The renovation of the Gutman Conference Center not only increased the Harvard Graduate School of Education's usable square footage for convenings and collaboration, but also enabled us to create a healthier and more sustainable space. It’s a ‘win-win’ for HGSE and the environment.

– Jack Jennings, HGSE Executive Dean for Administration

The environment in which we meet and work is critical to our overall well-being, so ensuring that the spaces we spend time in are healthy and welcoming must be a priority. The renovations to the Harvard Graduate School of Education’s (HGSE) Gutman Conference Center highlight the University’s dedication to fortifying health and sustainability through our built environment.  For the number of improvements that optimize health, utilize resources efficiently and minimize costs, the project has been awarded LEED Gold (LEED v4.0 Commercial Interiors) certification. A new central staircase between the ground and first floors, which connects to the existing stairs between the first and second floors, leads you into the renovated space. This addition makes walking downstairs into the conference center a clear, healthy and energy-efficient alternative to taking the elevators. At the base of the staircase, visitors are greeted by a green wall—a complex hydroponic landscape—that provides a connection to the natural world and is a biophilic design element proven to improve health and productivity. 

The renovation made the space more inclusive as well as healthier.   The newly created spacious lobby provides a dedicated registration space for all conferences, and digital signage helps visitors easily find their way. The new restroom signage is also gender- and accessibility-inclusive.

Daylight is another prominent feature of the revived space.  To simultaneously preserve energy and create a more pleasant working environment, the retaining wall on the north side was moved back from the building and replaced narrow ceiling level windows with full-size panes. The windows provide beautiful views of the new landscaping and the low-maintenance groundcover plants that replaced a steep slope of grass—a change that reduced occasional noise pollution and mowing-related emissions. 

Resource conservation and waste reduction improve the sustainability of the building as well. Indoor water usage was reduced by over 40% from the LEED baseline with the use of the following fixtures in this project, some of the most efficient seen on campus: dual flush toilets, ultra-low flow urinals, public sinks with aerators.

Through the use of 100% LED light fixtures, lighting power was reduced 55% below the ASHRAE 90.1-2010 baseline. Lighting controls with dimming capabilities to increase occupant comfort are present in all occupant spaces. Occupancy and daylight sensors throughout the space further conserve energy. In addition, the utilization of carbon dioxide sensors and automatic demand control ventilation minimizes energy consumption and maximizes occupant comfort. 

A critical aspect of this project was using healthier furnishings, so all the furniture and carpeting meets the HH-Healthy Interior Standard. This includes stylish, sleek, stackable chairs that are easy to clean, reducing the need for harsh cleaning products to maintain them. The air in the space is healthier thanks to the 31 Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs) and 24 Health Product Declarations (HPDs)/Declare Labels used in the project. Generating some amount of waste is often unavoidable, but the renovated conference center is making strides in addressing how this waste is handled. Throughout construction, over 75% of construction and demolition waste was diverted from landfills. The finished space includes a waste station in each meeting room, with separate bins for trash, compost and recycling alongside clear imagery indicating what goes where. This makes it much more convenient for event organizers and guests to properly dispose of waste and avoid sending biodegradable and recyclable materials to the landfill or to be incinerated. Building on such accomplishments, guests can also compost paper towels in the GCC restrooms.

As a meeting space, food is often prepared and served at the Gutman Conference Center. A new kitchen, with ENERGY STAR rated appliances, was built as part of the renovation, allowing the catering team to prepare more meals on site and rely less on food being trucked to campus from catering’s commissary, therefore also cutting back on the number of greenhouse gas emissions produced. The team also plans to donate leftovers that have not been served to the Cambridge-based non-profit, Food for Free, to reduce food waste and benefit those in need.