiliates.

COMMITMENT | Increase the bikeability and safety of the streets in and around Harvard’s campuses, and seek to achieve gold-level Bicycle Friendly University status from the League of American Bicyclists by 2020.

Climate Preparedness and Campus Resilience 

STANDARD | Develop standards for climate preparedness and campus resilience that apply to new and existing building design and critical infrastructure by 2016.

STANDARD | Develop a University-wide Climate Preparedness and Campus Resilience Plan by 2020.


STANDARD | Develop University-wide standards for targeted environmentally preferred products by 2018.

COMMITMENT | Require all major vendors to report on progress in meeting Harvard standards and specified third-party environmental certifications, and demonstrate their commitment to sustainability through corporate responsibility reporting, by 2016.

COMMITMENT | Require all vendors, as appropriate, to comply with applicable Harvard sustainability goals and standards by 2020, and encourage vendors to align their practices with all sustainability commitments.

COMMITMENT | Reduce the amount of electronic waste generated per capita by 2020.

Our campuses are part of a larger, interconnected ecosystem, and the actions we take will have ripple effects through the natural environment. Harvard will protect and enhance the ecosystems and green spaces our University owns, manages, or impacts, in order to enhance regional biodiversity and personal well-being.

Landscape Operations

GOAL | Maintain at least 75% of the University’s landscaped areas with an organic landscaping program by 2020.

STANDARD | Achieve University-wide compliance with the Harvard University Sustainable Landscaping Standards by 2020.

Campus Design

COMMITMENT | Continue to incorporate sustainability goals into facility, district, and campus planning. 

COMMITMENT | Design landscapes and choose plant species that are likely to be robust to future environmental change, ensure appropriate levels of biodiversity and green or open space, and support stormwater reduction and passive stormwater filtration.

Conservation and Education

COMMITMENT | Continue to prioritize conservation, research, and education at Harvard-owned green spaces including the Harvard Forest and the Arnold Arboretum.

The vitality of our University depends on the health of our people. We will strive to enhance the health, productivity, and quality of life of our students, faculty, and staff through the design and maintenance of the built environment and the development and implementation of cutting-edge programs that contribute to well-being.

Personal Well-Being

COMMITMENT | Reduce the Harvard community’s exposure to toxic chemicals with a special focus on the natural and built environment, indoor air quality, furnishings, and cleaning products.

COMMITMENT | Identify and track high-risk chemicals in targeted building materials used on campus, informed by the latest research and LEED v.4 standards, through the Harvard Green Building Standards.

COMMITMENT | Identify and target at least two significant chemicals of concern for which viable alternatives exist, and develop a plan for eliminating exposure to those chemicals on campus.

COMMITMENT | Increase participation in, and access to, wellness programs through the Healthy Harvard Initiative by 2020.

COMMITMENT | Continue to develop and implement tobacco-free campus policies.


STANDARD | Develop Sustainable and Healthful Food Standards that include Green Restaurant Association certification, and achieve University-wide compliance by 2020.

Harnessing the power of collaboration and integrated knowledge across disciplines leads to more powerful and effective solutions to our most pressing problems. We will use our campus as a living laboratory
for developing the next generation of sustainability solutions, and we will strengthen and cultivate a “One Harvard” culture across our Schools and departments that embraces environmental sustainability as an integral part of our academic work, our institutional practices, and our daily lives.

Research and Teaching

COMMITMENT | Translate research and teaching into practice on Harvard’s campuses by facilitating collaborations to pilot and launch innovative solutions to sustainability challenges.

COMMITMENT | Foster a new generation of environmental leaders by providing mentoring, networking, and professional development opportunities that prepare undergraduate and graduate students with the insight and foresight to safeguard our environment in the years and decades to come.

COMMITMENT | Support the creation of new sustainability-related curricula, programming, and cross-disciplinary opportunities by fostering collaboration with the Harvard University Center for the Environment, Center for Global Health and the Environment, and other environmental initiatives on campus.


COMMITMENT | Facilitate strong governance structures to ensure integration of sustainability into business practices at all levels of the University.

External Partnerships

COMMITMENT | Cultivate and lead external partnerships, in higher education and beyond, that help inform Harvard’s efforts and amplify our local and global impact.


COMMITMENT | Communicate the “One Harvard” sustainability story to educate, engage, and motivate the Harvard community.

COMMITMENT | Engage senior leaders to communicate to their community of students, faculty, and staff on an annual basis about Harvard’s commitment to sustainability.

COMMITMENT | Develop an alumni engagement strategy by 2016 to strengthen involvement of alumni in sustainability efforts at Harvard.

Community Action

COMMITMENT | Increase staff participation in the Harvard Green Office Program by at least 30% by 2020 from a 2014 baseline.

COMMITMENT | Maintain and continuously improve programs and resources that drive sustainability action among students, faculty, staff, and alumni.

COMMITMENT | Recognize and reward sustainability accomplishments University-wide and at all Schools annually, including at the Harvard Heroes ceremony and the Harvard Green Carpet Awards.

Stakeholder Engagement 

Aligning Harvard’s network of decentralized Schools and Central Administration departments around shared goals and policies for sustainable change requires extensive stakeholder engagement with our diverse community of tens of thousands of students, faculty, and staff.

University-wide committees involve senior administrators, facilities and operations teams, student leaders, and faculty advisors in policy development to ensure everyone has a voice in decision-making and producing results. Adopted policies reflect feedback from multiple stakeholders and can be tailored to the individual culture of each School and department.

The governance structure and organizational framework created and managed by the Office for Sustainability (OFS) to achieve the University’s Greenhouse Gas Reduction Goal serves as the foundation for this collaborative effort. As a result, the Harvard Sustainability Plan is a true University-wide initiative that our entire community is invested in making successful.

STEP 1 | Benchmarking Working Groups: Campus Services and Central Administration working groups, representing teams responsible for implementing sustainable operations across campus, provided baseline reports on current efforts, as well as drafted proposed goals, strategies, and opportunities for improvement. (For a full list of working groups and leaders see Appendix 2 in the full Plan PDF.)

STEP 2 | Faculty, Student, and School Engagement: Faculty in over ten disciplines, 100 students representing more than 12 student groups, and key stakeholders from each School provided insight and comment on the draft goals, based on their fields of expertise.

STEP 3 | OFS Drafts Plan: OFS created the draft University-wide Sustainability Plan with goals, standards, and commitments based on student, faculty, and staff feedback, and the Campus Services working group

STEP 4 | Review Committee: OFS convened the Sustainability Plan Review Committee composed of senior-level School operational leaders, Central Administration departments, and students who were tasked with assessing the draft Plan, identifying implementation barriers or School-specific concerns, and making specific recommendations on the proposed goals. (For a full list of Committee Members see Appendix 1 in the full Plan PDF.) OFS revised the Sustainability Plan based on Review Committee recommendations.

STEP 5 | All Community Meeting: Harvard Kennedy School Professor William Clark and the Office for Sustainability hosted a broad community review meeting for facilities leaders, Green Teams, Strategic Procurement, Human Resources, and other key stakeholders.

STEP 6 | School Review and Sign Off: Individual meetings were held with each School and Central Administration department leadership to review and sign off on the final draft of the Plan.



Implementation and Reporting

Harvard’s institutional sustainability initiatives are overseen by an Executive Committee co-chaired by the Executive Vice President Katie Lapp and two senior faculty members: Professor Jeremy Bloxham, Dean of Science in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, and Robert S. Kaplan, Senior Associate Dean and Professor of Management Practice at Harvard Business School. The Harvard Office for Sustainability (OFS), under the oversight of the Executive Vice President and the Vice President for Campus Services, leads the development and the implementation of Harvard’s sustainability goals and initiatives.

OFS is responsible for developing and managing the University-wide implementation strategy and reporting for the Harvard Sustainability Plan, working in close collaboration with Campus Services, Central Administration, and the Schools. Implementation of the goals, standards, and commitments in this Plan will take place through Fiscal Year 2020. This Plan should be viewed as a living document: it will evolve and change over time, with a formal process to review, update, or establish new goals, standards, and commitments every five years.

Harvard’s Schools and Central Administration departments that oversee specific operational or administrative areas will be responsible for managing implementation of specific portions of the Plan that relate to their individual area of expertise. Guidance on how to reach each goal, standard, or commitment will be provided by OFS, but local implementation strategies remain with the individual Schools. Schools will be supported with resources from OFS, Campus Services, and other Central Administration departments, including, but not limited to, tracking methods, case studies, resource guides, and communications strategies.

The Harvard Sustainability Plan applies to the entirety of Harvard’s campus in North America, spanning all Schools, administrative departments, and properties (mirroring the scope of the University’s greenhouse gas emissions inventory). However, due to limited resources, the initial phase of data collection and reporting on the Sustainability Plan will be limited to the Longwood, Allston, and Cambridge campuses. OFS will release an annual University-wide report and update on the Sustainability Plan progress via the online Sustainability Impact Report (green.harvard.edu/report).


View Harvard's progress to date