There was something conspicuously absent from Harvard Kennedy School’s (HKS) annual summer picnic last week (July 9): garbage. The “zero waste” event was one of the first of its kind held at Harvard and was organized by the HKS Green Team, a group of staff dedicated to the pursuit of campus sustainability.

“Zero waste” is a strategy designed around the principle of eliminating waste through improved efficiency and innovation. The hope is to increase savings on trash costs while reducing environmental impacts.

The HKS picnic was replete with recycling bins and compost containers, but lacking in trash cans. Five hundred picnic goers drank from cups made from corn and ate off plates made from recycled paper. At the end of the day, some 400 gallons of compostable materials, and some 300 gallons of recyclable materials were carted away.

“When I saw the notice for the staff picnic I thought ‘how great would it be to do a zero waste event?’” said Vidya Sivan, an HKS program coordinator who volunteers on the HKS Green Team. “I think it was a great way to show Harvard and the HKS community that we are committed to taking steps to be greener and promote awareness of green initiatives in general.”

Several Kennedy School staff members worked hard in a short period of time to make it happen. Facilities and Human Resources staffers helped plan the logistics of recycling and composting, while Sodexho, which provides catering services at the school, took the lead in ordering the appropriate materials. Dara Olmsted of the Harvard Green Campus Initiative provided expert advice and support for what is hoped to be the first of many zero waste events at HKS.

“The decision to make the event green happened quickly, so determining ways to maximize recycling and minimize waste was all the more challenging,” said Jayne Raffo, general manager for Sodexho at HKS. “We realize here that every little thing makes a difference in saving the planet, so the extra effort was well worth it.”

The event comes at a time when Harvard University is working towards becoming a campus that is more efficient with waste and energy. On Tuesday (July 8), President Drew Faust announced a University Greenhouse Gas Reduction Commitment. The goal will be to reduce greenhouse gas 30 percent below 2006 levels by 2016. HKS Professor William Clark served as chair of the task force that drafted recommendations for the President.

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