Campus & Community

FAS plan will slash greenhouse gas emissions

6 min read

Without action to slow the release of greenhouse gases, Harvard biologist and oceanographer James McCarthy said last week, current projections indicate that Massachusetts in 2080 could resemble South Carolina in 2008: The Bay State would experience an average of 24 days over 100 degrees each summer and two solid months of temperatures above 90.

The dire forecast came as the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) committed to doing its part to prevent Cambridge from morphing into Charleston, formally launching its Greenhouse Gas Reduction Program with an event last Tuesday (Nov. 25) in Sanders Theatre.

“This marks an important turning point in our culture, one that is not easy to make,” FAS Dean Michael D. Smith said, adding, “I would argue that not only is our commitment to sustainability the right thing to do, it is the right thing to do right now.”

In keeping with the University-wide goals set by President Drew Faust, Harvard’s largest School aims to slash 30 percent from its 2006 greenhouse gas emissions by the year 2016.

The president’s challenge is all the more daunting in light of substantial growth in FAS facilities since the start of 2006: New buildings totaling nearly a million square feet have reached completion or full occupancy during that time. When their energy use is factored in, FAS will need to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by closer to 40 percent over eight years.

Still, there’s cause for optimism, said Jay Phillips, director of building infrastructure and operations for FAS.

In addition to noting that FAS has embraced “green” construction in its recent capital projects, Phillips ticked off a long list of energy-saving tactics that FAS has tackled in its existing buildings:

• FAS has significantly reduced the energy it uses to ventilate buildings. A “Shut the Sash” campaign, aimed at laboratories, has encouraged researchers to close unused fume hoods, saving $300,000 to $500,000 to date.

• FAS has taken full advantage of utility companies’ subsidies for energy-saving upgrades, receiving more than $700,000 in rebates since 2006.

• Solar panels have been installed on the roofs of the Science Center and 3 Sacramento St., and at the Harvard Forest in Petersham, Mass. The forest’s extensive photovoltaic array actually feeds electricity back into the local grid when its output exceeds the forest’s energy needs.

• FAS has achieved further savings by retrofitting lighting fixtures, using occupancy sensors to control lights, scheduling equipment so as to spread out power demand, and installing low-flow toilets, showers, and sinks.

Going forward, Phillips said, FAS is looking at changing temperatures in its buildings from a year-round 72 degrees to 68 degrees in the winter and 75 degrees in the summer, which could cut greenhouse gas emissions by 1,200 tons a year. FAS is also investigating the possibility of using solar energy to heat water for buildings in Harvard Yard, and a just-launched energy audit is expected to identify additional targets for energy savings.

The changes come none too soon, said McCarthy, who has become an increasingly important voice on the science of climate change through his work with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which shared the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize with former Vice President Al Gore.

“Decisions we make today will very much affect climate in the years to come,” McCarthy, the Alexander Agassiz Professor of Biological Oceanography, said at the Nov. 25 event. “If we delay those decisions, we will live with increasing consequences.”

McCarthy cited an array of data painting a grim view of climate change: Ice-core analysis shows the planet’s carbon dioxide levels are now higher than they’ve been at any time in the last 800,000 years. The past seven years, McCarthy said, have been among the eight hottest on record, and the planet’s 14 hottest years have occurred since 1990. In summer 2007, the area of ice in the Arctic Ocean reached an all-time low, plummeting 20 percent from 2006; that year’s thinner ice also set a new low for the total amount of summer sea ice in the Arctic.

Striking a more sanguine note, McCarthy pointed to the venue for the Nov. 25 event, Sanders Theatre, where the 2007 fictional film “The Great Debaters” depicted a debate team from historically black Wiley College defeating Harvard’s debate team in the 1930s.

“This time, Harvard has the winning team,” McCarthy quipped.

Following a nonbinding 2006 vote in which 88 percent of Harvard undergraduates endorsed a significant reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, FAS convened a committee of students, staff, and faculty. Assisted by the Harvard Green Campus Initiative (now the Office for Sustainability), this committee was charged with determining the extent of achievable reductions and with developing a strategic plan for meeting this goal.

An estimated two-thirds of FAS’s reductions in greenhouse gas emissions will be achieved by shaping individuals’ behavior, by ensuring that new construction is as green as possible, and by retrofitting existing buildings to improve energy efficiency. The remainder will be attained through FAS support of fuel switching and general efficiency improvements in the University’s central plant.

The Greenhouse Gas Reduction Plan is structured in four-year cycles so the committee can periodically consider how best to incorporate new technology and new findings by scientists.

Indeed, by contributing to new technologies and better understanding of climate change, the brainpower of Harvard researchers may ultimately prove to be the University’s greatest gift to the planet’s health.

“As a world-class research university, the most significant and lasting contribution Harvard can make has to be an intellectual one,” Smith said. “Green energy and climate change are two of the most important global changes impacting us today. Through innovation and discovery, Harvard can have leverage to make a real and lasting impact on this pressing problem.”

What can I do in my office?

• Curtail ‘energy vampires’ by using a power strip to turn off office electronics.
• Activate power management settings on your computer.
• Shut off lights in unoccupied offices, conference rooms, and restrooms.
• To avoid overnight heat loss, close shades or blinds before leaving for the day.

Waste reduction:
• Avoid fax cover sheets when a small sticker will do.
• Set double-sided printing as the default on office printers.
• Unsubscribe from unwanted mailing lists and catalogs.

• Purchase office paper with 30 percent recycled content, which costs the same as virgin paper under Harvard’s contract with OfficeMax.
• Request recycled, unbleached paper towels in restrooms and kitchens.

• Recycle glass, metal, and plastics #1-7 in your Harvard recycling bin. It’s not just for paper anymore.
• Return empty toner and ink cartridges to your OfficeMax delivery person for recycling.

• Use the M2 shuttle bus for travel between Harvard Square and the Longwood Medical Area. The shuttle is fast, frequent, and free with a valid Harvard ID.

Source‘Green Offices at Harvard’