Healthier buildings make healthier people

There are more than 80,000 chemicals in use today, many of which are unregulated, and are associated with long-term problems on our health and the environment. 

Harvard is committed to enhancing the health, productivity, and quality of life of our students, faculty, and staff by making smart, informed decisions about the design and maintenance of our built environment. 

Taking steps to eliminate harmful chemicals on campus:

As outlined in the Harvard Sustainability Plan, the University is committed to reducing the community's exposure to toxic chemicals, identifying and tracking high-risk chemicals in building materials, and targeting at least two significant chemicals of concern and developing a plan for eliminating exposure. 

Tips to reduce your exposure to harmful chemicals at home:

According to scientists, regular hand washing, vacuuming, and good ventilation can all help reduce your exposure. LEARN MORE

Working with faculty to understand risks and prioritize areas of concern

Across Harvard’s Schools, faculty, are generating new discoveries about the effects of unregulated, harmful chemicals on public health and the built environment.

translating research into action

As part of a multi-year collaborative research initiative involving the Office for Sustainability and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health Center for Climate, Health, and the Global Environment (C-CHANGE), public health researchers are using Harvard’s offices and dorms to test their research in indoor building environments, generating a greater understanding of how best to optimize the indoor spaces where we spend 90% of our time so that we can enhance well-being and productivity among occupants.

9 foundations for health

“The 9 Foundations of a Healthy Building” was created by a multidisciplinary team of experts from the Healthy Buildings Program at C-CHANGE. The Office for Sustainability is collaborating with the researchers to pilot the 9 foundations through a living lab project in our office space. 

research and resources

Harvard is also partnering with non-profit research groups to not only understand links between health and exposure to certain chemicals, but to identify and prioritize areas of concern.


Institutionalizing change by empowering our community to make informed decisions

We are working to educate and inform our community by offering trainings and materials that mobilize action.

Education and transparency

As a first step, our University-wide Green Building Standards were updated in 2014 to include healthy material requirements for the disclosure of health and environmental impacts of products that are used on campus in order to help us assess opportunities to understand the community’s exposure to potential toxins. That same year, Harvard issued its first Sustainability Plan and included Health and Well-being as one of its five areas of focus.

The Office for Sustainability then brought in scientists from Harvard and the Green Science Policy Institute for a series of educational forums attended by over 100 key stakeholders across campus that provided an overview of the research proving a health risk from these chemicals of concern and the role individuals can play in reducing exposure.

The 2017 version of the Green Building Standards now goes beyond just transparency and optimizes for health by specifically addressing specific classes of chemicals in select building products. 

Read the story: Looking indoors to health

hARVARD Healthier building academy

In 2016, the Office for Sustainability was awarded an inaugural grant from the President's Administrative Innovation Fund to establish the Harvard Healthier Building Academy.

The Academy aims to bring the University's decentralized project management and purchasing community together with external vendors to create a pathway for reducing the use of chemicals of concern in the University's built environment.

In collaboration with our public health and engineering faculty and facilities teams, the Office for Sustainability is partnering with ten capital projects and many smaller projects across our Schools and departments to identify, purchase, and pilot healthier materials as transparency related to chemicals of concern increases. 


Safer Furniture and chemical flame retardant-free National pledges 

In November 2015, Harvard became the first university to sign a national pledge stating a preference for purchasing chemical flame retardant-free furniture. Other signatories to the pledge include Kaiser Permanente, Facebook, Blue Cross Blue Shield Massachusetts, and Autodesk. In 2019, Harvard became the second university to sign a purchaser pledge for safer furniture products.

The Office for Sustainability is partnering with Harvard capital project and planning teams, Strategic Procurement, and Environmental Health and Safety to identify and source chemical flame retardant-free furniture across the University, and in accordance with regulations.

Chemical Flame Retardant-Free Toolkit and Buyer's Guide



Transforming the market by partnering with industry leaders

By demanding transparency and holding our vendors accountable we are working together with peer institutions and the private sector to change the landscape.

External Partnerships

Harvard & Google

In 2018, the Office for Sustainability joined the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in a collaboration with Google to reduce the use of harmful chemicals in building products and materials used in construction and renovation projects. Harvard and Google worked together to develop a set of public tools and resources that used the latest scientific research to inform decision-making by large institutions, purchasers, and manufacturers to help transform the marketplace to healthier alternatives. 

Read more

Healthy Green Campus

In 2014, in collaboration with Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Center for Climate, Health, and the Global Environment researchers, and the Silent Spring Institute, the Office for Sustainability helped found the Healthy Green Campus project to better understand the prevalence of harmful chemicals on campus and to make health an integral part of sustainability practices on college campuses.