Our Plan

Reduce greenhouse gas emissions 30% by 2016, including growth from a 2006 baseline. View our Plan

Our Progress

In 2008, President Drew Faust, the Deans, and the Corporation adopted an ambitious short-term goal, based on the best available science, to reduce University-wide emissions 30% by 2016, including growth, from a 2006 baseline.

The University also committed to adopting a long-term strategy to reduce Harvard’s greenhouse gas emissions by the maximum practicable rate, aligned with the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s recommendations to reduce emissions 80% by 2050.

In 2016, the University will develop new greenhouse gas emissions and energy reduction goals based on the recommendations of a planned Task Force composed of students, faculty, and staff.

Progress as of FY15

University-wide greenhouse gas emissions were reduced by 20%, even after accounting for 15% growth in square footage and increased energy intensity of existing space. That’s equal to a reduction of 58,000 MTCDE since 2006, or, equivalent to taking 12,000 cars off the road annually. Excluding growth, emissions dropped 31%. 




View the Report

Greenhouse Gas Emissions Inventory

Harvard has been tracking and publicly reporting University-wide greenhouse gas emissions since 2000. When Harvard's climate goal was established in 2008, a comprehensive greenhouse gas emissions inventory methodology aligned with the Climate Registry’s Operational Control model and a Greenhouse Gas Information Management System was developed for tracking emissions University-wide in a consistent format. 

The Office for Sustainability and Campus Services’ Environmental Health & Safety team manage Harvard GHG emissions inventory and reporting.

All-inclusive boundary: Harvard's inventory represents the full breadth of the University's GHG footprint in North America and uses the Climate Registry Protocol as its methodology. The inventory covers more than 600 buildings and 26 million square feet of space within the University's operational control. 

Tracking and Reporting: Harvard tracks and reports on all of the critical Kyoto protocol gases from both direct (Scope 1) and indirect (Scope 2) sources. The University's emissions inventory are reported annually in two ways, 1) FY06 vs. current fiscal year for just our Baseline Buildings (e.g., Buildings that have remained constant since FY 2006) and 2) FY06 vs. current fiscal year for the Total Campus (including any growth in square footage or usage). Adjustments to these emissions associated with Harvard's use of biofuels, biomass, and carbon uptake associated with the 3,500 acre Harvard Forest and Renewable Energy Certificates have not been made. The Office for Sustainability releases an annual University-wide progress report detailing greenhouse gas reductions to-date, and emissions are also reported to the federal and state governments in line with mandatory reporting requirements.

Hara: In 2013, Harvard launched a cutting-edge online inventory management systems called HARA which enables the University to report on building energy consumption and associated GHG emissions with a range of reporting metrics which allow those responsible for building operation and energy conservation to quickly review their progress. HARA has enabled the aggregation and analysis of University-wide greenhouse gas emissions data for public and internal reporting purposes. HARA is jointly managed by Environmental Health & Safety and the Office for Sustainability. Learn more

Our Strategy

Our strategy is focused on creating an economically viable and replicable model for how large institutions can reduce emissions and save money.  

1. Strong governance structure and organizational alignment 


The University's progress to date is due to strong vision and leadership exemplified by President Faust and the Deans, who aligned the University toward a common goal. A clear strategic framework and comprehensive University-wide implementation plan were developed through an unprecedented level of collaboration among Harvard’s Schools and administrative departments. 


The Office for Sustainability, under the direction of Executive Vice President Katie Lapp, leads the University community in achieving Harvard's Greenhouse Gas Reduction Goal and in building a more sustainable community. These efforts are overseen by an Executive Committee co-chaired by Katie Lapp and two senior faculty members: Professor Jeremy Bloxham, Dean of Science and Mallinckrodt Professor of Geophysics in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, and Robert S. Kaplan, Senior Associate Dean and Professor of Management Practice at Harvard Business School. 

University-wide committees involve senior administrators, including facilities and operations teams, student leaders, and faculty advisors in policy development so that everyone has a voice in how decisions are made and everyone is accountable for results. New policies that are adopted reflect feedback from multiple stakeholders so they are well thought out and can easily be adapted in the individual cultures of each School or department.

After the announcement of the goal in 2008, five working groups were created (GHG Inventory; Energy Supply; Building Efficiency & Demand Management; Finance; Communications & Engagement) and worked from 2008-2010 to create the GHG Implementation Plan.  A Student Advisory Group of over 40 undergraduate and graduate students reviews the implementation decisions and is currently crafting a Student GHG Reduction Plan.

GHG Working Group Outcomes

GHG Inventory and Measurement

  • Established GHG accounting methodology and defined Harvard’s organizational boundary
  • Created standard reporting for the GHG inventory

Building Efficiency and Demand Management

  • Established standard units for reporting of energy and utility use across campus
  • Set strategy for building energy audits to identify opportunities to reduce energy consumption in existing facilities
  • Crafted Green Building Standards (projects $100,000 and above) to build on the existing Green Building Guidelines (projects $5 million and above) and apply building efficiency best practices to all capital projects at Harvard
  • Developed an Energy Management Strategy to guide ongoing best-practice development around energy efficiency on campus
  • Created a University-Wide Temperature Policy that has been adopted by the Schools and endorsed by President Faust
  • Developed best practices for demand response and peak shifting


  • Built a Life Cycle Cost Tool to provide common financial metrics for evaluating energy conservation measures on campus

Energy Supply

  • Assessed opportunities for additional efficiency measures in district energy plants
  • Recommended utility metering and pricing guidelines that increase granularity and provide incentives for energy efficiency
  • Formalized the process for meeting the Massachusetts Renewable Portfolio Standard through purchases of renewable energy (Note: these purchases are required by law and do not contribute directly to Harvard’s GHG inventory.)
  • Developed a framework for assessing voluntary renewable energy purchases, if they are needed to mitigate our GHG reduction gap

​​Marketing, Communications, and Engagement

  • OFS worked with Harvard Public Affairs and Communications to craft a University-wide communications strategy
  • Created a Sustainability Communications Tool-Kit to help Harvard’s Schools and departments incorporate sustainability messaging into their regular communications

Another focus has been on integrating environmental sustainability into established business practices at central administrative departments and Schools, with a focus on facilities, information technology, human resources, and planning. For example, last year, Harvard Human Resources with the President’s Office, for the first time, recognized nine out of 49 “green heroes” as part of its Harvard Heroes employees recognition program. A biennial Green Carpet Awards recognizes project teams and students who are championing energy reduction and sustainability across campus. More than 183 individuals have been recognized since the event was initiated in 2010.

2. Energy and Emissions Tracking, Planning, and Implementation

In order to maximize energy efficiency opportunities, energy planning has been integrated into the five-year capital planning process and all Schools have performed expansive energy audits in their buildings. A world-class greenhouse gas emissions inventory was created to track and report on emissions across the entire North American campus.

A comprehensive GHG emissions inventory methodology (aligned with the Climate Registry’s Operational Control model) and a Greenhouse Gas Information Management System has been developed for tracking GHG emissions University-wide in a consistent format. The Office for Sustainability releases an annual university-wide progress report detailing greenhouse gas reduction to date.

  • Harvard has been tracking and publicly reporting University Greenhouse Gas Emissions since 2000. With the formal announcement of a Greenhouse Gas Reduction Goal, the Office for Sustainability has partnered with Campus Services’ Environmental Health & Safety group to establish a formal GHG inventory reporting structure.
  • Harvard University’s Greenhouse Gas Inventory represents the full breadth of the University's GHG footprint in North America and uses the Climate Registry Protocol as its methodology. The inventory covers more than 26 million square feet of space and reports on all of the critical Kyoto protocol gases from both direct (Scope 1) and indirect (Scope 2) sources.
  • Harvard's emissions are reported annually in two ways, 1) FY06 vs. current fiscal year for just our Baseline Buildings (e.g., Buildings that have remained constant since FY 2006) and 2) FY06 vs. current fiscal year for the Total Campus (including any growth in square footage or usage). Adjustments to these emissions associated with Harvard's use of biofuels, biomass, and carbon uptake associated with the 3,500 acre Harvard Forest and Renewable Energy Certificates have not been made.

Facilities teams have been working tirelessly to implement cost-effective efficiency projects across their building portfolios and as a result over 1,300 energy conservation measures have been implemented from FY06-March 2014 that are estimated to save $8-9 million annually. Increasingly, building managers are focusing on a process called commissioning to further reduce energy by optimizing building energy systems and performance.

Projects teams have also been targeting one of the biggest challenges for reducing emissions: the expansion of energy intensive laboratory and performance computing space necessary to meet cutting-edge research needs. At the Faculty of Arts and Sciences’ LISE and Northwest buildings a focus on energy efficiency in labs has saved over $3 million since 2009. In 2013, the centerpiece of Harvard’s Green IT approach launched with the opening of the Massachusetts Green High Performance Computing Center in Holyoke, Massachusetts, allowing the University to avoid constructing new servers on campus that would be less energy efficient and more expensive.

3. Transitioning to a Cleaner Energy Supply

The Campus Services Energy and Facilities team that manages the Harvard-owned Blackstone Steam Plant has invested in three major projects to reduce emissions and increase efficiency. Switching from oil to cleaner-burning natural gas contributed 28% of emissions reductions necessary to meet the greenhouse gas reduction goal. Upgrades to older boilers and the installation of a back-pressure turbine to generate electricity from waste heat have further reduced emissions.

In addition, 17% of Harvard’s electricity comes from renewable energy sources. In 2009, Harvard became the largest institutional buyer of wind power in New England when it announced it would buy power and renewable energy credits from First Wind's Stetson Wind II facility. Thousands of solar photovoltaic panels have been installed on campus that generate over 1 megawatt of electricity, including on the roof of Harvard Business School’s Tata Hall, the freshman dormitory in Harvard Yard, Canaday Hall, Harvard Athletics’ Gordon Indoor Track and Tennis Center, and the roof of Gutman Library at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

4. Policies and Tools to Drive Change 

It is not enough to just ask people to meet a goal. University-wide tools and resources have helped facilities teams break down barriers and pursue energy efficiency projects that deliver a positive rate of return.

  • A $12 million Green Revolving Fund has supported nearly 200 net present value positive projects that have yielded over $5.4 million in energy savings annually. The projects must pay for themselves in approximately less than eleven years.
  • When designing construction and renovation projects a Life Cycle Cost Policy, tailored to Harvard-specific utility rates and data, is used by all Schools to evaluate new technology based on cost-effectiveness and environmental benefit.
  • Harvard’s comprehensive Green Building Standards establish a process that ensures clear sustainability goals are set early to maximize results and that all capital projects incorporate long-term impacts and costs into decision-making. 
  • Engaging students in creating solutions is also an important piece of the puzzle. A Student Sustainability Grant program has funded forty-five student projects that reduce energy or contribute to the University’s sustainability goals. 

5. Integrating Research and Teaching With On-Campus Challenges

Increasingly, OFS and others are seeking to connect classrooms with on-campus challenges. Students and faculty can help identify the next generation of solutions that will push the boundaries of energy efficiency and emissions reductions on our campus.

  • For many years, students in the ES96 Engineering Design Seminar have helped develop solutions to complex campus energy problems. Past projects included an in-depth analysis to support expansion of geothermal heating and cooling system at Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study to serve a second building, and a review the kitchen and waste management operations of Harvard’s residential dining program.
  • Every year, a handful of students in the popular Computer Science CS50 class tackle environmental or sustainability related challenges in their final projects. Professor David Malan created http://energy.cs50.net/ to show students how to visualize energy/GHG emissions usage in undergraduate houses.
  • Environmental health PhD candidates and faculty from the Harvard School of Public Health have integrated Harvard’s river houses into a National Science Foundation-funded study looking at environmental factors, including impacts from climate change, that influence comfort, health and sleep in buildings. The main aim of the study is to understand how the built environment and environmental factors impact health, productivity, and well-being. Together with the Office for Sustainability, the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, and undergraduate students, the research team has collected environmental samples from more than 80 rooms and surveyed more than 250 students in three river houses.
  • Harvard Graduate School of Design Professor Joyce Rosenthal is advising city of Cambridge and Harvard on climate preparedness modeling—with an emphasis on the health impacts of increased heat and 100+ degree-days. And Professor of Urban Planning Ann Forsyth has asked her students to conduct a detailed Health Impact Assessment of the GSD campus as part of a class project.


Establishing the Goal

In 2008, Harvard made a historic commitment to climate leadership: a science-based goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Learn more about the work done behind the scences by students, faculty, and staff to establish the goal.  

2008 Task Force

The greenhouse gas goal was approved based on the findings and recommendations of a 2008 task force of expert faculty, students, and staff convened by President Faust. Their objective was to develop a goal based on the best available and accepted science, and what we must do globally to avert the impacts of climate change.



Campus-wide Celebration

In order to engage and empower the entire University in meeting the GHG reduction goal, the President’s Office organized a Green is the New Crimson Sustainability Celebration on October 22, 2008. 15,000 people gathered in Tercentenary Theater to hear a keynote address from Vice President and Nobel Laureate Al Gore and alumnus of the class of 1965.

Listen to an excerpt of Al Gore's remarks at the 2008 Sustainability Celebration:

2012-2013 Task Force

In 2012, President Faust convened a Task Force of faculty, students and staff to perform a quadrennial review of Harvard’s progress. The findings and recommendations of the Task Force are below.