We are a living lab

Explore the 2020 Harvard Sustainability Report detailing progress toward creating a healthier, fossil fuel-free community.

Explore our sustainability data hub

Transparency is a key ingredient for accountability and continual improvement, helping us to uncover new insights and make smarter decisions. An online dashboard featuring interactive graphs allows our community to track progress toward meeting the University's sustainability goals and commitments.

Our complementary Data Hub webpage aggregates data sets that are available for our community to use for research and benchmarking.

We're moving toward a fossil fuel-free future

Harvard's Climate Action Plan sets an ambitious path forward to shift campus operations away from fossil fuels. The plan includes two bold, science-based targets—fossil fuel-free by 2050 and fossil fuel-neutral by 2026.

Emissions and Energy

The challenge of climate change demands a bold response and clear action from organizations and individuals. Harvard is committed to transitioning away from fossil fuel use by accelerating solutions that enhance public health, improve building efficiency, and promote new renewable energy.

IN 2018, HARVARD WAS ONE OF THE FIRST ORGANIZATIONS TO SET A SCIENCE-BASED GOAL to eliminate the use of fossil fuels to heat, cool, and power buildings and vehicles on its campus by 2050. At the same time, the University established a short-term goal to be fossil fuel-neutral by 2026. With this CLIMATE ACTION PLAN, Harvard will ADDRESS BOTH GREENHOUSE GAS (GHG) EMISSIONS AND HEALTH IMPACTS FROM AIR POLLUTION CAUSED BY FOSSIL FUELS.

The Harvard Presidential Committee on Sustainability, with its subcommittee advising on Harvard’s strategy to become fossil fuel-neutral by 2026, DEVELOPED A SET OF RECOMMENDATIONS IN 2020 THAT FORM A ROADMAP TO REACH THIS GOAL.

Today, the University continues to track GHG emissions against the original 2006 baseline and maintain the 30% REDUCTION ACHIEVED IN ITS FIRST-GENERATION GOAL. In the graph below, the total height of the bars represents Harvard’s GHG emissions (281,000 MTCDE in 2006 and down to 195,634 MTCDE in 2020). If you click on Offsite Renewable Energy and Offset Purchases, this will show emissions that have been neutralized through offsite renewable energy and offset purchases in yellow. During this time period, the UNIVERSITY SQUARE FOOTAGE HAS GROWN OVER 12%.

Harvard's emissions inventory was one of the first in higher education to be third-party verified by The Climate Registry.

Metric Tons of Carbon Dioxide Equivalent (MTCDE)

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 2020 data included is still estimated, subject to change after the final electricity emission factors become available.

Net energy use is down 7% from a 2006 baseline (excluding growth, energy use dropped 22%). Reductions in building energy use from energy efficiency measures offset the impact of growth in square footage. 

Reported energy data is not normalized for weather.

The COVID-19 pandemic led to significant operational changes in 2020 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 only closed for a few months and 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.


Harvard tracks and seeks to reduce emissions associated with its supply chain for construction, air travel, commuting, food, water, waste, and purchased goods and services, also known as Scope 3 emissions.  

With leadership from the Harvard Presidential Committee on Sustainability's Scope 3 Subcommittee, the University is exploring targets for certain categories of Scope 3 emissions.

In 2020, the Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) conducted the first ever HKS SURVEY ON AIR TRAVEL to better understand faculty and staff travel behaviors during an average year and to establish a baseline for future air travel. HKS is evaluating potential policy recommendations to support more sustainable travel strategies. The survey results indicate that the GHG from air travel may exceed emissions from powering and heating HKS buildings.

Harvard signed the COOL FOOD PLEDGE in 2019, complementing several initiatives aimed at its goal to be fossil fuel-free by 2050.

Organizations who sign the Pledge commit, as a group, to slash food-related greenhouse gas emissions 25% by 2030.



Cool Food

ON-SITE SOLAR PHOTOVOLTAIC (PV), combined with SOLAR THERMAL AND GEOTHERMAL INSTALLATIONS, serve as an important test ground to inform future action. HARVARD HAS INSTALLED 2.513 MW OF ON-SITE SOLAR ON ITS CAMPUS. Harvard sells the environmental benefit to local utility providers to increase the amount of renewable energy in the regional electric grid, which allows the state to meet its renewable energy target.

University building managers and facility departments are IMPLEMENTING INNOVATIVE ENERGY CONSERVATION MEASURES (ECM) AND UNDERTAKING PROJECTS TO OPTIMIZE BUILDING PERFORMANCE as part of Harvard’s Climate Action Plan.

Harvard Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) took action to find energy savings in its buildings during limited campus operations in 2020. FAS is projected to HAVE SAVED OVER 8,000 MTCDE OF GHG EMISSIONS from operating buildings differently from March through December, THE EQUIVALENT OF 963 HOMES' ENERGY USE FOR ONE YEAR.

In 2020, Harvard Business School (HBS) completed an energy-efficiency audit that identified 68 building improvements. These measures will save approximately $580,000 annually and help Harvard meet the BOSTON BUILDING ENERGY REPORTING AND DISCLOSURE ORDINANCE (BERDO).

HBS also implemented LED LIGHTING UPGRADES at Teele Hall that improve light quality and SAVE APPROXIMATELY 130,000 kWh ANNUALLY, the equivalent of 12 homes’ electricity use for one year. In the Spangler Center, the School installed occupancy and daylight sensors along with an efficient lighting controls system to further reduce energy usage.

Harvard Business School Spangler Center


Labs continue to be the largest drivers of GHG emissions at Harvard, making up 50% of the campus’s energy use while occupying 23% of the square footage.

Together, FAS, the Office for SustainabilityEnvironmental Health & Safety, and Energy & Facilities created the LAB INHALATION RISK ASSESSMENT (LIRA) to right-size laboratory ventilation using equipment that measures and analyzes chemical exposure. Harvard also developed a LAB VENTILATION MANAGEMENT PLAN (LVMP), which saves energy through optimizing air change rates and keeping researchers safe during experiments.

FAS Sherman Fairchild Laboratory, a LEED Platinum certified building, IS SAVING APPROXIMATELY 413,000 kWh AND 130 MTCDE PER YEAR WITH LIRA, which saves an estimated $60,000 annually.

The Harvard Science and Engineering Complex (SEC), a Living Building Challenge and LEED Platinum certified building, operates on an LVMP, which allows the building to adjust the airflow to different spaces based on usage and activities. This saves energy – more than 30% of a typical lab in New England – and creates healthier conditions for researchers.

Harvard Science and Engineering Complex laboratory


In a lab environment, fume hoods are one of the most energy-intensive types of equipment, but significant savings can be achieved by keeping them closed when not in use. The FAS Green Labs Program created the SHUT THE SASH COMPETITION in 2005. Over the past 15 years, this engagement initiative has reduced GHG emissions on campus and SAVED THE UNIVERSITY OVER $3,000,000.

Harvard student using a fume hood.

The FAS Green Labs Program encouraged labs to switch ULTRA-LOW TEMPERATURE (ULT) FREEZERS FROM -80º C to -70º C in 2020. This change could save Harvard up to $700,000 annually, eliminating about 1,476.35 MTCDE per year, while maintaining performance and extending freezer lifetimes.


Ultra-low temperature freezers at Harvard Life Lab adjusted to a temperature of -70 degrees Celsius

The Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health installed an automated Hamilton M10 Biorepository, the first of its kind at the University, in 2020. It will result in energy savings and provide researchers with a more efficient system to find and retrieve samples.

Compared to chest and upright freezers, the automated Biorepository uses 50% less power annually.

Test tube icon

A house that produces energy

The HouseZero team at the Harvard Graduate School of Design renovated a pre-1940s house into a first-of-its-kind test case to demonstrate unprecedented levels of building efficiency by producing more energy than it consumesand acting as a living lab for data collection and analysis with millions of data points.

House Zero rendering

Now the headquarters of the Harvard Graduate School of Design's Center for Green Buildings and Cities, House Zero aims to prove that ultra-efficient retrofits can, indeed, be achieved and replicated

Health and Well-Being

We’re working to enhance the health, productivity, and quality of life of our students, faculty, and staff through the design and maintenance of the built environment and the creation of cutting-edge well-being programs. We are also focused on the health and well-being of the communities upstream and throughout the supply chain where building materials and products are created.

Harvard's Healthier Building Academy

Harvard is translating research into practice to transform the marketplace for healthier buildings and materials. Since 2016, the Office for Sustainability, in partnership with faculty from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Harvard Medical School (HMS), and the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Science (SEAS), has transformed 41 major capital projects, representing over 3 million square feet on campus.

Harvard’s innovative approach, grounded in the latest science, has driven change by creating partnerships with thousands of manufacturers to provide transparency around ingredients found in building materials. With this transparency, the University can advocate for manufacturers to remove chemical classes of concern— not just for Harvard, but for the benefit of all buyers and for communities where materials are created.


Harvard leveraged the construction of the Harvard SEC as an opportunity to evaluate over 6,000 building materials, ranging from wire coatings to furniture fabrics to lighting fixtures.

Harvard worked with manufacturers and designers to create safer global supply chains. More than 1,200 companies publicly disclosed the ingredients in their products and created labels to help everyone make healthier decisions. 

Harvard selected more than 1,700 products for the SEC that comply with both the Living Building Challenge Red List and the requirements of Harvard’s Healthier Building Academy.

SEC Common Space

Harvard's Smith Campus Center was a flagship pilot project for Harvard's Healthier Building Academy. All 3,000 pieces of furniture, from 27 manufacturers, in the building met Health Care Without Harm's Healthy Interiors Criteria at no additional cost. 100% of the carpet was produced without targeted chemical classes of concern (e.g. no PFAS, chemical flame retardants, fly ash, antimicrobials, and PVC).

Smith Campus Center Common Room

Renovations to the interior of Harvard Graduate School of Education (HGSE) Gutman Conference Center focused on building materials transparency and optimizing selections to avoid toxic chemicals added to everyday materials and products.


Gutman Conference Center

The University’s SUSTAINABLE AND HEALTHFUL FOOD STANDARDS are designed to measurably increase access for the Harvard community to sustainable and healthful food offerings.  

The standards were developed by a multi-disciplinary faculty committee with input from the Office for Sustainability, the Council of Student Sustainability Leaders (CSSL), and experts in the field.  

Within Harvard University's decentralized system, APPLYING THESE STANDARDS IS AN OPPORTUNITY FOR HARVARD TO BE A TESTBED to pilot programs at different locations and much can be learned from the innovations that Harvard’s food vendors are implementing. 

Harvard University Sustainable and Healthful Food Standards April 2019

The Office for Sustainability continues to share and promote resources to improve how the Harvard community eats and plans events on-campus - all created in partnership with students, faculty, and staff.

Some of these resources include a Plant-based Eating Guide for undergraduate students and a Sustainable Meeting and Event Guide that provides tips and curated menus. 

Learn more about how Harvard is committed to a just food system that enhances well-being and contributes to the long-term health of the planet.


Our students are finding solutions

Eight research teams shared $1 million in the sixth round of grants awarded by the Climate Change Solutions Fund (CCSF), an initiative encouraging multidisciplinary research projects that seek creative solutions to climate change. 

People walking in a green space

As of 2020, 50 CCSF projects received more than $6 million. Projects include inventing liquid-infused encapsulation to extend the lifetime of solar cells, studying technology transitions and timing of environmental policies, building better air conditioners by developing co-extrusion ceramic manufacturing methods, accelerating data science for climate change, using thermoelectric materials to advance computations, assessing climate change mitigation potential for tropical forests, and equipping a century-old oak tree at Harvard Forest with the tools
to post on social media. 

Campus Operations

We pilot and then institutionalize best practices in sustainable operations that conserve resources, reduce pollution, and enhance personal health and well-being.


“The fact that Harvard pursues and embraces LEED demonstrates their commitment to sustainability in all of their endeavors," said Rick Fredrizzi, co-founder of the U.S. Green Building Council


The HARVARD SEC HAS BEEN CERTIFIED AS ONE OF THE HEALTHIEST, MOST SUSTAINABLE, AND ENERGY-EFFICIENT LABORATORIES IN THE WORLD. It is certified LEED Platinum and is the largest building and first research laboratory to achieve Living Building Challenge Certification with Petals in Materials, Beauty, and Equity.

Through its innovative architecture, use of advanced technology and building materials free of the most harmful chemicals, and connection to an efficient, flexible district energy system, the eight-story, 544,000-square-foot complex will help Harvard progress toward its Sustainability Plan and achieve its goals to be fossil fuel-neutral by 2026 and fossil fuel-free by 2050.

The HARVARD SUSTAINABLE BUILDING STANDARDS ensure Harvard’s commitment to climate, health, and equity is reflected in the design and creation of its spaces. The 2017 update includes HEALTHIER MATERIALS REQUIREMENTS that address CHEMICALS OF CONCERN in furniture, carpet, non-blackout shades, and wall base. The updates positioned Harvard as a LEADER IN DESIGNING AND BUILDING SPACES TO OPTIMIZE FOR HEALTH.

In 2020, the Harvard Presidential Committee on Sustainability, with its subcommittee dedicated to becoming fossil fuel-free by 2050, began work on the next update to the HARVARD SUSTAINABLE BUILDING STANDARDS.

A donor-funded $700,000 CAMPUS SUSTAINABILITY INNOVATION FUND (CSIF) was established in 2016 to encourage teams of students, faculty, and staff to test new technologies and ideas on campus to solve global sustainability challenges. To date, 17 PROJECTS, SPANNING 7 SCHOOLS HAVE BEEN FUNDED, leading to peer-reviewed publications, dissertations, start-ups, and new impactful knowledge that will influence decision-making at Harvard and beyond.

In 2020, CSIF funded the second phase of the HARVARD SENSORS FOR HEALTH PILOT. This project, led by students, faculty, and staff a Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health with support from the Office for Sustainability, tested a comprehensive health performance platform to EVALUATE SPACES ON THE 9 FOUNDATIONS OF A HEALTHY BUILDING. The assessment gives building management insight into how to OPTIMIZE SPACES FOR HEALTH AND GENERATE DATA FOR NEW RESEARCH.

In partnership with the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and the Office for Sustainability, HBS installed Sensors for Health in selected facilities to study indoor environmental quality factors and provide healthier, more productive spaces. In response to COVID-19, the CO2 measurements have been used to enhance ventilation monitoring in higher-use spaces.

The 9 Foundations of a Healthy Building: Ventilation, Air Quality, Thermal Health, Moisture, Dust & Pests, Safety & Security, Water Quality, Noise, Lightning & Views.


The COVID-19 pandemic significantly impacted campus transportation services.

As reported by CommuterChoice, nearly 85% OF HARVARD EMPLOYEES WORKED REMOTELY IN 2020 compared to 5% in 2019. Of the 13% who commuted to campus, 42% drove, 26% walked, 23% biked, and 9% commuted by public transportation. The low drive-alone rate has been consistent for 20 years and is a result achieved through extensive campus planning and transportation initiatives.


Harvard Transportation and Parking did not collect commuter data for the Longwood campus in 2020.

As part of its goal to be fossil fuel-free by 2050, Harvard continues to TRANSITION TO VEHICLES THAT OPERATE WITHOUT FOSSIL FUELS.

The University took a major step toward that goal purchasing FOUR 100% ELECTRIC BUSES AND ELECTRIC INFRASTRUCTURE. The new buses will replace four, similarly sized biodiesel powered vehicles REPRESENTING MORE THAN 30 PERCENT OF HARVARD'S FLEET.

The project was supported with a Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) grant program, which is funding nearly 100 projects across the Commonwealth to help electrify the transportation sector. In addition, a loan from the HARVARD GREEN REVOLVING FUND will enable investment in the charging infrastructure necessary to support the new vehicles.

Harvard has also expanded resources for electric vehicles, with 54 CHARGING STATIONS ON CAMPUS.


Partnering for change

Harvard joined MassEVolves.





Harvard offers discounted Zipcar memberships for students and staff. The car-sharing network enables the community to access a car in the area without the need to own one or drive to campus. There are more than 40 ZIPCARS ON THE HARVARD CAMPUS.



In a partnership between the City of Cambridge and Harvard University, 2,269 feet of separated bike lanes were added on Quincy and DeWolfe Streets, establishing a new north-south bike route that connects Harvard Square to the Allston Campus.

The University also installed 570 BIKE PARKING SPOTS at the HARVARD SEC. In 2020, CommuterChoice held 6 VIRTUAL BIKE SESSIONS for 300+ participants.

Harvard community member with a bike.

Harvard offers a discounted, annual bike share membership through Bluebikes. Publicly-shared bikes can be borrowed and returned to any of the hundreds of stations across Arlington, Boston, Brookline, Cambridge, Chelsea, Everett, Newton, Revere, Salem, Somerville, and Watertown, including 14 STATIONS SUPPORTED BY HARVARD.

Bluebikes is here.

The Harvard Office for Sustainability established HARVARD SUSTAINABLE CLEANING STANDARDS in 2020, which apply to internal and external cleaning services providers.

The standards were created in partnership with researchers and cleaning suppliers and focus on health and the environment.



Harvard’s extensive waste reduction initiatives focus FIRST ON REUSE AND NEXT ON RECYCLING AND COMPOSTING.

Harvard Schools and units have invested in waste reduction programs, better signage and training, adapting to changes in global recycling-industry changes and standards, and expanding composting across campus. However, Harvard did not meet its aspirational zero waste goal set in 2015.

IN 2020, ALL FORMS OF WASTE PRODUCED ON CAMPUS WERE REDUCED, but much of this was due to de-densification of Harvard’s campus during the COVID-19 pandemic. Compost decreased 42%, recycling decreased 29%, and trash decreased 32%. These numbers are not reflective of a trend.

Trash per-capita, using an estimation of the limited number of people who were on-campus during the COVID-19 pandemic, represents a 27% increase and total discards per-capita represents a 25% increase over the 2006 baseline due partly to significant operational changes required to keep Harvard students, faculty, and staff heathy during the COVID-19 pandemic. These challenges of increased waste were not unique to Harvard and collaborations and information sharing with higher education peers targeted ways to reduce waste while maintaining health and well-being.

The trash and discard data are accurate, yet the campus population data was estimated based on best available data. Therefore, these per-capita numbers should be considered estimates. 

Since 2006, the University has implemented practices and programs to SUPPORT WASTE PREVENTION, including Freecycle events, online reuse lists and on-site reuse rooms, Fixit clinics, and donation campaigns during student move-out.

In 2020, Harvard University Housing (HUH), Harvard University Mail Services (HUMS), Harvard Parking Services, and Harvard Recycling & Waste Management partnered to FILL THE TRUCK, a cross-department endeavor to save unwanted items from being sent to landfill. With social distancing a top priority, a Harvard Recycling truck parked at Harvard housing sites on a rotating weekly schedule during moving season to create an orderly drop-off opportunity for unwanted items. The program COLLECTED 40 TONS OF HOUSEHOLD ITEMS FOR DONATION OVER 16 WEEKS.

At Harvard College, Recycling & Waste Management organized a move-out donation campaign with help from faculty, staff, and Cambridge residents in a TRULY COMMUNITY EFFORT. Volunteers sorted and packed TWO VAN-LOADS of non-perishable food, toiletries, feminine hygiene products, and cleaning supplies for the Allston-Brighton Food PantryTWO CARLOADS of backpacks, shoes, and shopping bags for Cambridge Friends Meeting MAAP program; recycled 24 VAN-LOADS of clothing and linens; and made donations to Habitat for Humanity, Furnishing Hope, the YWCA.

Office for Sustainability team members together with other Harvard's staff members assemble donation boxes


The University's compost is sent to an innovative facility at Save that Stuff to be processed into a high-energy product that is eventually shipped to a local wastewater treatment plant to PRODUCE ENERGY.


Compost Poster


In 2020, Harvard Divinity School (HDS) student and CSSL member Sakiko Isomichi hosted a HARVARD WASTE TALK SERIES. The weekly event series raised awareness of waste issues and discussed best practices and initiatives at the University and beyond.

Read more about The Waste Talk Series.

HDS Waste Talk Series with Sakiko Isomichi

Harvard is partnering with the cities of Cambridge and Boston to actively prepare for sea level rise, extreme weather events, and other impacts that climate change will have on its campus, buildings, and surrounding communities. 

The Harvard SEC is powered by HARVARD'S DISTRICT ENERGY FACILITY (DEF), which was engineered to withstand climate impacts, including storm surge flooding, and to transition to a fossil fuel-free future.

District Energy Facility

WATER USE IS DOWN 36% from 2006, or 224 million gallons—enough to fill BLODGETT POOL (capacity = 750,000 gallons) 298 TIMES.

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.

1,500 units of HUH received full water retrofits – new low-flow fixtures in bathrooms and kitchens that will reduce water usage by 40-60% in each unit

Harvard effectively met its water goal that was set in 2015. However, on-campus water-use reductions in 2020 were impacted by the de-densification of Harvard’s Campus during COVID-19. These reductions are not reflective of a trend. Harvard reanalyzed its water data from 2006 to 2020 and found that the most accurate reflection of progress to date is the 2006-2018 reduction of 14%. 

In 2019, there was an increase in Harvard’s water usage, due to a known infrastructure break that has been addressed. Water use was expected to return to a more normal level in 2020 when COVID-19 caused changes in the on-campus presence of Harvard students, faculty, and staff. Harvard will continue to analyze, study, and pilot new ways to collect more accurate and building level water data so it can better track and inform sustainability efforts.

Protecting cyclists and pedestrians

Harvard became the first university on the east coast, and the second in the country, to install side guards on all of its large trucks in an effort to improve pedestrian and cyclist safety. This was coordinated closely with the Volpe National Transportation Center. In 2018, Harvard University received the Cambridge Chamber of Commerce Visionary Award for this work.

The truck-safety initiative applies not only to vehicles owned by the University, but extends to trucks operated by major vendors as well. 

Nature and Ecosystems

Harvard is committed to protecting and enhancing the ecosystems and landscapes our University owns, manages, or impacts, in order to enhance regional biodiversity and personal well-being.

18 vegetated green roofs across campus help to promote biodiversity, prevent stormwater runoff, and reduce building energy consumption. Green roofs are located at HBS, HKS, the Harvard SEC, GSD, Harvard Law School (HLS), HMS, Harvard Smith Campus Center, and HUH properties.

This year, HBS EXPERIMENTED WITH GROWING A VARIETY OF VEGETABLES – INCLUDING KALE, ONIONS, GARLIC, CHIVES, AND RADISHES – ON ITS GREEN ROOFS. After a recent harvest, the HBS dining services provider, Restaurant Associates, incorporated some of the produce into one of the meals that was served.

Harvard has grown its indoor nature program by increasing plants and trees, adding organic elements like wood and stone, and constructing living walls in buildings across campus. Research has demonstrated a link between access to nature and cognitive, psychological, and physiological improvements on health, including alertness; attention and concentration; stress and anxiety management; greater energy, productivity, and creativity and enhanced mood.

Harvard staff member and green wall at the Smith Campus Center


Harvard’s skilled horticulturists and property maintenance workers provide comprehensive maintenance of campus landscapes and hardscapes, including organic fertilization and treatment programs, historic elm preservation, conventional turf and tree care, landscape and hardscape installations and renovations, snow removal, and emergency response.

Harvard Landscaping is expanding the use of electric equipment on campus, aiming at reducing noise and emissions. Currently, battery-powered leaf blowers, grass trimmers, and tree pruners are used in Harvard Yard and other selected areas of campus.

The Office for Sustainability created HARVARD SUSTAINABLE SITE MAINTENANCE STANDARDS in 2020, which apply to internal and external landscaping services providers.

The standards were created in partnership with researchers and Harvard’s landscaping.


The ARNOLD ARBORETUM OF HARVARD UNIVERSITY, a 238-acre preserve located in Boston, MA, is home to more than 16,000 plants from around the world and has a deep commitment to sustainability. In 2019, a group of horticulture staff helped the Arboretum switch from diesel trucks to electric cargo bikes to use on the grounds. This switch helps the Arboretum reduce their impact on the environment, SAVING ABOUT 400 GALLONS OF GAS PER BIKE IN ONE YEAR, EQUIVALENT TO THE CARBON SEQUESTERED BY NEAR 5 ACRES OF U.S. FORESTS. The bikes also help the Arboretum save energy, costing about 6 cents or less per charge for every 68 miles driven.

The Arboretum is partly powered by solar power, which SAVES ABOUT 460 METRIC TONS OF CARBON DIOXIDE EQUIVALENT EVERY YEAR. They have been developing climate resilience and adaptation projects, including a long-term drought preparedness initiative to care for their plants while effectively using water.


The FAS Green Labs Program partnered with the Nocera Lab and Harvard Landscaping to pilot a biofertilizer on Harvard’s campus. Developed in the Nocera Lab, the biofertilizer is carbon negative and will not wash into water supplies.

The project was awarded funding through CSIF and the President's Administrative Innovation Fund (PAIF). Despite COVID-19, the study was able to be continued and showed a reduction in harmful runoff compared to the standard fertilizer as well as signs of a positive impact on plants health.

Student-led efforts to implement rain gardens on campus continued in 2020. HARVARD COLLEGE STUDENT ALIDA MONACO RECEIVED A UNITED NATIONS MILLENNIUM FELLOWSHIP TO EXPAND THE HARVARD RAIN GARDEN INITIATIVE, building on her previous efforts as the Green Think Initiative Coordinator.

This year, the Harvard Rain Garden Initiative joined forces with The Harvard Micro-Prairie Project to extend the initiative to more spaces on campus with FUNDING FROM THE OFFICE FOR SUSTAINABILITY STUDENT GRANT PROGRAM.

Alida Monaco Millennium Fellowship Project: Harvard Rain Garden Initiative

Climate Solutions Living Lab Course

For the past four years, the HLS Climate Solutions Living Lab Course, taught in partnership with the Office for Sustainability, immersed teams of graduate students in multi-disciplinary, hands-on research to design feasible, practical, scalable projects that help organizations achieve zero fossil fuel use. 

Sadly, the Climate Solutions Living Lab leader, HLS professor and Emmett Environmental Law and Policy Clinic director Wendy Jacobs, passed away on February 1, 2021 after a long illness. 

Culture and Learning

We are using our campus as a living lab to translate research into practice to solve global sustainability challenges. We’re working to strengthen a “One Harvard” culture across our Schools and departments that embraces sustainability as an integral part of our academic work, our institutional practices, and our daily lives.

Harvard is committed to facilitating STRONG GOVERNANCE AND LEADERSHIP STRUCTURES to ensure integration of sustainability into business practices at all levels of the University.

Harvard established a PRESIDENTIAL COMMITTEE ON SUSTAINABILITY in 2019 to advise President Larry Bacow and the University’s leadership on sustainability vision, goals, strategy, and partnerships. The Committee is co-chaired by Professor Rebecca Henderson (HBS), Professor John Holdren (HKS, FAS, SEAS), and Harvard’s Executive Vice President Katie Lapp.

With the Office for Sustainability, the Presidential Committee on Sustainability and its dedicated Subcommittees lead the work to support reaching Harvard's climate goals (to be fossil fuel-neutral by 2026 and fossil fuel-free by 2050), to draft the next University-wide Sustainability Plan, and to reduce Scope 3 greenhouse gas emissions.

Banner with photos of the Presidential Committee on Sustainability members

Senior facilities and administrative leaders from across campus meet regularly as part of the SUSTAINABILITY MANAGEMENT COUNCIL (SMC).

The group aims to facilitate best practice sharing to enable the cost-effective achievement of the University’s sustainability and energy management goals.

HKS established Harvard's first SUSTAINABILITY LEADERSHIP COUNCIL (SLC) in 2016. The Council makes strategic recommendations to Dean Douglas Elmendorf to drive the sustainability agenda forward on the HKS campus.

One of the SLC’s main focuses is to reduce Scope 3 GHG emissions throughout campus operations. The Council has worked on quantifying School-sponsored air travel and developing strategies to limit the environmental damages from that travel, reducing plastic waste and increasing plastic recycling, engaging with vendors about sustainable materials use on campus, and assessing the social and environmental impacts of food and events at HKS.

Harvard Management Company (HMC) pledged to monitor its investment portfolio to reduce emissions. In 2020, HMC set a goal to have the endowment reflect net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. The net-zero pledge is a first among U.S. endowments.


Harvard's campus

Harvard Alumni for Climate and the Environment (HACE) Shared Interest Group was established in April 2020. The group was created by a former member of CSSL to connect the Harvard alumni community to address climate change.

HACE event on Zoom

The Harvard Sustainability Plan is the University’s roadmap for building and operating a healthier, more sustainable campus community.  

The Harvard Presidential Committee on Sustainability's Sustainability Plan Subcommittee began working on the next generation University-wide Sustainability Plan to be published by 2022. 

Harvard University Sustainability Plan

With most students, faculty, and staff, studying, teaching, and working from home due to the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, the Office for Sustainability rapidly adapted all its student engagement programs to a virtual environment.

The Council of Student Sustainability Leaders (CSSL) worked on a wide range of projects including providing feedback and recommendations on Harvard’s second-generation Sustainability Plan, and participating in the Harvard Votes Challenge.

The 2020/2021 HBS Student Sustainability Associates (SSA) worked with HBS Operations and the Business and Environment Initiative (BEI) on four projects that focused on Harvard COVID-19 response learnings and implications for sustainability, student air travel, student printing, and environmental justice.

The HGSE Sustainability Fellows program grew to include four independent projects with an INTERDISCIPLINARY APPROACH to sustainability. One of the projects raised awareness of the intersection of disability and climate change. WATCH THE RECORDING OF THE TALK.

The Undergraduate Resource Efficiency Program (REP) worked on a variety of independent project from the creation of a sustainability icon for the Harvard College app to a podcast about sustainable living and global transition to a cleaner future.

Zoom meeting with CSSL members

The Office for Sustainability 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 student projects have been awarded since the beginning of the program.

Despite the unexpected and rapid transition to working and learning from home, all thirteen 2020 Student Grant projects were successfully completed.

The HARVARD NATURE PROGRAM created environmental science curricula and facilitated hands-on lessons for K-8 students.

The student-led conference, DESIGNING THE GREEN NEW DEAL, advanced the growing conversation surrounding the Green New Deal with students, leading activists, academics, and practitioners.

Launched on Earth Day, NARRATIVES OF THE CLIMATE CRISIS collected and shared stories from people at Harvard whose lives have been impacted by climate change.

The HARVARD UNDERGRADUATE CLEAN ENERGY GROUP educated students about problems and possibilities of a global transition to renewable energy sources through a variety of guest speaker events and online newsletters to highlight emerging energy technologies.

The Harvard Graduate School of Design beekeeping club, GSBEES, expanded their work beyond the apiaries to host innovative workshops educating the community and promoting cross-school connections.

TRAYLESS TUESDAYS raised awareness within the undergraduate student body about food waste in the dining halls.

The MATHER HOUSE COMMUNITY GARDEN was created to foster a community conversation about how our food choices can impact both our bodies and the planet.

The Harvard Micro-Prairie Project was created to protect and preserve pollinators by converting unused areas around the campus into monitored micro-prairies.



In 2020, the Office for Sustainability, in collaboration with an expert from Harvard Library, held a virtual workshop to train Harvard staff who work with students on sustainability programming to be more effective educators. This project was supported by a HGSE student research assistant and funded through the Harvard Initiative for Learning and Teaching (HILT) Spark Grant. 


Harvard Initiative for Learning and Teaching

for nominations. Highest levels of contributions to Harvard's sustainability commitments, including fostering collaboration, inspiring others, and building scalable solutions, are now recognized by the program. 

Harvard Heroes logo

In 2020, the Harvard community came together to connect virtually. 

REPS CONNECTED WITH ADMITTED STUDENTS DURING VIRTUAL VISITAS by taking over the Office for Sustainability social media channels. REPs responded to questions live on Instagram about Harvard’s sustainability efforts.

Instagram Story with photo of four REPs and a question box "Ask us about sustainability at Harvard College".

The Office for Sustainability and HBS collaborated on a social media challenge to REDUCE FOOD WASTE, and HBS hosted SIX VIRTUAL TALKS around Earth Day.

The Office for Sustainability supported Get Out the Vote efforts by CREATING A "WHY I VOTE" SOCIAL MEDIA CAMPAIGN during the 2020 Presidential Election. REPs and CSSL members shared why their passion for the environment gets them to the ballot box. 

The Harvard Green Office Program guides staff through the process of creating
a more sustainable workspace.  

Currently, Harvard has OVER 200 RECOGNIZED GREEN OFFICES

Green Offices Program chart. Leaf 1: 78 offices. Leaf 2: 53 offices. Leaf 3: 31 offices. Leaf 4: 52 offices.

In 2020, HMS Harvard Program in Therapeutic Science (HiTS) achieved their
Leaf 4 Green Office certificate. 

Harvard Program in Therapeutic Science team


The Harvard Longwood Campus Green Team, EcoOpportunity, organized the
12th Harvard-wide movement campaign,
Take the Stairs 2020. This edition broadened its audience from students, faculty, and staff to include roommates and family members to encourage fun in-person movement along with virtual connectivity around the University. 

Take the Stairs 2020 Flyer

The Harvard Planning Office
Green Team surpassed their book drive donation target for 2020 with a RECORD OF 390 COLLECTED BOOKS. All the books from this initiative are donated to More Than Words, a non-profit social enterprise based in Boston’s South End that seeks to empower youth who are in the foster care system, court-involved, homeless, or out of school. 

Book donations organized by the Harvard Planning Office Green Team

Partnering for Change





Partnering for change

Harvard is the Vice-Chair of the Executive Committee for the Cambridge Compact for a Sustainable Future and leads the Net Zero Lab Working Group.




"Climate change poses an immediate and concrete test of whether we, as members of a university and responsible inhabitants of our planet, will fulfill a sacred obligation: to enable future generations to enjoy, as we are privileged to enjoy, the wonders of life on Earth.”

Lawrence S. Bacow, President, Harvard University

Annual Snapshots

The 2019 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 Plan. Data is collected from individual Schools and departments, 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.

Harvard students help in food donation

Since 2014 Harvard University Dining Services and Restaurants Associates (at Harvard Business School, Harvard Law School, and Harvard Medical School) have been teaming up with local non-profit, Food for Free on a food recovery and donation program. This past summer Harvard took it one step further, and launched the Family Meals initiative, where students package individual meals, which Food for Free is then able to donate to families in need.


Our Journey