Campus & Community

Six new sustainability principles adopted

7 min read

To ensure growth and advance record as responsible environmental steward

Harvard University has announced a set of principles designed to ensure sustainable growth and advance Harvard’s record as a responsible environmental steward.

The principles are the result of a process commissioned by President Lawrence H. Summers after hearing concerns from students, alumni, and members of the community regarding the development of a sustainable future campus.

Harvard University’s Sustainability Principles build on Harvard’s burgeoning green leadership, through which hundreds of environmentally responsible campus initiatives have been trialed, resulting in the following advances:

  • The Harvard Green Campus Initiative’s Loan Fund has offered more than $2,800,000 to date to facilitate 32 projects that promote energy and water conservation strategies and methods on the Harvard campus. On average, these projects have generated enough financial savings to pay back the loan in just three years.
  • Energy consumption in College dorms decreased by at least 10 percent over the past year and a half as a result of environmental education and student participation in energy-saving practices.
  • In spring 2003, Harvard opened its own bio-diesel fueling station in Allston, which provides bio-diesel, a cleaner-burning fuel made from soybean oil, for Harvard’s entire fleet of diesel vehicles, including student shuttle buses.
  • Harvard’s award-winning recycling program has engaged the student body and administrative departments in a range of recycling efforts over the past decade and diverts approximately 40 percent of Harvard’s trash from city dumps each month.
  • One Western Avenue Graduate Student Residence has recently been awarded a silver Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification. LEED certification is pending on two additional projects, 60 Oxford and the restoration of Landmark at the School of Public Health.
  • Harvard is currently the third largest university purchaser of renewable energy (wind power) in the nation.
  • Harvard formed the Harvard Green Campus Initiative in 2001 to directly support all faculties and departments in achieving cost-effective, environmental impact reductions associated with procurement practice, utility supply and consumption (energy, water, etc), campus planning, landscaping, building design and operations, transportation, and waste management.
    To learn more about Harvard’s commitment to campus environmental sustainability, see

The new University policy, reflected in six sustainability principles for campus planning and operations, commits Harvard to developing new green campus buildings and promoting and rigorously monitoring sustainable practices in all campus operations. The principles also build on Harvard’s established leadership in environmental awareness, education, and action. Harvard, for example, runs its entire fleet of diesel vehicles on cleaner-burning bio-diesel fuel, has applied new green building standards to recent projects, is the third largest university purchaser of renewable energy in the nation, and has seen conservation and environmental education campaigns cut energy consumption in campus dormitories by 10 to 12 percent over the last year and a half.

In making the announcement, Summers praised the efforts of the committee of faculty, students, and staff and noted the benefits of the new principles.

“Operating our campus in an environmentally sustainable way is not only the right thing to do as a citizen and neighbor, it is also an economically sound way to conduct our business,” said Summers. “As we plan for the future, these principles will set a strong course that will benefit Harvard and promote responsible growth and environmental quality in our community.”

The announcement comes at a time when Massachusetts and communities in the Greater Boston region are emerging as national leaders in environmental sustainability, with state and city agencies advocating for the protection of the environment through smart growth, the prudent use of natural resources, and caps on greenhouse gas emissions. Universities can be valuable participants in such regional and national environmental efforts.

“Our city continues to make strides in efforts to promote sustainable development initiatives in Boston,” said Mayor Thomas M. Menino, who convened a task force to help establish green standards for new construction and renovation in Boston. “We applaud Harvard for thinking boldly about smart growth and green building. Their approach will translate into a healthier city for residents and employees alike.”

Cambridge Mayor Michael A. Sullivan added, “Harvard has worked with the city on numerous fronts and we welcome their partnership on environmental matters as well, whether that be in everyday practices like recycling or long term sustainability principles in planning and operations. With our university and corporate neighbors, we can make a difference.”

The sustainability principles directly build on the widespread participation of students, faculty, and administrators alike in numerous Harvard Green Campus programs across the campus. Student and alumni interest in a sustainable future campus prompted Summers to call on the Harvard Green Campus Initiative and a committee of 28 students, faculty, and administrators to define a set of aspirations for the University that advocate sustainable development and advance Harvard’s grassroots progress in the environmental arena.

“The students are pleased with President Summers’ response to their concerns, and we look forward to continuing to work with the administration and faculty to ensure that the principles are implemented,” said Zach Liscow ’05, a member of the advisory committee. “These principles add validity to the growing recognition that environmental sustainability can help save both money and the environment. Today I am proud to be an environmentalist at Harvard.”

The Harvard Green Campus Initiative presents a special interfaculty panel presentation, ‘Campus Sustainability at Harvard: Principles and Practice,’ on Thursday, Nov. 4. A panel of senior leaders from across Harvard will present on Harvard’s widespread commitment to achieving campus environmental sustainability.

The event will take place in Spangler Auditorium, lower floor of the Spangler Center, Harvard Business School, 3-5 p.m.

James. J. McCarthy, professor of biological oceanography and director of the Museum of Comparative Zoology, commented, “The common view that successful business and a clean environment are a contradiction is slowly being revealed as the false choice it truly is. There is a growing number of businesses that are demonstrating otherwise and since the university is a microcosm of a larger number of business types, it is an excellent place to develop and demonstrate win-win strategies.”

The new University Sustainability Principles commit Harvard to:

  • Demonstrating institutional practices that promote sustainability, including measures to increase efficiency and use of renewable resources and to decrease production of waste and hazardous materials, both in Harvard’s own operations and those of its suppliers
  • Promoting health, productivity, and safety of the University community through design and maintenance of the built environment
  • Enhancing the health of campus ecosystems and increasing the diversity of native species
  • Developing planning tools to enable comparative analysis of sustainability implications and to support long-term economic, environmental, and socially responsible decision-making
  • Encouraging environmental inquiry and institutional learning throughout the University community
  • Establishing indicators for sustainability that will enable monitoring, reporting, and continuous improvement.”Rather than identify a list of prescriptive goals, we identified a course of action that will serve the University as standards in sustainability evolve over time,” said Jack Spengler, professor of environmental health and human habitation in the Department of Environmental Health at Harvard School of Public Health and co-chair of the Harvard Green Campus Initiative.As a part of early implementation, a sustainability consultant will be working with Cooper Robertson & Partners as they develop guidelines for future development of the Allston area of Harvard’s campus. In addition, Harvard expects to incorporate the principles into campus operations to pursue gains in energy conservation and efficiency. An advisory committee with student, faculty, and administration representation will monitor the implementation of the University-wide effort.