The Campus Sustainability Innovation Fund supports projects that use Harvard’s campus or the neighboring community as a test bed for envisioning and piloting innovative solutions to sustainability challenges, including, but not limited to, climate and health.

Projects must tackle real-world challenges faced directly on campus or in the community, and lead to the practical application of emerging technologies or strategies that can be used to inform the University’s implementation of its Sustainability Plan.

The Fund will provide support for both research assistantships and original projects, and teams should be made up of at least one of each of the following: 

  1. Faculty member or researcher
  2. Student or postdoctoral fellow
  3. Staff member

2016-2017 funded projects:

Assessing the Health Impact of Biophilic Design among Harvard Buildings: A Virtual Reality Approach

Student applicant:

  • Jie Yin, Master of Science degree candidate, Harvard Chan School

Faculty advisors:

  • Jack Spengler, Akira Yamaguchi Professor of Environmental Health and Human Habitation, Department of Environmental Health, Harvard Chan School
  • Joseph Allen, Assistant Professor of Exposure Assessment Science, Center for Health and Global Environment, Harvard Chan School

Staff advisors:

  • David Havelick, Sustainability Manager, OFS
  • Adam Meier, Sustainability Manager, OFS


  • Shihao Zhu, Master of Science degree candidate, Harvard Chan School
  • Piers MacNaughton, Postdoctoral fellow, Harvard Chan School
  • Erika Eitland, Doctoral Student, Harvard Chan School

The biophilia hypothesis, proposed by Harvard biologist E.O. Wilson in 1984, suggests that human beings have an innate biological connection with nature. Research has shown that exposure to nature is associated with positive impacts on mental health, productivity and cardiovascular health. However, the potential for similar benefits in indoor environments are plausible. There currently is limited research on quantifying impact of biophilic design, which incorporates natural elements into the built environment, on health. This project aims to investigate the impact of both physical and virtual exposure to biophilic environments in Harvard buildings on physiological and cognitive responses of their users. Students and staff will be recruited to participate in this study. Virtual reality will be used to simulate the exposure to a range of indoor environments with different biophilic features, which will be rated by a novel biophilic indoor design index (BIDI). A subset of participants will also be monitored in Harvard buildings with varying levels of biophilic design elements. We will incorporate wearable biomonitoring sensors to measure heart rate, galvanic skin response and blood pressures in real time. With this study we hope to gain an understanding of physiological and cognitive responses to natural elements in buildings to help guide design practices on Harvard campus and beyond.

Re(Design) Innovation Challenge

Student applicant: Erika Eitland, ScD Candidate, Harvard Chan School

Faculty advisor: Joseph Allen, Assistant Professor of Exposure Assessment Science, Center for Health and the Global Environment, Harvard Chan School

Staff advisor: Adam Meier, Sustainability Manager, OFS


  • Alyssa Curran, student, Harvard Graduate School of Design
  • Meghan Venable-Thomas, DrPH candidate, Harvard Chan School
  • Shoshanna Levine, DrPH candidate, Harvard Chan School
  • Daniel Sherman, College ‘20

This project aims to crowd-source proposed redesigns of an urban campus' green space in ways that incorporate health, sustainability, and knowledge generation through an interdisciplinary student case challenge. This will increase the stakeholder engagement in campus capital projects, empower students via an experiential educational opportunity, and result in increased exposure of an underutilized space on Harvard's Longwood Campus that has been referred to as a "hidden gem" by many. Currently, the space serves as the location of the Countway Community Garden, which has grown over several years in its presence on campus. Due to ADA compliance projects, a large bike cage nearby will require moving and it's been proposed to be relocated in the Countway Garden area. The confluence of the Garden's expansion yet limited accessibility, increased need for bike access, and desire to engage the campus community in campus planning, has resulted in an inclusive discussion on how to re-envision the space. A team-based case challenge has resulted.

Are Recyclers Blind to Efficacy?

Student applicant: Theodora Mautz, College, '19

Faculty Advisor: Steven Pinker, Johnstone Family Professor, Department of Psychology

Staff Advisor: Kelsey Grab, Coordinator, FAS Green Program, OFS


  • Jason Nemirow, Graduate Student, Department of Psychology
  • Rhea Howard, Lab Manager, Department of Psychology

This project explores people's perceptions of recycling and the recycling habits of those around them. This exploration has two arms: a survey designed to gauge people’s attitudes, perceptions, and opinions about the nature and efficacy of recycling, and a vignette study in which people are asked to rank fictional candidates based on their perceived “greenness,” in which we will manipulate both the magnitude of the sacrifice made by the candidate and the magnitude of the benefit they delivered to the environment. When institutions (like Harvard), corporations, and communities endeavor to promote sustainable and environmentally-beneficial practices, understanding people’s perceptions and assumptions could help us craft policies and encourage behaviors that are truly effective and sustainable.

Harvard Sensors for Health Pilot

Postdoc applicant: Piers MacNaughton, Research Fellow, Healthy Buildings Program, Center for Health and the Global Environment, Harvard Chan School

Faculty advisor: Joseph Allen, Assistant Professor of Exposure Assessment Science, Center for Health and the Global Environment, Harvard Chan School

Staff advisor: Heather Henriksen, Director, OFS

Team: Memo Cedeno, Research Associate, Healthy Buildings Program, Center for Health and the Global Environment, Harvard Chan School

Healthy indoor environments are integral to protecting the health and well-being of occupants, which is a key component of Harvard’s Sustainability Plan. The goal of this project is to pilot a comprehensive health performance platform for buildings at two Harvard Offices, including Harvard’s Office for Sustainability. The platform combines building inspections with real-time monitoring and environmental sampling to evaluate buildings on the 9 Foundations of a Healthy Building: Air Quality, Ventilation, Thermal Health, Noise, Lighting & Views, Dust & Pests, Moisture, Water Quality and Safety & Security. This longitudinal assessment will provide insights to building management about how to optimize these spaces for health, and generate data for new research on 1) how building design and operation influence indoor environmental quality and 2) how improvements in the health performance of a building translates to improved occupant health, well-being and productivity.

Sustainable Electro-Biofertilizer Production

Postdoc applicant: Kelsey Sakimoto, Post-Doctoral Fellow, Harvard University Center for the Environment

Faculty advisor: Daniel Nocera, Patterson Rockwood Professor of Energy

Staff advisor: Anthony Michetti, Coordinator, FAS Green Program


  • Ju Hyun Alice Lee, College, ‘19
  • Dilek Kiper, Principal Research Scientist, Chemistry Department, FAS

This project seeks to address Harvard’s sustainable food, greenhouse gas emissions, and educational goals by developing a technology to transform Harvard’s waste streams into a potent biofertilizer with renewable electricity. This project will work towards a pilot program to demonstrate the capabilities of this system to close Harvard’s nutrient cycle and promote sustainable agricultural practices.

Applying machine learning to Harvard's energy data

Student applicant: Ioannis Orfanos, Harvard Extension School

Faculty advisor: Jack Spengler, Akira Yamaguchi Professor of Environmental Health and Human Habitation, Department of Environmental Health, Harvard Chan School

Staff advisor: Caroleen Verly, OFS

This project seeks to develop a set of analytical models for the energy use of Harvard’s campus and provide a replicable intelligence framework that includes energy conservation recommendations. The project aims to assist Harvard’s Sustainability Plan by highlighting opportunities to reduce campus energy use intensity, becoming a tool for energy management, and address Harvard’s commitment to assess energy use by building and space type in order to inform future climate change goal setting. The overall objective is to generate actionable insights relevant to other university campuses, provide a framework for how they can conduct their own analyses, and introduce a replicable model outside Harvard’s boundaries.

Fostering Sustainability Competency in Harvard Kennedy School’s Curricula

Student applicant: Brooke Suter, MC/MPA Student and Sustainability Competency Research Assistant, HKS

Faculty advisor: Patricia Bellinger, Adjunct Lecturer, Harvard Kennedy School and Research Fellow, Center for Public Leadership

Staff advisor: David Havelick, OFS

Significant progress has been made with the creation and implementation of the Harvard University Sustainability Plan, and by the Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) being the first school to have it’s own Sustainability Plan. Thus far, much of the focus has been on reducing Harvard’s carbon footprint and expanding the university culture to include sustainability practices as a fundamental element of a responsible institution. Another important area is the integration of sustainability systems thinking into the culture of teaching and the core curricula, which is a growing national and international trend. In order to prepare HKS graduates to navigate a rapidly changing world and make relevant policy decisions that will have a lasting, positive impact, increased sustainability integration into HKS’s curricula is the focus of this project. As a starting point, we will investigate opportunities to establish metrics of competency, such as the Sulitest, which stands for Sustainable Literacy Test and is an initiative of the UN's Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). We will gather curricular resources and identify a plan for faculty and student engagement.  The results of this investigation will be supplied to the HKS Sustainability Competency subcommittee, and could have relevance to other schools at Harvard, and beyond. 

Presence and Risks of PFAS-Containing Products in Harvard’s Indoor Building Materials and Food Contact Items

Student applicant: Nicole Nishizawa, College '19

Faculty advisor: Elsie Sunderland, Thomas D. Cabot Associate Professor of Environmental Science and Engineering, SEAS; Associate Professor of Environmental Science and Engineering in the Department of Environmental Health, Harvard Chan School

Staff advisors: David Havelick and John Ullman, OFS

Team: Andrea Weber, Research Assistant, SEAS/FAS

Highly fluorinated compounds, like poly and perfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs), serve as grease and water repellants in materials like furniture, carpets, and food packaging products. These compounds are known to be persistent and bioaccumulate, and have been linked to many adverse health outcomes such as metabolic disruption, cancer and immunotoxicity. This project will test for the presence of PFASs in building and food contact materials on Harvard’s campus. With the results, an exposure analysis and risk characterization will be made to determine the risks associated with using PFAS-containing materials. The results will also provide actionable information to help Harvard remove PFAS-containing materials from campus.

What's the Catch? Collaborative Food System Mapping for Harvard University Dining Services

Student applicants: Neeti Nayak and Michael Raspuzzi, GSD

Faculty advisors: Jock Herron, Instructor in Architecture, GSD, Martin Bechthold, Kumagai Professor of Architectural Technology and Director of the Doctor of Design Program, GSD

Staff advisors: David Havelick, OFS, and Crista Martin, Harvard University Dining Services

This project adapts a mapping of the sustainable and optimally-leveraged food system against the food system as it exists for Harvard University, with a focus on the aqua-sourced produce (fish, crustaceans, sea vegetables etc). The goal of the project then, is to map the impacts and evolve a set of leverage points that can be immediately deployed by Harvard University Dining Services. The process of the project involves a cartographic mapping, network visualization and a process flow analysis all of which will provide a foundation for multi-dimensional impact analysis.


Application Process:

The Office for Sustainability will be awarding:

  • Up to five projects with a budget up to $10,000
  • Up to three projects with a budget up to $25,000
  • Up to one project with a budget up to $50,000

For proposals above $50,000, please contact David Havelick to ask about the requirements for a one-page letter of intent. The review committee will only invite some of those teams to submit a full proposal.

Request for proposals and application form will be available soon. 

Please contact David Havelick if you would like to be alerted when these details are finalized, or if you have any immediate questions.

Additional Fund Details:

  • Successful projects will aim to have an impact on operations and decision-making at Harvard’s campus, but may also provide scalable solutions that can be applied to other organizations or lead to a commercialized venture.
  • Projects must map directly to at least one of the goals, standards, or commitments in the Harvard Sustainability Plan, organized around the five core topics of emissions and energy, health and well-being, campus operations, nature and ecosystems, and culture and learning.
  • Projects from any discipline are welcome (e.g., the arts, humanities, sciences, business, law, policy, design, health, philosophy, engineering).
  • Grantees will be required to submit an impact summary and a simple financial report at the end of the project period.
  • Grantees and their projects will be showcased in a public forum.
  • Multi-disciplinary projects are encouraged.

Evaluation Criteria:

Applications will be evaluated based on the following criteria:

  • Impact on-campus and beyond
  • Innovation (originality, creativity)
  • Scalability/replicability
  • Connection to the Harvard campus
  • Connection to the Harvard Sustainability Plan

Resources available to applicants:

Mentoring and consultation from the Office for Sustainability is recommended and available to all potential applicants. Contact David Havelick:

Advisory Committee:

  • Harvard Office for Sustainability
  • Harvard Strategic Procurement
  • Matthew Guidarelli, Assistant Director, Social and Cultural Impact, Harvard Innovation Lab
  • Professor William C. Clark, Harvey Brooks Professor of International Science, Public Policy and Human Development, Harvard Kennedy School
  • Professor John Spengler, Akira Yamaguchi Professor of Environmental Health and Human Habitation, Department of Environmental Health, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health

Additional funding opportunities related to sustainability available around campus:

Student Sustainability Grants (Office for Sustainability)

  • Incubation fund that provides seed funding for creative student projects that align with the University’s sustainability and climate goals.
  • Undergraduate and graduate students are invited to submit proposals on a rolling basis, with a deadline of October 13, 2017.

Climate Change Solutions Fund (Office of the Vice Provost for Research)

  • Supports research and policy initiatives intended to hasten the transition from carbon-based energy systems to those that rely on renewable energy sources, to develop methods for diminishing the impact of existing carbon-based energy systems on the climate, and to propel scientific, technological, legal, policy and artistic innovations needed to accelerate progress toward cleaner energy and a greener world.
  • Faculty and students are invited to submit proposals no later than October 16, 2017.

Harvard University Center for the Environment Undergraduate Summer Research Fund

  • The Center for the Environment’s Summer Undergraduate Research Fund provides financial support for student research projects related to the environment in the form of independent research projects or research assistantships. Specific opportunities can be found here

The Campus Sustainability Innovation Fund is managed by the Harvard Office for Sustainability and Office for Strategic Procurement and is made possible due to the generous support of the Malcom W. P. Strandberg Trust in honor of Malcom W. P. Strandberg PhD, BS '41 and the W.B. Mason Corporation