Campus & Community

Harvard to limit greenhouse gas emissions in new Allston construction

6 min read

Harvard University this week reiterated its long-standing commitment to improving the environment, voluntarily agreeing to limit greenhouse gas emissions from new buildings constructed on its Allston campus in ways that will keep those emissions levels well below current national standards for similar facilities. This commitment begins with the Allston Science Complex, the first project in Harvard’s 20-year master plan.

The agreement between the University and the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs (EEA) ensures that the four-building, 589,000 square-foot Allston Science Complex will produce only half the greenhouse gas emissions of a typical laboratory building already meeting current national standards.

“This is a first,” EEA Secretary Ian Bowles said of the University’s commitment. “Governor Deval Patrick and I applaud Harvard for its leadership in voluntarily capping greenhouse gas emissions from its Allston campus project,” he said. “Harvard’s Allston project will now be watched carefully around the country and I expect other institutions and states will step forward and take on similar commitments in the years to come,” Bowles added.

Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino said this collaborative agreement between Harvard and the state “further advances our green vision for Boston. … This project appropriately demonstrates a deep commitment to the city and the state’s goals for sustainability,” Menino said.

According to the EEA, the voluntary agreement with Harvard is the first in the nation to legally bind a developer to reducing greenhouse gases beyond the current standards. Research has shown greenhouse gases to be a prominent cause of global warming. Harvard will be providing ongoing reports to confirm compliance with these requirements.

Chris Gordon, chief operating officer of the Allston Development Group, said that “Harvard’s Allston campus ultimately will be the University’s greatest expression of environmental sustainability. This agreement advances a long-standing environmental strategy that benefits both the University and the community, and reflects our continuing commitment to work with the state, city, and community to protect and improve the environment.”

Bowles issued three written decisions in accordance with the Massachusetts Environmental Policy Act (MEPA) in response to Harvard University’s proposed campus 20-year master plan for Allston. In these decisions, the secretary:

  • Determined that the proposed Allston Science Complex would not have any environmental impacts requiring further review under MEPA, and included a commitment to limit greenhouse gas emissions in the complex to 50 percent below current baseline standards;
  • Established the terms of future environmental review under MEPA of Harvard’s 20-year Allston master plan, which includes a commitment to limit greenhouse gas emissions to 30 percent below current baseline standards;
  • Established a special review procedure for Harvard’s Allston campus development that, while maintaining the same environmental standards as under the standard MEPA review process, will allow for planning and environmental review to take place over several years, allowing specific projects to go forward concurrent with environmental review of the master plan.

Harvard’s voluntary commitment to cap Science Complex greenhouse gas emissions well below the nationally required level is another example of the environmental progress being made in Boston under the leadership of Mayor Menino. The Mayor’s Green Building Task Force has led to several green policies in force, including changes to the city’s zoning code requiring green buildings. Harvard has been working in partnership with the cities of Boston and Cambridge for several years to advance green building development and operations on its campus.

“Boston has an ambitious goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent by the year 2050 and is the first in the nation to have green building zoning, and this Science Center will achieve the US Green Building Council’s gold standard,”said Menino. “We have a campaign to plant 100,000 trees in neighborhoods throughout Boston, and Harvard has committed to planting thousands of trees in the Allston-Brighton area.”

Among strategies Harvard is implementing to reduce the environmental footprint of the new Science Complex are:

  • Including high performance building design minimizing heating and cooling losses;
  • Using cogeneration and microgrid distribution of power, geothermal wells, solar chimneys, and other renewable energy strategies to heat and cool the buildings;
  • Having extensive natural day lighting to reduce energy demand;
  • Including sophisticated ventilation and building controls strategies, the careful selection of energy efficient equipment, and high performance building systems such as motors, fans, lights, pumps, freezers, and fume hoods.

Other concepts under consideration for the new extended campus in Allston include the use of windmills, a geothermal loop, and the capturing of potential heating energy from the sewage system.

“We are very pleased to be partnering with the state and the city in tackling the critical issue of climate change and environmental sustainability as it relates to our campus development,” said Leith Sharp, director of the Harvard Green Campus Initiative. “The Harvard community — staff, students, and faculty alike, understand that Harvard has a profound responsibility to the local, state, national, and international communities on addressing these issues.”

“Harvard is doing pioneering development in Allston on a project that is the way of the future in terms of research and technology,” said Paul Berkeley, a member of the Harvard Allston Task Force, the president of the Allston Civic Association, and a lifelong Allston resident. “In some ways this is new territory. Harvard is taking land once industrial that has been sitting for all these years and will transform it into an area that looks to the future. This is a unique opportunity to set the tone for how this building will be developed.”

Harvard has distinguished itself as an environmental leader for many years by adopting the recognized industry standard for sustainable design, the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) standard, in over 26 building renovation and construction projects, expanding campus renewable energy projects and green power purchases, undertaking extensive campus waste reduction and recycling efforts, reducing single-occupant vehicle use, and meeting or exceeding all environmental compliance requirements. The Harvard Green Campus Initiative engages thousands of staff and students across the University in green practices by encouraging the Harvard community to be a living laboratory, a learning organization, and a global leader in campus sustainability. Harvard operates under University-wide campus sustainability principles. In combination, all of these efforts have set Harvard on a path to achieving significant greenhouse gas reductions across its campus.