Thinking Differently about How we Inhabit The Earth – session from Heather Henriksen, Harvard

Universities are central to the challenges of how we sustain human life on our planet. Climate change is one challenge in which universities can be engaged in the lab, in the classroom and on the campus as a living laboratory. Integrating these three areas is key.

Harvard is taking this approach but recognises the challenge of devolved decision making across 13 schools. It’s collective vision for the University puts education and empowerment of students at the top of its agenda.

The Harvard Sustainability Plan focuses on 5 areas:

  • Emissions and energy
  • Campus operations
  • Nature and Ecosystems
  • Health and wellbeing
  • Culture and Learning

Schools are given some latitude in terms of playing to their strengths and building on the opportunities they have specific to their school.

Recognising the continued growth of the Harvard Campus the university has developed its own Green Building Standards to replace its ‘guidance’ to require higher standards in new build. They were revised and approved at the end of 2014. The benefits of reducing risk has been acknowledged as a consequence of their adoption. 7 success factors focus on early engagement with users, designers and before anything is committed; modelling of energy and life cycle costing; aggressive baseline and reward cutting edge innovation; industry alignment, etc.

the University’s approach has enabled some other benefits such as testing university research on buildings on the campus. Building on the LEED design model and developing these as underpinning the standards at the University.

These include a healthy materials disclosure to drive healthier buildings. The Living Building Challenge is a new standard that looks to enhance the health impact on building occupants. Harvard are also moving towards net zero energy buildings. Already, Harvard is ‘ahead of code’ and policy locally, nationally and sector.

Harvard is targeting energy intensive buildings, particularly labs and data centres. They collaborated with other universities to develop off-site data centre solutions for several universities which gave inward investment to a deprived area in MA which attracted $25m State funding.


Author: Andy Nolan

An experienced director-level professional with expertise in sustainable development, cities, universities, governance, policy and strategy. 15 years of experience working in the field of sustainability in both the private and public sector. Has worked within a local authority, in multi-authority partnerships locally and nationally. Experience in higher education across four universities in the UK plus representative bodies. Particular areas of interest and expertise include; energy; transport; climate change; waste management; air quality; decentralised energy; education for sustainability; smart cities; knowledge transfer; research.

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