A message from Harvard’s Chief Sustainability Officer:
We are excited to share our 2022-2023 Annual Report in which you will see progress on Harvard’s sustainable development and climate goals as well as the university-wide mission to accelerate action on climate, equity, and health. In addition, this report highlights our updated Sustainability Action Plan which reimagines How We Power, How We Build, How We Operate, and How We Lead. The Office for Sustainability is proud to collaborate with faculty, students, staff, and alumni across Harvard, using our campus as a testbed as we pilot, prove, and scale the latest research and innovations. Through this essential work, we remain deeply committed to modeling a sustainable future for the Harvard community and beyond.Heather Henriksen, Chief Sustainability Officer
UPDATED IN 2023
Sustainability Action Plan
Harvard’s updated Sustainability Action Plan, launched in May 2023, offers a holistic approach that addresses climate, equity and health in an integrated, interconnected way, rather than as separate issues.
Table of Contents:
- How We Power – Climate/Fossil Fuel Goals, Scopes 1 and 2 Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Emissions, Net Energy Use, Solar Photovoltaics (PV) Capacity
- How We Build – Sustainable Building Certifications, Healthier Buildings and Supply Chain/Materials
- How We Operate – Scope 3 (Supply/Value Chain) Emissions, Employee Commuting, Food, Waste, Water, Landscaping
- How We Lead – University Sustainability Leadership, Research, Student Initiatives, Events
Fossil Fuel Goals
Fossil Fuel-Free by 2050
Harvard set a goal to be fossil fuel-free by 2050. Goal Zero is focused on eliminating the use of fossil fuels—to the point where offse are no longer needed. By recognizing the full set of damages caused by our use of fossil fuels, rather than only carbon emissions, Harvard is seeking to reduce the negative health impacts of fossil fuel use and production. Fossil fuels are also a main ingredient in many plastics and toxic chemicals, which is why we also aim to reduce those as a part of our mission to reduce waste and create a healthier value chain.
Photo: Harvard’s District Energy Facility. Image by Brad Feinknopf of Feinknopf Photography.
Fossil Fuel-Neutral by 2026
As a bridge to reach Goal Zero, Harvard has a short-term objective to be fossil fuel-neutral by 2026. This means Harvard will zero out campus emissions (Scope 1 and Scope 2). It also means funding new renewable electricity and other projects that zero out both greenhouse gas emissions and the health impacts from our use of fossil fuels, such as those caused by air pollution, to create positive benefits for human health, social equity, and ecosystems.
Harvard Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Emissions
Harvard’s four emissions sources include: District energy systems, electricity use, fossil fuels in buildings, and the University’s vehicle fleet. The University is actively planning to achieve Goal Zero and will continue to share our progress with you.
University-wide GHG Emissions
- This graph shows University-wide emissions by year since the baseline year of 2006. The dark green line shows total gross emissions, while the magenta line indicates net emissions, including RECs and carbon credits. The yellow arrow indicates the University’s 2016 first-generation goal of a 30% reduction in emissions compared to baseline.
- Net emissions remain in line with the 2016 goal.
- Harvard is evaluating solutions to reduce fossil fuels in our district energy systems, remove fossil fuels from our buildings, and create a roadmap for our long-term 2050 goal with interim targets.
- The COVID-19 pandemic led to significant operational changes from 2020 to the end of 2022 that impacted the University’s energy use and emissions.
Carbon use intensity: emissions in the context of campus growth
- This graph shows total square footage (dark green), University-wide emissions (magenta), carbon use intensity (yellow), and the annual percent change in carbon use intensity (purple) for the time period 2006-2022.
- During this 16-year time period, emissions fell by about 27% while the total square footage of emitting buildings grew by roughly 19%.
- This results in a declining trend for carbon use intensity with an approximate 39% decline in 2022 compared to 2006.
Did you know…
- Harvard’s emissions inventory was among the first in higher education to be third-party verified by The Climate Registry. Harvard follows The Climate Registry’s General Reporting Protocol for the Voluntary GHG Reporting Program.
- Harvard’s GHG inventory consists of direct emissions from onsite combustion (Scope 1) and indirect emissions from purchased electricity (Scope 2) sources for North American properties by Fiscal Year.
- Preparing the GHG inventory is typically a two-year process that begins with compiling University-wide energy use data, reviewing data with Schools and Units, and assigning emission factors from electricity suppliers that become available 12-18 months after the close of the year. The 2022 data included is still estimated, subject to change after the final electricity emission factors become available.
Net Energy Use
In 2022, net energy use was down 5% from a 2006 baseline (excluding growth, energy use dropped 22% due to energy efficiency measures). Reductions in building energy use from energy efficiency measures offset the impact of growth in square footage.
The COVID-19 pandemic led to significant operational changes in 2020 and 2021 that impacted the University’s energy use and emissions. De-densification of Harvard’s Campus in March 2020 decreased energy use in some buildings. However, lab buildings, which account for 50% of energy use, were re-opened in June 2020. Additionally, some safety-driven changes in building operations resulted in increased energy use, such as higher building ventilation rates per recommendations from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and state and local guidance and standards pertinent to COVID-19. These changes impacted the University’s GHG emissions and energy use, altering trends compared to previous years.
Installed Solar PV Capacity
Harvard has installed 3 MW of on-site solar photovoltaic (PV) on its campus – the equivalent of 600 home installations – as well as 0.5 MW of installed storage. The University sells the environmental benefit to local utility providers to increase the amount of renewable energy in the regional electric grid, which helps Massachusetts meet its renewable energy target. On-site solar, combined with solar thermal and geothermal installations, serve as important test grounds to inform future action.
The green line in the graph above shows the total cumulative capacity for installed solar PV since 2003. The blue bars indicate the annual total capacity of newly installed solar PV for a given year, with tooltips specifying the location and capacity of each installation.
Harvard continues to develop its Sustainable Building Standards (first developed in 2009) and is building operational best practices that address climate, health, and equity in the built environment.
148 LEED-Certified Buildings
3.6M sq. feet
30% energy reduction for cooling needs
4.2% reduction in steam emissions
4M gallons saved annually
Harvard LEED-Certified Projects
Harvard has 148 Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED)-certified projects, more than any other higher education institution, including the first LEED commercial interiors (CI) V4 in Massachusetts, and the first building in New England to receive a second platinum certification.
Harvard LEED-certified projects:
The graph above shows the cumulative number of LEED-certified projects per year since 2005. The number of projects with a certified rating is shown in green, those with a silver-level rating are shown in purple, those with a gold-level rating are shown in yellow, and those with platinum-level LEED rating are shown in blue. The annual number of projects with each type of rating is indicated in the tooltips.
Since 2021, Harvard has received five new LEED certifications:
- Andover Hall, now known as Swartz Hall at the Harvard Divinity School (HDS), received LEED-CI Platinum certification.
- Cumnock Hall at Harvard Business School (HBS) received LEED-CI Silver for its upper floor.
- Claverly Hall, the first part of the Adams House renovation, received LEED-CI Gold certification.
- Klarman Hall at the Harvard Business School (HBS) received LEED-NC Gold certification.
- Science and Engineering Complex (SEC)— known as one of the healthiest, most sustainable, and energy-efficient laboratories in the world — received LEED Platinum certification.
Harvard Healthier Building Academy
A Harvard partnership working to identify and reduce “chemical classes of concern” that pose health…
Harvard’s Sustainable Building Standards
Harvard’s Sustainable Building Standards incorporate holistic requirements for significant emissions reductions, better indoor air quality,…
Science and Engineering Complex
The Harvard Science and Engineering Complex (SEC), a Living Building Challenge (LBC) Materials, Equity, and Beauty Petal-certified and LEED Platinum-certified building, is operating below its predicted energy use intensity (pEUI) target. Retro-commissioning activities have helped fine-tune building operations to achieve an EUI below its design target.
Swartz Hall at Harvard Divinity School
The renewal of Swartz Hall was the first major upgrade to the building since it was constructed more than a century ago and the project achieved LEED-CI Platinum certification, the highest level of certification. Learn more.
Scope 3 Emissions
Reducing Scope 3 Emissions
Harvard is prioritizing action to reduce Scope 3 (value chain) emissions to maximize and scale impact.
The University tracks and seeks to reduce emissions from its value chain, in areas including construction, food, air travel, commuting, and purchased goods and services.
25% reduction in food-related emissions by 2030
20% reduction in embodied carbon by 2024
5 priority areas
To date, Harvard has set two specific Scope 3 greenhouse gas reduction targets:
- As part of the Coolfood Pledge coalition, Harvard is working to reduce campus food-related emissions by 25% (or per-plate emissions by 38%) by 2030.
- As part of the updated Sustainability Action Plan, Harvard set a 2024 goal to reduce embodied carbon in capital projects (new buildings and large-scale renovations) by 20%, compared to conventional buildings.
SCOPE 3 SPOTLIGHT: Harvard Kennedy School
High-Quality Carbon Offsets
In 2023, the Harvard Kennedy School has purchased its first portfolio of high-quality carbon offsets to compensate for the climate and health damages of Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) travel taken during the year and its global emissions impact.
This investment comes as a part of HKS’s broader strategy for pursuing its sustainability goals and campaign to help community members “Fly Less, Fly Better” and take responsibility for damages associated with travel that needs to occur as a part of its core mission. The strategy is led by the HKS Sustainability Leadership Council (SLC), made up of faculty, students, and staff appointed by the Dean to guide HKS’s sustainability priorities and focus on innovative ways to reduce GHG emissions on campus throughout our operations and practices. The Kennedy School has committed to tracking its air travel impacts and offsetting the associated climate damages as part of its core sustainability strategy.
Harvard was an inaugural signatory of the Coolfood Pledge in 2019. Organizations that sign the Pledge commit, as a group, to slash absolute food-related GHG emissions by 25% by 2030 (or 38% reduction “per plate”), relative to a baseline (Harvard’s baseline year is 2019). This level of ambition is in line with achieving the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement.
Re-examining our food systems is a pivotal step in helping New York City reach its climate goals. That’s why in 2021 the City became a signatory of the Coolfood Pledge. Harvard’s leadership as a founding signatory on the Pledge was a strong vote of confidence that inspired us to incorporate it into the City’s climate playbook.”
ERIC ADAMS, MAYOR, NEW YORK CITY
Breaking down Harvard’s “per-plate” food-related emissions
Below is an analysis of “per-plate” emissions (i.e. emissions per 1,000 kilocalories), which indicates a decline since 2019 and that Harvard is on track toward its 2030 goal:
Between 2019 and 2022, “per-plate” emissions decreased by 14.3%. In 2022, total food-related GHG emissions only increased by 16%, even as food purchasing increased by 28% post-pandemic.
The “per-plate” decline during this time period is due to decreases in red meat and dairy purchases and increases in plant-based food purchasing.
The graph above shows that Harvard’s “per-plate” emissions (solid magenta line) are well below the emissions from peer Coolfood member organizations (solid blue line) and the average North American diet (dashed dark green line).
Emissions from an average North American diet were calculated by Coolfood using FAOSTAT data for 2015. The 2030 Coolfood regional target (dashed yellow line) represents a 38% per-plate reduction from the standard North American diet. Thanks to increasing food-related sustainability efforts over the past decade, Harvard’s per-plate emissions are already close to the 2030 Coolfood regional target for North America.
More on the Coolfood Pledge:
- Nearly 60 organizations, corporations and cities have joined the Coolfood Pledge. Members include the Cities of New York, Toronto, Copenhagen, and Milan; large corporations like Bank of America, Bloomberg, and IKEA; prominent medical institutions, like Boston Medical Center, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center; and several universities, including Harvard.
- Pledge members conﬁdentially report food purchase amounts by weight each year, including data on all animal-based foods, as well as plant proteins, which collectively tend to make up 80-90 percent of an organization’s food-related GHG emissions.
Harvard’s Sustainable and Healthful Food Standards address:
- Climate and ecosystems
- Consumer wellbeing
- Education and food literacy
- Food waste reduction
- Animal welfare
- Wellbeing of workers and communities along the value chain
SPOTLIGHT: Harvard Business School
Sustainable Food at HBS
- Animal welfare: A focus area of HBS’ Standards is animal welfare. In addition to the benefit to the animal, there are human health benefits for humane certified animal products. Seventy percent of antibiotics sold in the United States are used i farmed animals to reduce the potential for illness caused by cramped and dirty conditions. This can lead to antibiotic-resistant diseases that could infect humans. HBS has switched to certified humane pasture-raised eggs – a higher certification level recommended by Farm Forward (a non-profit that HBS collaborates with on this topic) and is now evaluating chicken.
- Plant-based foods: Harvard Business School has increased plant-based options on campus for a number of years. Recent changes include making the buffet at the Grille completely vegetarian with many items being vegan, adding tempeh bacon, plant-based chicken, and Just Egg substitute, along with increasing plant-based catering options as well. The oat-based frozen yogurt is a favorite.
SPOTLIGHT: Harvard Kennedy School
Food Waste Reduction at HKS
Harvard Kennedy School re-launched its popular food waste reduction program, the HKS Food Chain, to reduce food waste footprint and reduce food insecurity on campus. Over the past year, more than 100 HKS events have participated in the program, with 350 community members involved. The Food Chain diverted more than 400 pounds of food from our compost waste stream and shared it safely with HKS community members at events of all sizes.
Data provided by Harvard Transportation & Parking’s CommuterChoice:
Fast Stats from CommuterChoice:
- 36.9% of Harvard employees worked remotely, with substantial increases on Mondays and Fridays
- 20.5% walked
- 18.3% took public transit
- 10.8% biked
- 11.2% drove alone
- The pandemic drastically altered commuting patterns but commute choices seem to be normalizing. Remote work continues to be a dominant trend, while walking, biking and transit continue to increase in overall mode share.
Harvard’s extensive waste reduction initiatives focus first on reduction, then reusing, and next on recycling and composting.
Harvard Schools and Units have invested in improved signage, trainings, and waste reduction programs. Across the University, students, faculty and staff are adapting to changes in global recycling-industry standards while also expanding composting availability.
There was a reduction in all forms of waste produced on campus between July 2020 and June 2021, when Harvard de-densified its campus due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In that period, compost decreased 63%, recycling decreased 45%, and trash decreased 30% (all compared to a 2006 baseline). The flattening of recycling and compost levels and increase in trash during the 2021-2022 period could signify the beginning of a return to pre-pandemic levels. Factors could include the increase in cleaning and use of disposable products as the campus population returned to normal.
4+ waste audits
3 fix-it clinics
Nearly 11,000 lbs. of lab plastics recycled
80-90 truckloads of furniture
5K lbs. of material
As of 2022, Harvard’s water use is down 24% from 2006 levels. Harvard Schools and Units have invested significantly in water-saving fixtures and technologies to reduce consumption.
Harvard has also improved building and landscaping water use and reduced water consumption in the University’s energy plants.
Harvard’s Landscape Maintenance team, within Campus Services’ Energy & Facilities (E&F), works each year to create more sustainable operations. In 2022, the Landscape Maintenance team implemented more battery-operated equipment, continued the practice of organic landscaping, and designed rewilding pilots to support pollinators and provide habitat for a variety of organisms.
Nearly 40 pieces of electric equipment
Harvard is developing and investing in sustainable modes of transportation, ensuring that walking, cycling, and…
Sustainable Water Management
Harvard aims to reduce University-wide potable water use and pollution.
Healthful and Sustainable Food
Harvard pledges to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from food by 25% by 2030 as part…
Sustainability Action Plan Reception
The updated Sustainability Action Plan was released in May 2023 with a reception hosted by the Office for Sustainability (OFS) that invited President Larry Bacow, members of the Presidential Committee on Sustainability (PCS), and members of the Council of Student Sustainability Leaders (CSSL) to speak about the University’s sustainability goals and vision.
Presidential Committee on Sustainability (PCS)
The Presidential Committee on Sustainability – led by two faculty, the Executive Vice President, and managed by the Harvard Office for Sustainability – continues to advise the President and the University’s leadership on sustainability vision, goals, strategy, and partnerships.
Salata Institute for Climate and Sustainability
The centerpiece of Harvard’s climate- and sustainability-focused research, teaching, and engagement is the Salata Institute for Climate and Sustainability.
Launched in fall 2022 with a $200 million gift from Melanie and Jean Salata, the Institute serves as a fulcrum for collaboration across Harvard’s many areas of expertise, pursuing practical, real-world solutions that address all aspects of the climate crisis.
In February 2023, the Salata Institute awarded its first grants to five research clusters that will provide more than $8.1 million over three years to more than 30 faculty members across disciplines at Harvard. Read more about the five research clusters.
Sustainability Management Council (SMC)
Senior operations, facilities, and administrative leaders across the campus meet regularly as part of the Sustainability Management Council. The group aims to facilitate best practice sharing to enable the cost-effective achievement of the University’s sustainability and energy management goals.
Council of Student Sustainability Leaders (CSSL)
Managed by the Harvard Office for Sustainability, the Council of Student Sustainability Leaders (CSSL) comprises Harvard graduate and undergraduate students who lead and are involved in sustainability-related student groups on campus.
CSSL provides an opportunity for Harvard students to work together with other students from across the University’s Schools on sustainability projects, to connect and network with sustainability leaders (including students, faculty, and administration), and to provide feedback and recommendations on Harvard’s climate, health, equity, and sustainability initiatives.
Students from Office for Sustainability (OFS) programs, including the Council of Student Sustainability Leaders (CSSL), the Resource Efficiency Program (REP), and Harvard Business School (HBS) and Harvard Graduate School of Education (HGSE) Student Sustainability Fellows, gathered for the second annual networking event to share ideas and find synergies.
Members of the Council of Student Sustainability Leaders (CSSL) attended the Earthshot Prize Awards, hosted by Prince William of England, where they met several important sustainability leaders, including Mayor of Boston Michelle Wu.
Climate Solutions Living Lab
The Climate Solutions Living Lab combines pedagogy and applied research to advance the climate goals of Harvard and other institutions, governments and companies. Students from graduate schools across Harvard University work in interdisciplinary teams to advance new, replicable and innovative steps to redress climate change.
Students scrutinize the feasibility, scalability, and social justice impacts of climate change measures from multiple perspectives, including economic, technological, legal, and health. Students’ final projects include analyses and tools that can be tested and further refined by on- and off-campus partners of the Living Lab.
Climate Solutions Living Lab Projects in 2022-2023:
Track I: Building Sector – Working Towards Fossil Fuel-Free
- Designing fossil fuel-free laws for new construction and major renovations while supporting affordable housing and equity.
- Structuring third-party access to shared net-zero energy systems.
Track II: Energy Sector – Greening the Grid
- Integrating smaller buyers into large consortium purchases of renewable energy.
- Expediting an equitable build out of transmission systems for renewable energy.
Harvard Green Office Program
The Harvard Green Office Program guides staff through the process of creating a more sustainable workspace.
Charles River Clean-Up
The Harvard Kennedy School hosted a Charles River Clean-Up for Earth Day, in collaboration with the Charles River Conservancy. The group of Harvard students, faculty, and staff collected more than 20 full bags of trash and micro-plastics, reducing waste in the local riverway.
Resource Efficiency Program (REPs)
Founded in 2002, the Resource Efficiency Program (REP) is a peer-driven educational initiative at Harvard University dedicated to promoting sustainability within undergraduate houses and dormitories.
Student Grant Projects
The OFS Student Grant Program funds creative student projects that use the campus as a living lab to solve challenges and create a more sustainable community. More than 100 projects have been awarded since the beginning of the program.
In the 2022-2023 academic year, 8 projects were awarded. Two of these projects are highlighted below.
Yimei Hu and Niko Tian, Harvard GSD
See-food is an initiative that integrates ecological learning through visual communication and an explorative food event to demonstrate the urgency of securing viable food futures. Building on the collective research on New England’s fishery and seafood market conditions in the Greater Boston areas, the project aims to design and distribute a mobile publication introducing Massachusetts’s local and under-appreciated seafood species, as well as creative recipes for Harvard students to cook at home easily.
Grant recipients Yimei and Niko also worked closely with Eating with the Ecosystem, a local NGO with a mission to promote a place-based approach to sustaining New England’s wild seafood, to host a pilot pop-up “Eat + Learn” event on campus. Students hope the project serves as a fun, interactive way to raise the Harvard community’s awareness of the disconnection between our ecosystem’s production and seafood demand as a first step to developing more adaptive, resilient diets to face the drastically changing climate.
Everett Sapp, College
Establishing a Community Bike Shop
For many Harvard community members, bikes are an essential mode of transportation around campus and greater Cambridge and Allston. This project serves to further support the existing biking community as well as advocate and help new bikers get started. Grant recipient Everett Sapp established a student-run bike repair shop with the goal of serving as a central point to support the safety and longevity of campus bikes for the Harvard community. Sapp aimed to cultivate a community-wide passion for the bicycle as a tool for a healthy lifestyle, a vehicle of empowerment, and a sustainable transportation method. The project not only provided direct and tangible benefits to students and faculty but also fostered a positive biking community for the University for the foreseeable future.
Harvard is continuing to engage with local, regional, national, and international partnerships to amplify and scale solutions, learn from others, and collectively share knowledge.
- CITIES OF CAMBRIDGE AND BOSTON: Harvard works closely with the City of Cambridge and the City of Boston to align voluntary and regulatory goals and share knowledge. Explore Harvard’s submission to the City of Cambridge’s 2022 Town Gown report.
- BOSTON GREEN RIBBON COMMISSION: Harvard was a founding leader of the Boston Green Ribbon Commission’s Higher Education Working Group for more than a decade. Explore the group’s 2021-2025 strategic plan.
- INTERNATIONAL SUSTAINABLE CAMPUS NETWORK: Harvard is a charter signatory to the International Sustainable Campus Network (ISCN). In June of 2023, Office for Sustainability members attended the ISCN Conference at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) in Mexico City.
- IVY PLUS SUSTAINABILITY CONSORTIUM: Harvard actively participates in the Ivy+ Sustainability Collaborative, whose mission is to mobilize the collective voice, experience, and resources of its 30+ member institutions. The Harvard Office for Sustainability hosted the Ivy+ Sustainability Consortium Annual Summit in 2022.
SPOTLIGHT: ISCN 2023 Conference
Harvard & the International Sustainable Campus Network
Harvard Office for Sustainability staff led a workshop on Harvard’s new Climate-Equity-Health lens at the 16th annual conference of the International Sustainable Campus Network (ISCN) at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) in Mexico City in June 2023.
Salata Institute for Climate & Sustainability
The Salata Institute for Climate and Sustainability serves as a fulcrum for collaboration across Harvard’s…
Sustainability Management Council
The SMC’s mission is to facilitate best practice sharing amongst facilities and operations leaders across…
Harvard is partnering with government, non-profit organizations, and private businesses to identify solutions and shared…
Presidential Committee on Sustainability
The Presidential Committee on Sustainability (PCS), co-chaired by two faculty members and Harvard’s Executive Vice…
Council of Student Sustainability Leaders
CSSL comprises Harvard graduate and undergraduate students who lead and are involved in sustainability-related student…
About the Harvard Sustainability Report
The 2022-2023 Harvard Sustainability Report was produced by the Harvard Office for Sustainability to update our community on the University’s progress toward meeting the goals, standards, and commitments as described in the University’s Sustainability Action Plan. Data is collected from individual Schools, Units and aggregated and analyzed by OFS.
This report is not intended to be an integrated sustainability report covering the full range of Harvard’s socio-economic data, as collecting such data across our decentralized organization would be cost and resource prohibitive.
The Harvard Management Company reports on the University’s endowment. Harvard Financial Administration posts the Annual Financial Report. The Chief Diversity Officer reports on institutional diversity and equity. The Harvard Fact Book presents a wide range of data regarding the University’s organization, people, and resources.
View snapshots of past Annual Sustainability Reports:
HARVARD’S CHIEF SUSTAINABILITY OFFICER
Heather Henriksen is Harvard’s Chief Sustainability Officer and has led the Office for Sustainability since its inception in 2008. OFS works across the University to ensure Harvard achieves its sustainability priorities and goals including producing the holistic Sustainability Action Plan, and the University’s Climate Action Plan. Heather holds a Master’s in Public Administration from the Harvard Kennedy School.