Skip to main content

Remarks at ‘Green Cities: Lessons from Boston and Beyond’

Cambridge, Mass.

As prepared for delivery

Thank you, Mayor Menino, for that very generous introduction. The Mayor is a tough act to follow as he describes the things that he and Boston are doing in the area of sustainability. I often look to the environmental initiatives that have been enacted under the Mayor’s leadership and those that are planned as well because Boston’s progress in this area, as you know, has won the City many accolades including, of course, the recently announced naming of the city as the third most green in the nation.

I want to say thank you also to the Rappaport Institute and to Jerry and Phyllis Rappaport who are here with us today for their support of this event and for the part the Institute plays in strengthening Harvard’s connections with its surrounding communities.

This conference represents a great opportunity for scholars, practitioners, and policy makers to share information and exchange ideas about sustainability, but it’s also an affirmation of the very important partnership between cities and universities as we explore together how to address these very critical issues. Harvard is proud of its collaborations with the City of Boston, working to develop sustainability strategies both on Harvard’s campuses and on regional and global scales.

Sustainability and climate change are two of the most challenging scientific and political issues of our time. The scientific evidence is clear. Many of the things on which our health, our prosperity, and our future depend – clean air, drinkable water, a dependable food supply – are in jeopardy because of our own impact on the environment.

Harvard has an important responsibility to help control these challenges. Last week, I announced the formation of a new University-wide task force charged with examining Harvard’s greenhouse gas emissions, and recommending a University-wide strategy and goal for reduction. Reducing our greenhouse gas emissions is an important next step in our effort to create a sustainable campus and will have broad implications for our campuses in the Longwood and Allston sections of Boston as well as in Cambridge. I hope that the work of the task force will yield information and strategies that other organizations and institutions will find useful as they look at their environmental impact.

Given the rapid urbanization of developing countries and the growing consumption in urban areas in developed countries like our own, cities provide a critical arena from which to approach the issues of sustainability and climate change.

First, urban areas are responsible for approximately 75 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions in the world. So reducing energy use and emissions in cities is fundamental to any effort to slow the pace of global warming.

Second, local policies can be effective where broader policies might not be feasible. For example, more than 700 mayors, including Mayor Menino, have signed a pledge – “The Mayors’ Climate Protection Agreement” – to reduce their cities’ emissions of carbon dioxide and other heat trapping gasses to levels aspired to in the Kyoto protocol, a treaty that was signed by the United States, but never ratified by the U.S. Senate.

And third, cities, like universities, are learning laboratories. They provide arenas in which to test new policies, new ideas, and new initiatives. The scale is small enough to make adjustments, and large enough to measure real impact. In fact, with the Green Roof Demonstration Project, Boston has turned City Hall into a literal living laboratory. The 8th and 9th floor terraces are now showcases for plants where students can study the effects of greening city rooftops.

Working with Boston, Harvard has done much to promote and encourage environmental stewardship over the last decade. The Greater Boston Breathes Better Program, a collaborative initiative among local governments and private entities, including our community, focuses on promoting strategies and implementing projects to reduce air pollution from transportation and construction sources. It’s a great example of linking research to policy. And the mayor’s Green Building Task Force has led to several green policies that influence the way Harvard develops its campuses.

At Harvard, our Center for the Environment hosts faculty from a variety of fields who are researching and teaching on environmental issues. The Center also serves as an interdisciplinary hub for environmental education by connecting faculty, compiling an environmental course catalog, sponsoring research by faculty and students, and hosting events across the University on environmental issues.

The Harvard Environmental Economics Program at the Kennedy School is researching political and economic strategies for global environmentalism, including global climate change, the use of incentive-based instruments for pollution control, the relationship between globalization and the environment, and the intersection of economic development and environmental protection.

Taking a page from Boston’s playbook on community engagement, Harvard is looking into ways in which we can mobilize our different constituencies in both their working and their home lives.

Recently, more than 8,000 Harvard staff, students, and faculty made a sustainability pledge declaring their personal commitments to undertake a wide range of campus sustainability activities, ranging from biking to the University, to making double-sided copies to save paper, to purchasing Energy Star equipment, to switching off computers and lights every day at the end of the day. Harvard has recently achieved a recycling rate of more than 50 percent, and it has reduced single-occupancy travel to Harvard by more than 18 percent.

Harvard College students have reduced their energy consumption by more than 12 percent over the last four years thanks to a peer-to peer engagement program. I have this image of them all running around the dorm telling each other to turn off the lights. And in large part, due to student lobbying, more than 40 percent of the produce used by Harvard’s Dining Services now comes from local farms. But we need to continue to do better.

When we develop and operate our built environment – our campuses – what lessons are we teaching our constituents and our students? What messages are we sending? We are an educational institution. We must recognize that all we do has an educational dimension.

This question really drives our partnership with the City, especially as Harvard plans and develops its new campus in Allston. Under the proposed master plan, Harvard intends to develop a comprehensive sustainability framework for buildings, transportation systems, utilities, and water management. It intends to take measures to reduce energy consumption, CO2 emissions, and storm water runoff. It intends to create more than 30 acres of new open space on land currently covered by asphalt. It intends to aspire to meet LEED Gold certification for all future buildings in Allston and it intends to improve city streets with new pedestrian walkways, bike lanes, and plantings.

As we think about the effects of the changing environment on the world, and how we must best respond, we cannot underestimate the significance of the partnership between cities and universities.

Thank you for helping us realize that we are stronger when we are united on this front. And thank you, Boston, and thank you, Mayor Menino, for being both an inspiration and a partner in this important work. Thank you all.

– Drew Gilpin Faust