How can we best enhance the well-being of people across generations on our campus, our region, and the globe?

Today, we are releasing Harvard’s 2015 University-wide Sustainability Report detailing just some of the ways we’re seeking to answer this question, and posing other important questions linked to our aspiration of a healthy, thriving, and sustainable community.

Explore Harvard's 2015 Sustainability Report

How do these collective accomplishments inform some of the key trends and milestones that we believe should be moving us forward?

First, the imperative of acting on climate remains one of Harvard’s top institutional priorities. Climate change is an issue that touches everyone, and our faculty, students, and staff within our Schools and administrative departments all have an important role in contributing to our transition to a carbon-free future. By generating the ideas and discoveries that will help our campus, region, and the world achieve full-scale de-carbonization within this century.

In 2015, the addition of a new cogeneration unit at the Blackstone Steam Plant, several new solar installations, and further energy efficiency improvements have helped us move toward the conclusion of our initial aggressive, science-based goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 30% by 2016. Harvard will meet this goal, and we’ll do so by using the insight of a faculty advisory group convened by President Faust to provide recommendations on how to most effectively pursue off-campus emissions reduction opportunities. We’re committed to studying a mix of off-campus options that can be used to complement the on-campus reductions in building energy use and energy supply that we have prioritized.

Second, as faculty from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Harvard Medical School, John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, and elsewhere remind us, we cannot ignore the health impacts that climate change and environmental degradation have on people throughout the world. Enhancing the health and well-being of our community is the core vision of our University-wide Sustainability Plan and it should continue to inform our decisions moving forward.

A growing body of research affirms that choosing healthy building materials and addressing harmful chemicals of concern is necessary for the health, productivity, and well-being of our students, employees, and community. That’s why in 2014 Harvard committed to requiring transparency in the building materials we use and in 2015 Harvard became the first university to sign a national pledge stating our preference for purchasing furniture that is free of chemical flame retardants. The change in regulation and ability to meet strict fire safety codes without harmful chemicals enabled this University commitment. We will continue our partnership with faculty experts and scientists to better understand how we can most effectively target harmful chemicals of concern within our built environment.

Third, we will build on our foundational work to prioritize living laboratory opportunities that use our campus and surrounding communities to put research and teaching into practice. The second round of President Faust’s Climate Change Solutions Fund grants included two exciting living lab research projects and, in the coming year, the Office for Sustainability is planning to expand support and resources for students to pursue these types of projects with on-campus applications.

As Harvard Professor Emeritus E.O. Wilson has said: “the step toward a sustained coexistence with the rest of life is partly a practical challenge and it is partly a moral decision. It can be done, and to great and universal benefit, if we wish it so.”

By piloting and testing out new ideas we will continue to learn from our failures and successes, and grow together. Our work on campus is about modeling the change necessary to address these global sustainability challenges, grounded in the research and lessons learned from the scholarship and teaching occurring on our campus. There can be no greater responsibility and challenge.

I’m thankful to be on this journey with our faculty, students, staff, and the greater community. With the continued dedication, creativity, and innovative thinking of individuals across our University, I know in the next year we will build on what we’ve accomplished in real, meaningful, and replicable ways.