The global challenge of climate change poses both an immediate and a long-term threat to people and our planet. 

Harvard is acting on climate change through research that occurs at the intersection of disciplines; by teaching students to understand the complexity of the issue and to contribute solutions wherever their lives may lead; and by modeling an institutional pathway to a healthier, low-carbon future. 

Climate Goal

Energy efficiency

Cleaner energy supply

Preparedness and resiliency

Harvard is committed to tackling climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions with solutions that improve building efficiency, clean our energy supply, and promote renewable energy. The University is also preparing for the impacts of climate change already being felt. VIEW OUR PLAN

Climate Goal

In pursuit of our climate goal, Harvard is driving significant, organization-wide change by integrating energy and emissions reduction into University-wide planning and policy. 

In 2008, President Faust, the University Deans, and the Corporation adopted a science-based climate goal to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, including those associated with growth, by 30%, as measured from a 2006 baseline by 2016. 

Thanks to a campus-wide effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, combined with the greening of the regional electric grid, we've reduced emissions 20 percent below 2006 levels (FY06-FY15), even after accounting for an increase in square footage and an increase in the energy intensity of existing space. Excluding growth, Harvard has achieved a 31% reduction in baseline buildings.

Learn more

Energy Efficiency 

At Harvard, an energy-efficiency-first strategy helps achieve emissions reductions. 

Harvard's facilities leaders and building managers are increasingly working behind the scenes to optimize building energy systems and performance to improve efficiency. The energy conservation measures, commissioning, and retro-commissioning projects are delivering greenhouse gas reductions, cost savings, and healthier, more efficient buildings for researchers and other occupants.

As a result, University-wide energy consumption has been reduced by two percent from Fiscal Year 2006 to Fiscal Year 2014, despite growth and renovations of existing space on-campus (17 percent energy reduction excluding growth).

Tools and Resources for Energy-Efficiency

  1. Clear Financial Framework: A Life Cycle Costing Policy, tailored to Harvard-specific utility rates and data, is used by all Schools to evaluate projects based on cost-effectiveness and environmental benefit.
  2. Energy Auditing and Commissioning. More than 80% of campus, including all energy-intensive spaces, has been energy audited. Four of Harvard’s Schools employ full-time energy managers.
  3. Integration with Capital Planning. Energy efficiency and GHG emissions reduction is integrated into the five-year capital planning process.
  4. Annual Energy Conservation Measure Reporting. Schools and departments report annually on their progress and planned projects.
  5. Financing Tools. The $12 million Green Revolving Fund provides access to capital to facilities departments for smart, cost-effective projects.
  6. Green Building Standards. The Standards ensure all capital projects and renovations incorporate long-term costs into decision-making, and include aggressive energy efficiency targets, beyond the Massachusetts energy stretch code. As a result, Harvard has more LEED certified building projects than any other higher education institution in the world.
  7. Governance and best practice sharing. The Sustainability and Energy Management Council (SEMC) was established in 2010. Comprised of key senior University staff, including all facility and energy leaders from across campus, the SEMC's mission is to facilitate best practice sharing amongst facilities and operations leaders across Harvard's Schools and departments and to enable the cost-effective achievement of the University’s sustainability and energy management goals.

ENERGY Auditing and commissioning examples

More than 1,300 energy efficiency measures have been implemented across the University’s buildings resulting in annual savings of $8-9 million.

In addition, Harvard has pioneered and tested a wide variety of alternative energy and building efficiency technologies including geothermal, solar hot water, chilled beams, and winter-free cooling which are all actively used throughout campus to help reduce energy demand for heating and cooling.

  • Over 100 students have collaborated with green building and facilities staff to weatherize three historic buildings on campus, resulting in annual savings of $2,000-$5,000 per building. The events were envisioned by the Environmental Action Committee to actively involve students in energy saving measures on campus that contribute to Harvard's Greenhouse Gas Reduction Goal. 
  • At the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Laboratory for Integrated Science and Engineering (LISE) building an ongoing retro-commissioning project has resulted in over $3.15 million in cumulative savings since 2009. The facilities team monitors over 3,400 data points from equipment such as air handling units, and chilled and hot water pumps. Reductions in airflow have had greatest impact, while additional actions like identifying leaks that are wasting energy have also contributed.
  • At Harvard Business School, an ongoing commissioning project, underway since 2008, has covered 14 buildings, yielding more than $320,000 in savings that have contributed to a 3.6 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. The simple payback (when the costs are made up for by the savings) for the projects they have implemented is well under two years (1.51 years). 



Transitioning to a cleaner energy supply

We're taking voluntary steps on campus to improve our energy supply.

Harvard’s Blackstone Steam Plant and chilled water plants were both upgraded to improve efficiency and reduce emissions.

Switching from oil to natural gas resulted in the largest reduction of emissions on campus (16,400 MTCDE) and the expansion of a combined heat and power system, including an existing backpressure turbine and new combustion turbine being installed in 2015 is estimated to further reduce emissions by a total of 14,000 MTCDE.

Sixty percent of Harvard’s emissions reductions to date are attributed to action taken on-campus, including fuel switching at the steam plant, additional efficiency improvements to campus utilities including adding co-generation capabilities, and reductions in building energy demand. The remaining 40 percent is attributable to cleaner energy improvements in the regional electricity grid.

Harvard is investing in renewable and alternative energy sources, such as co-generation, wind, solar, biomass, and geothermal, through power purchasing agreements and through installations on our buildings. 

Renewable energy systems at work at Harvard include solar photovoltaics, ground source heat pumps, and biodiesel for 77 trucks and vans in the Harvard fleet. To date, Harvard has installed one megawatt of solar capacity. Currently, 14% of Harvard’s electricity comes from renewable sources both by installing and operating a number of on-site renewable energy projects, and by purchasing renewable energy credits (RECs) to meet the requirements of the Massachusetts Renewable Portfolio Standard. 

Learn more

Preparedness and Resiliency

Harvard is proactively working with our neighboring cities of Cambridge and Boston to better understand and plan for the impacts climate change.

The University is paying special attention to how extreme weather events and sea level rise will affect the region in order to make our campus more resilient.

As part of Harvard's risk management efforts, Environmental Health & Safety, Harvard Planning & Project Management, and the Office for Sustainability are working on climate preparedness building standards (for new buildings) and a University-wide preparedness plan for construction and renovation, and emergency planning.

Learn more