Harvard rolls out new sustainable IT standards

Credit: Harvard Office for Sustainability

3 min read

Here at Harvard, we love our technology and devices. It enables so much of what we do — from enhancing the classroom experience, to enabling cutting edge research, to supporting day-to-day operations and the residential experience. But our digital age also comes with challenges.

How do we ensure our electronics are being recycled responsibly? Can the high-performance computing that is needed for research today be made more energy efficient? How can we best leverage technology to enhance our sustainability efforts across campus?

Driven by a commitment to Harvard’s Sustainability Plan, a team of IT, operations, and facilities staff have been steadily working to address these challenges by exploring tangible solutions that allow the University’s Schools and departments to reap the benefits of improved efficiency and coordination and manage the disposal of thousands of devices a year sustainably and securely.

New University-wide Sustainable IT Standards, approved by Harvard’s CIO Council in December 2017, provide a roadmap for implementing and improving processes to make IT on campus more sustainable and for identifying opportunities where sustainable IT practices can be leveraged to support the ongoing administrative, research, and instructional activities of faculty, staff, and students.

These new Standards are the latest in a string of efforts aimed at reducing the environmental impact of technology at Harvard.

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“Harvard’s CIO Council and our IT community have long been committed to sustainability in information technology,” said Anne Margulies, University Chief Information Officer. “With so many devices consuming so much energy, it is imperative for the IT community to play a role in meeting Harvard’s overall sustainability goals, And we’ve made great progress.”

In 2012, Harvard together with the Commonwealth and university partners built the Massachusetts Green High Performance Computing Center (MGHPCC) in Holyoke, Mass. — the first university research data center ever to achieve LEED Platinum Certification. The construction of the MGHPCC, combined with the consolidation of on-campus data centers, and the migration to cloud based systems have been significant steps in reducing Harvard’s use of energy.

The new Sustainable IT Standards were created by the Green IT Working Group (link) that comprises IT, operations, and facilities professionals across Harvard’s departments and Schools, in collaboration with the Office for Sustainability (OFS) and Harvard University Information Technology (HUIT).

They focus on actionable recommendations that Schools and departments can adopt in three core areas: waste, energy, and practice. By taking advantage of Harvard’s decentralized nature, these Standards will help align decision-makers across the campus under a common set of objectives while giving them the ability to pilot new strategies and technologies and share best practices.

The new Standards have already spurred a number of positive changes, including a secure print program launched by HUIT aimed at reducing wasteful printing, centralized electronic waste collection events for personal and institutional items, and FixIt events on campus where Harvard community members can bring broken electronics to be fixed.