In honor of the 47th anniversary of Earth Day tomorrow, we are releasing Harvard’s 2016 Sustainability Report, detailing our community’s progress in translating research into practice by creating a healthier, low-carbon campus. The Report reflects the framework of our Sustainability Plan, rooted in the latest research from our faculty and students.
Most notable among our milestones is the achievement of the science-based climate goal, set in 2008, to reduce University-wide greenhouse gas emissions 30% from 2006-2016, inclusive of growth. Meeting the ambitious goal was an organization-wide culture change effort: thousands of students, faculty, and staff were united around a common vision and set of principles. This alignment exercise created a blueprint and model for moving beyond climate, accelerating action on a broader range of topics focused on enhancing the well-being of everyone in our community.
In 2016, we also continued to expand our work to enhance health and well-being in the built environment. Research conducted by our faculty clearly shows that we can enhance community well-being through how we build and operate our campus. This science is serving as the foundation for our “healthier buildings, healthier people” initiative. I’m proud to say that with support from an inaugural grant from the President’s Administrative Innovation Fund, our team has partnered with faculty researchers to scale this work across campus through the Healthier Building Materials Academy.
In collaboration with our public health and engineering faculty and facilities teams, the Office for Sustainability has partnered with eight capital projects and many smaller projects across four Schools and departments to identify, purchase, and pilot healthier materials as transparency related to chemicals of concern increases. We were also a founding partner of Google’s online healthier building materials transparency tool, Portico, and are piloting the 9 Foundations for Health identified by researchers at the T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
Breaking down silos by collaborating across disciplines and Schools, and using our campus as a test bed have always been centerpieces of our effort.
The Campus Sustainability Innovation Fund launched last October is already helping to spark new kinds of collaborative “living lab” research. The inaugural round of grants is supporting cutting-edge public health, chemistry, design, and psychology projects that will address on-campus challenges and pilot promising new ideas, all with the potential to be scaled for larger impact. Living lab projects like these are most successful with active partnerships amongst students, staff, and faculty – so I encourage you to identify ideas within your sphere of work that could be ripe for testing and scaling change.
This spring, the three-year Climate Solutions Living Lab Course, announced at the beginning of the academic year, brought together graduate students from across Harvard in teams to design off-site greenhouse gas emissions reduction projects that could deliver legitimate and credible reductions, maximize socio-economic and health co-benefits, and minimize cost. Their findings will be used to inform Harvard’s future climate goals.
And last fall, five student teams from across Harvard’s Schools came together to reimagine a community space at the Harvard Medical School’s Countway Garden. The redesigns submitted were creative, stunning, and transformative, and the winning team is now working with Longwood’s facility teams to make their design a reality.
As part of a multi-year collaborative research initiative involving the Office for Sustainability and Harvard Center for Health and the Global Environment, 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.
These three cases exemplify the very best of what we can accomplish together through Harvard’s commitment to sustainability. By leveraging talent from a wide range of disciplines, rooting our work in what the science says is necessary, and giving ourselves the space to be creative yet practical, we are not only pushing the envelope of what is possible, we are delivering practical solutions that can be widely replicated at Harvard and beyond.
Moving forward, we will continue to lead on aggressive and ambitious climate action. A Task Force is expected to issue a report to President Faust later this year detailing their recommendations on Harvard’s future climate commitments, and we expect we will have new and exciting ways to move toward a low-carbon future. This next phase will require new ideas, new approaches, and continued commitment to curbing pollution, especially in areas beyond energy, to topics like transportation and food.
As President Faust has reminded us recently, “Veritas is not invulnerable. We must defend it...” Every discipline – from the humanities, social sciences, and design, to business, public policy, science, and technology – has a role to play in addressing the complex and dynamic challenges of climate change and sustainable development. What better place than Harvard’s campus to confront these problems by working together to translate research into practice in envisioning and creating a brighter future.
I’m honored to be on this journey with you.