Celebrating a Green Campus

April 15, 2010
Celebrating a Green Campus

"We at Harvard must be a model. . . . It is true that the climate change and the challenge of sustainability are global problems. But climate change is also a local problem. Solving it begins with each of us. Every person at Harvard—student, faculty, staff—can contribute to the effort to avert the dire outcomes that scientists are predicting. We are all teachers and we are all learners in this endeavor. We must do it together."

Harvard President Drew Gilpin Faust used these words in her address to the University during a sustainability celebration in the Tercentenary Theatre on October 22, 2008. Only months earlier,
the University had pledged to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions 30 percent by 2016, inclusive of growth, with 2006 as a baseline year.

Though the deadline is still several years away, HDS has made—and continues to make—great strides toward the achievement of this goal. Some measures the School has taken have been more noticeable than others—the new Campus Green behind Andover Hall, for example—yet small, important steps are made each day by the School's staff, students, and faculty to make HDS a University leader in sustainable practices.

In February of this year, new bag count data taken by Harvard University Operations Services showed that HDS captures 70 percent of its refuse for recycling or composting. This figure leads all Schools at Harvard and is a reflection of how doing the little things, such as depositing recyclables in a recycling bin, can lead to meaningful results.

"We are constantly trying to raise the awareness that everybody has a role to play," explained Ralph DeFlorio, director of operations at HDS. "You don't have to be a sustainability or energy expert. There's a role for you regardless of your background or your knowledge base."

The recognition of HDS's leading recycling rate comes on the heels of another School milestone: In November 2009, Rockefeller Hall was awarded LEED Gold certification through the U.S. Green Building Council. After undergoing a 14-month renovation that ended in the summer of 2008, the nearly 40-year-old Rockefeller Hall is now one of Harvard's most energy efficient buildings.

HDS was also the first campus to offer composting in every building, and all offices, classrooms, dining areas, and meeting rooms have single-stream recycling receptacles next to matching trash cans. The School also has a permanent electronics recycling station for all computers, e-media (CDs, tapes, DVDs), speakers, cords, plugs, and power sources. Additionally, HDS has been a leader in organic gardening and lawn care and was one of the first Schools to use green cleaning in its custodial services.

"When people think about sustainability, so much of the focus is on energy reduction, which is obviously an important area," DeFlorio said. "But when you integrate sustainable practices in areas of cleaning and maintaining the landscape, it promotes better health, too."

Energy audits of all HDS buildings that were completed in the summer of 2009 identified 88 energy conservation measures (ECMs) the School should adopt. According to DeFlorio, most ECMs have a relatively short payback.

“We have a project plan, where we are going after nearly all of the ECMs,” DeFlorio said. “The other piece is that we have already been engaged with staff about energy conservation, so, collectively, we are getting close to our goal of 30 percent greenhouse gas reduction. I think we have a good chance of reaching that goal in the next 12 to 24 months.”

The next project in store for HDS buildings is EBCx retro-commissioning, which is a systematic process for investigating and then optimizing the performance of building systems by identifying and implementing low-to-no-cost facility improvement measures and ensuring their continued performance. As DeFlorio explained, it is a complex web of technology, but something that, if not performing optimally, results in energy (and dollars) going out the door.

"For EBCx analysis, we will bring in somebody to look at how the building controls are running. Do we have good sequences? Do we have good ongoing operations? This is something that is done behind the scenes and under the radar, but it can make a big difference," DeFlorio said.

Student and staff involvement on matters of sustainability has been a key element in the focus HDS has paid to make the community aware of its green priorities. In March, HDS facilities and operations collaborated with the Office of Information Technology and Media Services at HDS to replace old electrical power strips with "smart strips," which are designed to promote energy savings and sustainability by using a series of switched outlets that turn off or on automatically, based on the state of one's computer.

"We have a very good relationship with staff and students," said Roy Lauridsen, HDS facilities manager. "Changing the culture is very important in terms of educating people and breaking some bad habits. And the more involvement we receive, the easier it is going to be to implement changes."

The operations team works closely with the student group EcoDiv, which started in spring 2008. During its first year, a big piece of EcoDiv's work was dedicated to supporting the newly established composting efforts and providing support to facilities and operations by making announcements to students and advertising for events and other initiatives.

“Since then, we have coordinated volunteers at orientation to reinforce for new students the practice of composting,” explained Emma Crossen, who has been active as a coordinator for EcoDiv. “For the past two years, students have arrived at HDS and know that, when they go to throw something away, there are options about how to discard that waste. So from the beginning, new students are told that sustainable practices matter here.”

But a year into composting, Crossen realized that the recycling and composting bins were not being sorted properly. People did not know what items could be composted, what could be recycled, or what should be thrown into the waste bin.

"We thought about how to make more signage," Crossen said. "So, I scheduled a time that I and other students could meet. We brought some black foam board and a glue gun and put together the signs that are in Rockefeller Café that show which items go in the particular bins."

Student contributions to matters of sustainability are nothing new. In the mid-2000s, Lara Freeman, MTS '06, was doing her field education project with the facilities and operations team and pitched the idea of purchasing the School's electricity through a renewable source. Since then, HDS electricity has been purchased through credits from wind generated in Texas.

On Earth Day last year (April 22), a plot of nearly 800 square feet behind Jewett House and the Center for the Study of World Religions was the site of a special ground-breaking ceremony for an HDS garden. During the summer, staff and students tended to the soil and grew tomatoes, cucumbers, green beans, marigolds, basil, and thyme. With the continued support of the operations team and volunteers from the community, the HDS Garden Group will be active again this spring and summer.

"HDS is so supportive of any student and staff ideas around sustainable practices—from the garden to film showings," Crossen said. "These kinds of things speak to the mission of the School, and HDS is a great place to be for students or anyone interested in sustainability, because there is so much support."

On April 23, Crossen was honored along with HDS staff member Leslie MacPherson Artinian and CSWR director Donald K. Swearer at Harvard's first annual Green Carpet Awards ceremony. The awards recognize those who have made significant contributions to greenhouse gas reductions and other sustainability efforts at the University.

Crossen will become the executive director after graduation of the Outdoor Church, a church among chronically homeless people in Cambridge founded by Jedediah Mannis, MDiv '04.

Leslie MacPherson Artinian plays an active role on the HDS Green Team, the Food Advisory Committee, the Social Committee, and the HDS Garden Group, in which she has helped to keep the momentum of the garden through the transition of seasons and graduating students.

Swearer was honored for his role in enhancing the dialogue on sustainability issues around Harvard by developing and overseeing the "Ecologies of Human Flourishing" lecture series at the CSWR, which explored, among other things, the intersection of religion and sustainable practices. Speakers included leading scholars and environmentalists, such as Sallie McFague, Bill McKibben, and Lawrence Buell. You can listen to all of the CSWR 2009–10 lectures by visiting the Center's website.

The Divinity School also earned two Team Project awards. In the Waste/Water Reduction Project category, the HDS Green Team and EcoDiv were recognized for the 70 percent composting and recycling rate on campus, tying with the School of Public Health, which was lauded for its dining operations. The Capital Project Award went to HDS for the Rockefeller Hall renovation, where energy use has been trimmed by 42 percent.

—by Jonathan Beasley