Campus & Community

Summer interns green Harvard

5 min read

A group of summer interns are showing the way to a more environmentally friendly Harvard, featuring cars that run on soybeans, efficient buildings, and organically nurtured lawns.

The 11 interns worked on seven projects across the University for three months last summer. The internships were sponsored by the Harvard Green Campus Initiative, in collaboration with several different departments at Harvard that hosted the interns.

The goal of the internships, which ran from June through August, was to confront concrete problems and come up with workable solutions. The interns, some working in teams, tackled a variety of issues, such as tallying Harvard’s greenhouse gas output, investigating the potential of alternative-fuel vehicles, and searching for ways to make Harvard’s many buildings more energy-efficient.

Leith Sharp, director of the Green Campus Initiative, said she thought the internships were very successful, evidenced by the fact that each project came up with credible solutions, some of which are being implemented by the departments.

“[The internships] are about producing a product that can be implemented within the departments,” Sharp said. “That’s the success of the program, that every project has produced or will produce a change at the University.”

The interns discussed their projects on Thursday (Oct. 25) during a presentation in Jefferson Hall. The original presentation was scheduled for Sept. 11, but was delayed after the terrorist attacks that day.

“This is more or less our first summer internship program and it’s been so successful that next summer we’re going to institutionalize it,” Sharp said.

The projects included:

  • A greenhouse gas inventory: Greenhouse gases trap sunlight that enters the Earth’s atmosphere and are prime suspects in global warming. The inventory found that during the last 10 years, Harvard’s production of carbon dioxide, the primary greenhouse gas, was up about 52 percent. Much of that is due to increased power consumption from new construction and the rapid increase in computer use. The project included recommendations that the University reduce its energy consumption by implementing conservation programs, utilizing energy-efficient building designs, and shifting to renewable energy sources where possible. 
  • Energy efficiency opportunities: Worked with University Operations Services to identify opportunities to save energy at a variety of University buildings. The project suggested establishing training programs and communication efforts, such as a best practices exchange, to tap the knowledge of on-site managers and maintenance personnel as to where savings can occur. 
  • Environmental procurement: Looked at several goods purchased by University Operations Services to see if cost-effective, environmentally friendly alternatives exist. The project found that by reusing printer cartridges instead of throwing them away, UOS could save 40 percent of the cost of buying new cartridges. That surplus could be applied to its copy paper purchases, which, for a small additional cost, could be switched to 100 percent recycled paper. Total cost savings between the two items would be about 10 percent. Other items examined included trash bags, lighting, and organic landscaping. 
  • High-performance buildings: Looked at four construction projects on campus that are incorporating designs such as programs to reduce construction waste, use energy-conserving roofing material, and increase the use of natural lighting indoors. 
  • Alternative fuel vehicles project: Examined Harvard’s vehicle use and compared its needs with alternative fuels available that would reduce greenhouse gas production. The project found that biodiesel fuel – made from soybeans and that can immediately be used in diesel engines – would reduce emissions of greenhouse gases by 70 percent. For nondiesel vehicles, the project recommended switching to more fuel-efficient vehicles, electric vehicles, or to gas-electric hybrids. 
  • Computer energy reduction program: Since 11 percent of the energy consumed by the Faculty of Arts and Sciences is due to computers, the project examined ways to reduce electricity consumption due to computers. The study found that substantial savings could be realized by ensuring computers and monitors are turned off when not being used, or, as an alternative, that their energy standby modes are on. The project recommended a publicity campaign aimed at incoming freshmen, which, if successful, could save as much as $48,000 in annual energy cost for each class that successfully implements the conservation measures. 
  • Organic food: Planned and sampled meals based on organic foods that can be offered in dining halls in response to student requests for more organic food choices.In addition to the real and potential benefits Harvard’s participating departments derive from the interns’ work, the interns themselves said they learned a lot from the experience.

    “I think the internship greatly exceeded any expectations I had,” said Dan Olsen, who graduated from Colgate University in May 2000 and worked on the energy efficient opportunities project. “I’ve known this is a field I’d like to pursue as a lifetime goal.”

    Amy Sheehan, a student at the Graduate School of Design who worked on the high-performance buildings project, said she was impressed with the School of Public Health’s renovation of space at 1 Landmark Center in Boston. The project, she said, involves so many energy-saving changes and it incorporates “the idea that the academic mission of a department goes hand in hand with sustainable development.”

    Though the summer projects show there are many opportunities to make energy- and resource-saving changes at Harvard, they also show those changes won’t happen without a lot of work, according to Sharp.

    Sharp said each of the projects started out with a lot of research on what the University’s current practices are. They also involved the front line people to ensure that an alternative product or solution isn’t unworkable or inferior to the current practice. That overall involvement is key to making permanent changes, Sharp said.

    Sharp said the internships often meet an unfilled need, as people in different departments are interested in how they can change their practices to become less wasteful or less polluting, but are often too busy with day-to-day tasks to investigate those options.

    “That’s a really important thing the students bring, they allow Harvard to reflect on itself,” Sharp said. “It’s going to be a long time before we run out of cost-effective, environmental options.”