Science & Tech

Green reunions: Groundwork set

4 min read

Class of ’84 reunion promises to change the hue of things to come

As of June 4, Harvard has celebrated 358 commencements. Add to that the simultaneous celebration of untold thousands of reunions.

But it took until this year for a Harvard Class to host the first reunion that included the environment on its guest list.

Starting last fall, planners for the Class of 1984’s 25th reunion set out to reduce the big carbon footprint that comes with big reunions.

With good reason. At Harvard, the 25th is typically the mother of all reunions — a four-day blowout that opens Harvard Yard dormitories to families, caters large-scale meals, and sponsors trips, symposia, soirees, and services.

This year, an estimated 2,150 celebrants showed up for the 1984 bash: 850 Class members, 500 spouses, and 800 children. “It’s a new record,” said Michele Blanc, senior associate director of classes and reunions for the Harvard Alumni Association.

That’s a small town’s worth of people. They required a lot of food, a lot of lights at night, a lot of water, and a lot of refillable cups at a lot of portable bars.

But 25th reunion planners banned bottled water at events, set tables with plates and utensils that turn into compost, rode bio-diesel buses, and kept paper to a minimum with few mailings, a flurry of e-mail, and an interactive Web site.

This Reagan-era class was already famous for including public service work in its reunions years ago. (This year, it was a Saturday morning “green-up” clean-up along the Charles River.)

Now the Class shares a collective hope that Harvard’s first explicitly green reunion will be its lasting gift to future Class reunions — a template they can use, expand upon, and enjoy.

There’s no formal template in place yet, said Blanc, but “I’m sure ’85 will follow in ’84’s footsteps.”

“We set the groundwork,” said Anne S. Holtzworth ’84, a Boston-area political consultant still hoarse from catching up with old classmates last week. “Maybe next year they can go further.”

There are already glimmerings that going green might become standard practice at Harvard reunions.

Jason Luke ’94 said of the 1984 event, “Things they’re doing will be what a lot of reunions in the future do.”

Luke, who was co-chair of his 15th reunion this year, is associate director of custodial and support services at Harvard’s Facilities Maintenance Operations. For more than a decade he’s been in charge of infrastructure, water, and energy at every Commencement.

Many Harvard events already emphasize composting over recycling and recycling over trash, he said. But sometime in the future, Luke predicted, the waste standard for Harvard events will be 100 percent composting.

The green theme was a hit among those returning for the 1984 reunion. “People got into the spirit of it,” said Holtzworth.

The spirit will last, apparently. Without scolding, the planners will ask this year’s 25th reunion registrants to make up for the carbon they spent getting here — by taking the next year to make energy-reducing lifestyle adjustments.

An exact calculation for the required reduction is forthcoming, said Gary Pforzheimer ’84, co-chair of the green reunion committee.

But reducing energy at home has more meaning, and carries more educational punch, he said, than just buying carbon offsets in the marketplace.

As it happens, the Class of 1984 is already primed to offset carbon at home.

According to a Class survey taken before the reunion, two-thirds of the 467 respondents “always or usually” recycle paper and plastic, turn out lights, lower thermostats, and use efficient appliances.

More than a hundred commute by bicycle. Ninety classmates — about 20 percent of survey respondents — drive hybrid cars.

For more glimpses of energy frugality, look in the Class’ book-length 25th anniversary report. One former Wall Street lawyer gave up taxis in favor of a foot-powered scooter. A magazine writer, also in New York City, noted that his family has no car — but three strollers.

The Class of 1984 has an apparent penchant for Earth-saving exercise. Among the brain surgeons, concert violinists, and financiers are a steady tide of marathoners, triathletes, swimmers, cyclists, duckpin bowlers, fencers, sailors, scuba divers, cricketers, and at least one member of an all-gay mountaineering team.

Holtzworth speculated that some of the ideas for offsetting carbon at home would come from the Harvard Sustainability Pledge. Class of 1984 attendees at the reunion signed a version of the pledge before arriving in Cambridge.

Meanwhile, none of the food at the reunion was from more than 250 miles away, said Pforzheimer, and waste often went straight to compost.

The 25th reunion was alive with messages about green living, but it was still fun, he said. “Nothing we did got in the way of a good time.”