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Sustainable Water Management

Reducing water use and Pollution at Harvard 

Harvard aims to reduce University-wide potable water use and pollution. We are incorporating these priorities into Sustainable Building Standards and Sustainable Site Maintenance Standards for landscaping. 

Harvard will continue to sustainably manage its on-campus stormwater and runoff while leveraging research related to water pollution and public health, such as the dangers of poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), to inform purchasing decisions that can have impacts along the value chain.


Science and Engineering Complex 

  • Bioretention basins and swales capture rainwater and direct it into a 78,000-gallon rainwater reuse tank.
  • Berms and plantings, integrated throughout the landscape, help to mitigate storm surge risks while minimizing water waste and downstream pollution.
  • For irrigation, the SEC uses reclaimed water and underground drip tubing that provides water directly to the soil, limiting evaporation.
SEC rear – orange tables


  • Rainwater is redirected from sidewalks to irrigate trees and plantings, while recessed gardens and green roofs enhance management of runoff. 
  • Devices such as low-flow fixtures and automatic faucets reduce indoor water use by 70 percent, and water bottle refilling stations throughout the building provide filtered water, alleviating the need for single-use plastic bottles. 
Metal façade of Harvard's Science and Engineering Complex
Increasing water efficiency  

Harvard plans to conduct a holistic water impact assessment to help prioritize which additional strategic investments should be made to further reduce potable water use and reduce water pollution on campus and throughout the value chain.  

Harvard’s Schools and Units have invested significantly in water-saving fixtures and technologies to reduce consumption. Improved building and landscaping have also reduced water use and consumption in the University’s energy plants. 

  • Rooftop gardens at Harvard held reduce stormwater runoff, cool roof surfaces, and increase green space on campus 
  • Organic lawns significantly reduced water use. In the first year of use on Harvard Yard, the use of organic practices reduced the need for irrigation by 30%, or over 2 million gallons per year. 
  • At 46 Blackstone Street, an irrigation-free, organic lawn was developed in a courtyard that was previously a parking lot 
Greenery, benches and fountain in Radcliffe Sunken Garden.