Green Carpet Awards recognized individuals and teams who have worked on inspiring, creative environmental projects that have had an impact at Harvard University.

Kris Snibbe/Harvard Staff Photographer

Campus & Community

Treading the green carpet

5 min read

University presents awards as it celebrates success in sustainability

One day after Earth Day, Harvard continued to celebrate the environment, rolling out a green carpet for the individuals, teams, projects, and Schools that have advanced the cause of sustainability.

There were more than 160 nominees for what Harvard is calling its inaugural Green Carpet Awards. At a side door to Memorial Hall Friday afternoon (April 23), the walkway was lined with velvet ropes (in Harvard crimson) and overlaid with an all-weather carpet (in pea green).

The carpet continued into Sanders Theatre, where a raucous crowd of about 800 enjoyed the ceremonies.

There were no gold statuettes on hand, but there were Oscar-like touches.

One of the award presenters, Jack Spengler, showed up in a white sports jacket, black shirt, white tie, and wraparound shades. Spengler, a pioneer of sustainability education at Harvard, is the Akira Yamaguchi Professor of Environmental Health and Human Habitation at the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH.)

In another Oscar-like touch, the Harvard LowKeys, an a cappella group, opened the show with a bright-colored spoof of “Paint It, Black” by the Rolling Stones. “I see a red door,” the sultry lead vocals went, “and I want it painted green.”

Three student films added another quasi-Hollywood touch. By the end of the hour, the audience learned the winner in that category: “Harvard Heroes,” a production from the undergraduate TV show “On Harvard Time.” It was a 2-minute, 10-second spoof on best-sustainability practices in a Harvard dorm.

Among other things, the hero John pops out of a recycling can to: eat leftover food from another tray (to reduce waste); drink directly from the soda fountain (to save on cups); and turn off the lights in the library while everyone else is still there (to save energy).

But there were real Harvard heroes, and the Green Carpet Awards provided examples.

A wide-screen slide show behind the podium — another Hollywood touch — flicked past the pictures of 52 individual achievement award winners, which was one category. (The list of winners.)

Many of the pictures drew hoots and shouts, and one group kept waving green bandannas.

“It isn’t easy being green,” said one of the emcees, Harvard Executive Vice President Katherine Lapp, especially at a University of 600-plus buildings. “But these heroes got results.”

Team Project Award winners came next. In the Student Project category, the Harvard Community Garden took top honors. An honorable mention went to Seeding Labs, a Harvard Medical School and Faculty of Arts and Sciences project that has distributed used laboratory equipment to 16 developing nations.

In the Waste/Water Reduction Project category, top honors came down to a tie: the Harvard Divinity School (HDS) Green Team and EcoDiv for a 70 percent composting and recycling rate; and to Sebastian’s Café and the HSPH Green Team café program. Sebastian’s is the first Harvard dining operation to receive a Green Restaurant rating.

In the running for that same category was the FAS toilet and sink conversion project — surely one of the least Oscar-like nominations in Oscar-like history. But retrofitting 700 toilets and 900 sinks did lead to a 20 percent reduction in water use.

The Capital Project Award went to HDS for its renovation of Rockefeller Hall, a late-1960s architectural artifact where energy use has been trimmed by 42 percent.

The Greenhouse Gas Reduction Project category was split into two parts, for energy infrastructure and for behavior/operations.

In the first category, there was a four-way tie. The winners: University Operations Services for retrofits and fuel switching at the Blackstone Steam Plant; the Harvard Graduate School of Education and the Radcliffe Institute for a fuel switch in their shared boilers; the Harvard Business School for its Chilled Water Plant Diversity Project; and Harvard Real Estate Services, in part for installing a 1,600-panel solar power array on an Arsenal Street property.

In the Behavior/Operations category, there was another tie. “We’ll have to be more decisive next year, said another event emcee, Heather Henriksen, director of Harvard’s Office for Sustainability (OFS).

One winner was the FAS Chemistry Operations Team, for finding ways to reduce energy use in science laboratories, which account for 48 percent of FAS energy use – but only 25 percent of its square footage. (The savings so far are $200,000 a year.) And the Harvard Law School (HLS) Facilities Team won for a series of energy audits that increased compliance with energy-saving behaviors by 15 percent.

Then there was the Green Team Project award winner, the team from Alumni Affairs and Development. (Two people accepted the award. One was dressed as Kermit the Frog, who for the occasion wore lime green stockings.)

OFS this year awarded its first Student Sustainability Grants. A long list of winners won a moment of Green Carpet glory, flashing onto the big screen. Two of the grant proposals were a HDS garden and a HLS dorm composting project.

Toward the end of the ceremonies, the audience — still revved up — got a look at “Green is Sexy,” a short from the Mather House Council. The film showed two doubtful best practices for sustainable living. (Shower with all your friends, and use body heat instead of the furnace.) But one idea would work: Once you are under the covers, turn out the lights.

All three film entries, including “Real Men of Genius” from Sam Novey ’11 and Sam Berman ’12, are available for viewing on YouTube.

The wrap-up had an Oscar feel as well. Special Achievement Awards went to Spengler and to Thomas Vautin, Harvard’s acting vice president for administration. A dozen years ago, both were on the ground floor of Harvard’s awakening to the power and importance of sustainable practices — a direction that Vautin credited to undergraduate action starting in the 1980s.

Today, he said of the issue, “The opportunity for continuous learning is endless.”