Science & Tech

A decade on, a goal met; now, next targets

Ten years after the first Sustainability Celebration (pictured), the University commemorated its collective achievements in holistically addressing sustainability under the leadership of President Drew Faust.

Harvard file photo

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Sustainability celebration marks Harvard’s accomplishments

Why did Harvard adopt its first science-based goal to reduce emissions 30 percent within 10 years?

“Because it is the right thing to do.”

Harvard Kennedy School Professor William Clark remembered President Drew Faust’s simple yet powerful explanation in 2008, after the University announced its first, decade-long climate goal. It was one of several memories shared at this past week’s University-wide Sustainability Celebration, an annual event at which faculty, students, and staff mark their collective achievements in holistically addressing sustainability to build a healthier campus community less dependent on fossil fuels.

Faust, who led the initiative, said that with that goal accomplished, there is still much to do.

“We have the chance to build possibilities and realities for those who will follow us. Our efforts will enable what they can imagine and what they can do,” she said in brief public remarks. “Nowhere is this clearer to me than in your efforts to address climate change and sustainability. You have provided some of the powerful evidence of what we can achieve when we think of ourselves as One Harvard.”

On behalf of student environmental groups, Aldís Elfarsdóttir ’19 thanked Faust for giving students a voice in the task forces that have defined Harvard’s climate commitments, as well as providing space on campus to test their ideas and pilot solutions.

Jose “Memo” Guillermo Cedeno Laurent (from far left) and Piers Octavian MacNaughton show their projects to Heather Henriksen and President Drew Faust.

Kris Snibbe/Harvard Staff Photographer

“We are finding ways to turn our futuristic visions into immediate reality, and we have the resources to iterate until we achieve results,” Elfarsdóttir said. “Your model for community engagement and outreach inspires us as campus community organizers and future global change makers.”

The celebration also featured a showcase of student living lab projects that use the campus to test ideas or bring promising new solutions to fruition. The projects span a wide range of disciplines, from an underwater robot designed to pick up trash to a design engineering project to map the future of sustainable seafood with Harvard University Dining Services to ongoing research at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health on indoor air quality and the impact of the built environment on human health. A Campus Sustainability Innovation Fund and Student Grant Program provide seed funding for these projects, with a special focus on multidisciplinary approaches that foster collaboration between students, faculty, and staff.

“Institutional action has never been more urgent or more important. Thank you for being brave enough and wise enough and persistent enough to see us to this point,” Faust said.

This year’s celebration also marked the 10-year anniversary of Faust’s creation of the Office for Sustainability. Heather Henriksen, who has led the office since its inception, started the event by bringing everyone back to October 2008, when 15,000 people gathered in Tercentenary Theatre on a cold, rainy afternoon to listen to Faust and former Vice President Al Gore.

Jack Smith '19, a skilled woodturner who is studying Environmental Science & Public Policy, crafted serving spoons and a bowl for President Faust from trees that had to be cut down in the Yard and near the Center for the Environment. Knowing that Faust is an accomplished Civil War historian, Smith carved a custom interpretation of a traditional antebellum wood molding design on the bowl.

Kris Snibbe/Harvard Staff Photographer

“When I speak with business leaders, peers, or our partners in government, the thing they appreciate the most is Harvard’s willingness to take bold action rooted in what science says is necessary,” said Henriksen. “And what I tell them every time is that this comes straight from the top and each one of these achievements was a team effort and example of One Harvard collaboration.”

She noted that Faust’s leadership, which has been championed by Executive Vice President Katie Lapp, Vice President of Campus Services Meredith Weenick, and senior leadership and facilities leaders across Harvard’s Schools, has empowered the community to come together to achieve the climate goal in 2016, and the same collective spirit will be leveraged to meet Harvard’s ambitious new goals, which include being fossil-fuel-neutral by 2026, and fossil-fuel-free by 2050.

“We will be forever grateful to President Faust for speaking with moral clarity,” Henriksen said, “for standing up for truth and what’s right, and for making sustainability and acting on climate a priority at Harvard.”