Campus & Community

Harvard College Library is going green

3 min read

HCL’s longtime dedication to sustainability accelerates

The changes may not be immediately evident, but little by little, Harvard College Library (HCL) has been “going green” for years, even before the University’s newest commitment to sustainable practices.

Since 1997, the buildings managed by HCL Operations — Widener, Houghton, Lamont, Pusey, and Tozzer libraries and the HCL floors of 625 Mass. Ave. — have made dozens of changes aimed at sustainability and energy conservation, said HCL Director of Operations and Security Paul Bellenoit.

One of the most significant changes may be the least obvious. Starting a decade ago, Bellenoit said, HCL Operations began replacing building exit signs with new, LED signs, and the results have been dramatic. Where the older signs used two bulbs that needed replacing four times a year and drew approximately 50 watts of power, the LED signs are virtually maintenance-free for 10 years and draw just 15 watts, meaning less energy consumed, and fewer bulbs and fewer signs thrown away. What’s more, the 559 new signs have cut energy costs by more than 20,000 watts per year, saving HCL thousands of dollars.

HCL has made other strides in the past decade on energy efficiency, Bellenoit said. As part of the ongoing building maintenance, HVAC systems are regularly updated and replaced. In addition, all building systems are controlled centrally via computer by HCL Operations.

“We monitor all HVAC systems to avoid costly spikes in heating or cooling, and we are able to turn off the HVAC when buildings are closed to conserve energy,” said Bellenoit.

Natural gas consumption at Widener was also cut in half by alternating the run time for the two dehumidification systems in the stacks, Bellenoit added. Environmental conditions for the collections, though, were unchanged.

Savings in power consumption have also been dramatic. At Widener, a simple change in the cleaning schedule from evenings to days, meaning the lights weren’t kept on most of the night, saved more than 75,000 watts of power, or tens of thousands of dollars per year, Bellenoit said. Buildings managed by HCL Operations also changed from traditional light bulbs to energy-efficient compact fluorescent bulbs, saving hundreds of thousands of watts.

Other sustainability projects included switching in 2006 to green cleaning products, replacing all bathroom faucets in Widener and Lamont with timed faucets, installing water-saving toilets in Widener, installing hands-free paper towel dispensers in Widener and Lamont — which reduced bathroom paper consumption by 20 percent — and switching all buildings managed by HCL Operations to paint that doesn’t contain volatile organic compounds.

Sustainability is part of the conversation even when considering furnishings. Rather than purchase lower-quality furniture and carpeting that might have to be replaced every five years, HCL Operations purchases more-durable, higher-quality fittings that can withstand high traffic and frequent cleaning. Case in point: The heavily used soft seating on Lamont’s first-floor reading room was purchased more than eight years ago.

“We can have the seats reupholstered for a fraction of the cost of replacing them. We refinish and reuse furniture as much as possible. In the end, it’s better for the library and better for the environment,” said Bellenoit.

In addition to internal initiatives, HCL is working to keep pace with University efforts like single-stream recycling. According to Rob Gogan, associate manager of Harvard’s recycling services, the College Library now recycles nearly three-quarters of all its trash. Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification is another University initiative that will affect the library going forward.

“We’re thinking about sustainable materials for future construction projects,” Bellenoit said. “We’re working closely with the University to keep up with new sustainability issues and planning.”