Campus & Community

Crimson with a touch of green

5 min read

When Drew Faust is inaugurated as Harvard’s 28th president this week, there will be more than a touch of green to go with the crimson.

Plans include organic flowers, regional food, and shuttles that run on biodiesel. Anything printed will be on recycled paper, cleaning products will be toxin-free, and recycling containers will be everywhere.

To make up for extra electricity used during the inauguration, Harvard will “offset” energy usage for the entire month of October. This means buying renewable energy certificates from Sterling Planet, a retail provider of electricity from solar, wind, and other renewable energy sources.

The directive for a sustainable celebration “came from Drew,” said Christine Benoit, manager of communications and business organizations at the Harvard Green Campus Initiative, an entrepreneurial group that promotes sustainability practices. “She said, ‘I’d like this to be a green event.’”

The two-day inauguration is Harvard’s first major public function that has been planned from the start to be intentionally environment-friendly. Only one other large-scale Harvard event before this was deliberately green, and it was open only to registrants: “Harvard Vision 2020,” a 2006 conference on sustainability in University design, development, and operations.

The University adopted a campuswide statement of sustainability principles in 2004.

Benoit was part of a planning committee that since this spring has mapped out inauguration details. She and others helped add an environmental note to the symphony of arrangements that go into any complex public event.

Sustainability planning has to happen early. “Green has to be one of the first things,” said Benoit, an astronomy buff who has a degree in physics from Rutgers University. “It can’t be an afterthought.”

Despite early hopes, the Faust inauguration will not be a “carbon-neutral” event. Greenhouse gases associated with steam, natural gas, travel, and other sources are hard to calculate in the absence of reliable metrics.

Benoit said that many members of the planning committee — environmentally speaking — “were doing the right thing all along.”

Printing is one example. Inauguration signage, invitations, and programs are printed with soy-based inks on 100 percent postconsumer recycled paper — already standard practice at Harvard. The paper is manufactured without new bleaching cycles or virgin wood, and is approved by the Forest Stewardship Council, a nonprofit that certifies sustainable forestry practices.

Waste was avoided by keeping a careful accounting of exactly how much of anything was needed, said Benoit. And paper use was also minimized by getting inauguration information out to the Harvard community electronically.

Paper is also being saved by reusing signage familiar at commencements — a tactic adopted by Jason Luke, Harvard’s associate director for custodial and support services. He’s on the inaugural planning committee — and every year manages commencement logistics.

Flowers for inauguration events — mostly on tables at formal dinners — will come from operations that are certified organic. That eliminates pesticide use and minimizes water for irrigation. But because it’s October, said Benoit, Harvard has to buy organic flowers from growers in California.

Recycling is a leitmotif of the inauguration, and a visible sign of the University’s commitment to sustainability. Around the New Yard on Friday (Oct. 12) there will be 25 stations for paper, bottles, cans, and trash — 75 containers in all to handle the expected volume.

“Hopefully, we’ll get as little trash as possible,” and more recyclables, said Rob Gogan, Harvard’s recycling and waste manager.

University events increasingly include environment-friendly “default practices,” he said. “We’re seeing people express a strong and clear preference for recycling, rather than for trashing.”

At the inauguration, waste reduction is “the leading edge of planning,” he said.

Another example: washable china will be used at all invitation-only meals, where guests will sip from real glasses, eat with reusable metal flatware, and use linen napkins.

At any event, one of the big potential wasters of energy and resources is food. Without good planning, a lot can get wasted. “Watch your waste, spelled both ways,” said Gogan with a laugh. “The best thing is: Just take what you need.”

And food delivered from great distances arrives at the expense of using a lot of fuel, said Benoit. The average food item on American plates comes from 1,500 miles away.

Local food will be served at inauguration-related meals — and organic food, when possible.

“Fall is in many ways the time to show off what’s being harvested” locally, said Crista Martin, who handles communications for Harvard University Dining Services and Crimson Catering. “Local and sustainable [event meals] are something we do quite a bit.”

A local sustainable dinner celebrating the inauguration will be served Thursday (Oct. 11) at all undergraduate houses and in Annenberg Hall, she said. The menu includes autumn vegetable soup, a salad of mixed local greens, and baked haddock with Maine lobster cream sauce.

“The menu highlights where the food comes from,” said Martin — and the haddock is “bait-and-line caught,” a way of fishing that is humane and sustainable.

Thursday evening’s dessert reception will feature regional cheeses and yogurt, along with local pastries.

An invitation-only breakfast the next day will include local apple cider, Vermont butter and cream, organic jams, and Boston-area seasonal fruits — apples, pears, and some dried cranberries.

Crimson Catering will follow food sustainability guidelines for inauguration meals, and so will other caterers called in to help.

Here and there, said Benoit, some of the food choices will go outside strict sustainability guidelines. “A chocolate-covered strawberry is not going to be local,” given the time of the year, she said. “We’re facing history — standards [that say] things have to be done a certain way.”

But in general the two days of the inauguration will be done with green practices in mind — ones that increasingly are being used for events University-wide. More and more, said Gogan, “this is how things are done at Harvard.”