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Student Sustainability Associates: Creating meaningful impact right here on campus

Sustainability at Harvard's Schools and Units

By Genesia Tang (MBA ’25)

For as long as I can remember, I have been passionate about sustainable development and the net zero transition. Before Harvard Business School (HBS), I worked in Strategy & Operations at Via Transportation, a venture-backed transit tech startup seeking to promote mobility for underserved populations and reduce reliance on private vehicle ownership. Through my time at Via, I built up my knowledge in transportation and mobility, but also knew there were so many other facets of the net zero transition I still wanted to learn about: energy, food and agriculture, built environment, industrials, and the list goes on! Coming to HBS, I knew I wanted to dive headfirst into our robust sustainability community and build exposure to these new sectors and problem spaces.

I joined as a Student Sustainability Associate (SSA) for Section B. The SSA program has now been going on for 18 years and was founded for student leaders to advance sustainability practices right here on campus. There are three main aspects of the SSA role: (1) act as the sustainability liaison for their section and run educational campaigns to promote sustainable behaviors on campus (2) complete a team-based sustainability research, advocacy, or implementation project for HBS, and (3) engage with HBS faculty and staff on broader discussions around how we might become more sustainable as a school. 

I worked with another SSA, Max Israelit, to design and deliver an educational campaign centered around sustainable food and food waste. For me, this was an exciting way to learn more about a sector of sustainability in which I had very little prior knowledge. We collaborated with HBS’ catering organization, Restaurant Associates, to run a recipe contest, where students could submit their favorite plant-based recipes. The winning submission had their recipe featured in The Grille restaurant on campus, and I loved witnessing students and staff get excited about the special menu feature and opt in for the more sustainable, plant-based option!

For our broader project, I worked with two other SSAs, Max Israelit and Danielle Mitalipov, to build an enhanced version of HBS’ utility usage report. This report is used on a monthly basis by Rachel Huxhold, the Manager of Energy & Commissioning, to understand the school’s water, electricity, natural gas, and steam usage, in order to identify any unanticipated spikes in utility usage or usage above the school’s predetermined targets. This data is also leveraged in several external-facing reports, including the Harvard Office for Sustainability’s Annual Sustainability Report.

However, the existing reporting was done entirely in Excel, used data from disparate sources that required significant manual intervention, and was therefore vulnerable to human error. To address these concerns, my team worked with Rachel to design a more automated and scalable solution. We created a new data processing layer in Excel, where utility data from multiple sources could be aggregated and converted into a comparable format. We also replicated the Excel-based utility report into a Tableau dashboard, which is a more user-friendly platform already used by HBS Operations, and which allowed us to create additional views and analyses that would further help Rachel in identifying and explaining utility use trends across campus. Finally, we ensured that we left Rachel with detailed documentation outlining how both the data aggregation and visualization processes, as replicability and scalability was a key concern around the existing solution.

We received highly positive feedback and engagement from Rachel as well as stakeholders from across the broader HBS and Harvard community, and we are so excited to see our dashboard implemented and used for even wider applications in the future!

I can not stress enough how being surrounded by nine other passionate and driven SSAs was an integral part of me achieving my goal of diving deep into the sustainability community at HBS. I learned so much from each of them, and know we will continue to cross paths as sustainability advocates and student leaders, both in our EC year and beyond. I highly recommend any RCs who are looking to make an impact in a tangible and meaningful way apply to be an SSA!

The SSA program is supported by HBS Operations and offers a flexible time commitment (3-5 hours/week) at $21/hour and is open to all HBS RC students. SSAs have the opportunity to network with like-minded MBAs, test their leadership skills and make an impact here at HBS, all while earning some cash. For questions or to apply for an SSA position, please visit the SSA website for more information or email Hear from another former SSA, RuiLin Guo, about her experience with the program.