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How We Build

Building a sustainable future

Accelerating sustainable building

Harvard is accelerating sustainable building to address the climate crisis, enhance health, productivity, equity, and quality of life on campus – as well as for those in our value chain and their communities. Through sustainable design, construction, sourcing, and operation of our buildings and landscapes, the University helps to foster a flourishing community on campus, locally in Cambridge and Boston and globally.

Illustrated graphic demonstrating buildings against a green square background.

Building Sustainably

The built environment is ripe for innovation. Globally, buildings and the built environment accounted for more than one-third of all global energy-related carbon emissions in 2021. 

At Harvard, heating, cooling, and powering buildings account for 97% of the University’s emissions (scopes 1 and 2). In addition to addressing our emissions, Harvard sees climate as inextricably linked to health and equity which is a key reason for our climate goals defined as fossil fuel free. Since we spend 90% of our time indoors, indoor air quality is crucial for human health and cognition and can play a leading role in reducing the transmission of disease. 

Around 80,000 industrial chemicals are in use in the U.S., only a few of which are federally regulated. Building and construction materials often contain chemicals of concern that are linked with significant health risks – which is why Harvard launched the Harvard Healthier Building Academy in 2016.

Reducing Embodied Carbon

Embodied carbon refers to the greenhouse gas emissions created by manufacturing, transportation, installation, maintenance, and disposal of building materials, such as concrete and steel. The University is taking action to mitigate embodied carbon, while avoiding unintended consequences that negatively impact health and equity. 

Sustainable Building Goals

  1. Advance and strengthen Harvard’s Sustainable Building Standards.
  2. Continue removing harmful classes of chemicals, like PFAS, from Harvard’s value chain and incorporate new classes of chemicals of concern into our Sustainable Building Standards
  3. Advance equity and diversity in Harvard’s value chain
  4. Conduct a University-wide climate vulnerability study to mitigate risk and prepare for the future
  5. Continue to preserve and enhance campus open spaces and landscape elements
  6. Expand and sustainably manage the 7,700-tree inventory on campus
  7. Update energy and emissions targets for new construction and renovation projects in Harvard’s Sustainable Building Standards
  8. Invest in pilot projects to leverage the latest research and thinking
  9. Explore new financial models to drive innovation

Building Sustainably


18K Trees

Harvard is the steward of approximately 18,000 local trees and maintains an inventory of tree resources that contains information on the 7,700 trees located on Harvard’s campuses in Cambridge and Boston.
Icon of a pink house with a cutout of a leaf.

3.6M sq. feet

Harvard has implemented the Harvard Healthier Building Academy to use healthier materials across the University, removing harmful chemicals of concern across 3.6 million square feet of campus, including iconic spaces such as the Smith Campus Center, the Harvard Business School (HBS) Klarman Hall, and the Harvard SEC.
Graphic illustration of a green building and leaf

6,000 materials

During construction of Harvard’s Science and Engineering Complex, the University evaluated over 6,000 building materials, testing many—from pipes to furniture and flooring to lighting fixtures—to identify and address classes of chemicals of concern; 1,700 were ultimately installed in the building


Sustainability Action Plan

View the full plan

Screenshot of the cover of Harvard's Sustainability Action Plan against a background of solar panels.