Campus & Community

Going for the green at Harvard

6 min read

Harvard continues its quest for sustainability as buildings compete and compost grows

William James Hall and the Hoffman Labs have emerged victorious in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) Environmental Competition 2008, Harvard’s biggest and most comprehensive eco-contest ever.

The real winner, though: Earth itself.

The five-month contest pitted 13 FAS buildings — led by their respective building managers — against each other on everything from recycling rates to energy consumption to the use of green materials and cleaners. The competition’s eye-popping achievements show the power of local actions in making global differences.

From November to March, participating buildings saved 229 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (MTCDE, a common measure of greenhouse gases). That’s the same as taking 42 cars off the road for a year, saving more than 26,000 gallons of gasoline. It’s also equivalent to the yearly carbon dioxide output of roughly 20 typical American homes, or to the carbon sequestered annually by some 52 acres of evergreen forest.

And, thanks to the energy savings engendered by Environmental Competition 2008, FAS’s bottom line benefited to the not-insubstantial tune of $72,472, showing how living green and saving green need not be mutually exclusive.

“Many of our buildings already stand out in terms of their environmental performance,” says Jay Phillips, director of building infrastructure and operations for FAS. “These annual competitions help us standardize some of the best maintenance and operations practices across campus, and share information about available technologies and products with our building managers.”

Gold medalist William James Hall (WJH), home to the Psychology and Sociology departments, among others, recycled an impressive 73 percent of its waste. Other buildings, including the Barker Center, Boylston Hall, University Hall, and Paine Hall, all achieved recycling rates above 50 percent.

“Being ‘green’ isn’t just about building design; it’s also about occupant behavior,” says Gosia Sklodowska, coordinator of FAS’s Campus Energy Reduction Program. “In a green building, all stakeholders and systems need to be working in unison toward reducing its impacts.”

One-third of WJH occupants signed a pledge to green their lifestyles on campus and beyond, part of an annual campaign at Harvard whereby students, staff, and faculty voice their support for environmental initiatives and commit to implementing new green measures in their lives and work. Some 8,200 Harvard affiliates signed the pledge this year, including 550 who work in the 13 buildings taking part in the eco-challenge.

WJH also led the way on managing energy consumption by computers.

“Power management in computer labs is a great opportunity for reducing energy consumption,” Sklodowska says. “If 30 computers in a typical computer lab were power-managed — using sleep mode for monitors and standby for hard drives — we would save at least $1,500 per year and 7 MTCDE.”

WJH building manager Herb Fuller found additional energy savings by installing colorful signs near the 15-story building’s elevators.

“These signs sport sayings like: ‘Save Electricity: Take the Stairs!’ and ‘Get There Faster: Take the Stairs!’ or a personal favorite, ‘Exercise Today: Take the Stairs!’” Fuller says. “As a result, we are hearing reports of occupants passing one another and high-fiving on the staircase. There is now a small but proud community of people committed to reducing electricity consumption in this way.”

Occupants of runner-up Hoffman Labs, which houses the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences and which won last year’s Environmental Competition, won kudos for their conscientious recycling practices, showing no contamination of recyclables with trash.

The Department of Physics, in Jefferson Hall and Lyman Hall, earned honorable mention by attaining an impressive 22.39 percent reduction in energy use. The department placed energy-efficient hand dryers in four bathrooms — with hopes of installing more next year, according to building manager Stuart McNeil — and outfitted some labs and hallways with LED spotlights, which can last up to 50,000 hours, equivalent to 24 years of operation at eight hours per day, five days a week. McNeil says the LED lightbulbs will also soon be installed in more labs and classrooms.

The Physics Department is taking aim at disposable cups, plates, and utensils, encouraging use of reusable tableware by providing building occupants with energy-efficient dishwashers known as dish drawers and offering reusable cups and saucers at the tea before its weekly colloquium.

In the Center for Government and International Studies (CGIS), senior facility manager Matt Stec worked with CGIS Café manager Sodexho Corp. and Rob Gogan, Harvard’s supervisor of waste management, to set up a composting program for kitchen scraps. On the first day of the program, more than 50 pounds of food waste were diverted from the café’s waste stream.

As part of Environmental Competition 2008, managers of all 13 buildings dimmed lights at night. All met with FAS energy manager Chris Trent to identify opportunities to conserve energy, upgrade lighting, and change building schedules to improve efficiency.

“Using the NStar rebate program, I had motion detectors installed to control the lighting in all 28 restrooms as well as classrooms, public spaces, and our main auditorium,” says Fuller, the WJH building manager. “The project, costing just under $8,000 after the rebate, is projected to save over $7,100 in electricity per year.”

Most building managers also reviewed their existing cleaning contracts with an eye to adopting greener soaps and cleaning products.

“By changing to green cleaning supplies the cleaning quality didn’t suffer,” says CGIS’s Stec. “It’s a common misconception that by going to green cleaning the products are inferior. In actuality, they are quite comparable.”

Several buildings, including the Littauer Center, CGIS, and Jefferson and Lyman, will be installing additional bike racks to encourage alternative transportation. Plans are being made to retrofit water fixtures in the Barker Center, WJH, and Littauer within the next few months. The Barker Center is also investigating installation of a rainwater catchment system on its lawn.

Sklodowska says an emerging environmental priority for FAS offices is the embrace of recycled paper products and double-sided printing.

“The average office worker uses 10,000 pages of paper per year, which is more than an entire tree,” she says. “Now that the quality of recycled-content paper has improved and the cost of 30 percent recycled paper and of virgin paper are the same, there are simply no good reasons not to use recycled paper.”