All of us share a compelling interest in confronting the challenge of environmental sustainability, now widely recognized as one of the paramount issues of our time. Reducing the emission of greenhouse gases is a crucial part of rising to that challenge. This past February, I convened a task force comprising faculty, administrators, and students to examine Harvard’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and to recommend a framework for their reduction. At Harvard, as elsewhere, our responsibility to future generations demands that we approach this problem with the seriousness of purpose it deserves and with the cooperative spirit essential to progress.
Today, the University has released the report of our Greenhouse Gas Task Force, whose findings and recommendations reflect more than three months of intensive research and analysis. I am grateful to the members of the task force for their especially thoughtful report, which proposes a strategic framework for significantly reducing Harvard’s greenhouse gas emissions and, by extension, their environmental impact.
The task force’s recommendations, rooted in a growing scientific understanding of the role of greenhouse gases in climate change, are ambitious and far-reaching, reflecting both the urgency of the climate problem and Harvard’s opportunity to show leadership in addressing the issue. Specifically, the task force recommends that Harvard adopt a long-term strategy of “fostering continuous improvement at the maximum practicable rate.” Recognizing the constantly changing realities of technology, cost, and regulation, the task force recommends “an adaptive approach to implementation,” featuring annual reports and more comprehensive four-year reviews intended to provide an opportunity for the University to assess its progress, formulate future goals, and make any appropriate adjustments to existing short-term goals. For an initial short-term goal, the task force proposes that Harvard reduce GHG emissions, including those associated with future growth, by 30 percent below its 2006 baseline by 2016.
The task force further recommends that Harvard aim to achieve its goals to the maximum extent practicable through improvements in University operations, such as enhancing energy efficiency, reducing the GHG intensity of our energy sources, and managing demand. It also concludes that we will need to acquire or create high-quality carbon offsets in order to meet the recommended goals. The task force highlights the need for a clear organizational structure and significantly enhanced staff capacity to implement a comprehensive GHG reduction program, while also emphasizing the importance of linking our efforts to related initiatives in research, education, and innovation.
In light of these and other recommendations discussed more fully in the task force report, and in anticipation of concerted efforts by people across Harvard, I am pleased to announce our intention to proceed with the following steps:
• We will pursue a comprehensive program to reduce Harvard’s GHG emissions, adopting a long-term strategy intended to achieve continuous improvement in reducing Harvard’s GHG emissions at the maximum practicable rate. We live in a context in which energy costs, available technologies, regulatory requirements, and broader economic realities are shifting so rapidly that predicting the future is difficult and establishing fixed goals becomes challenging. I therefore welcome the task force’s recognition of the need for an adaptive approach that envisions annual assessments and more intensive four-year reviews. We expect that this approach will allow us to frame goals on a rolling basis, and to consider any adjustments to previously indicated short-term targets in light of what is technically, financially, and organizationally possible, consistent with both our broader institutional mission and our recognition of the significance of global climate change.
• We will aim to reduce our GHG emissions with a primary emphasis on improvements in our own operations – for instance, by enhancing energy efficiency, reducing the GHG intensity of our energy sources, and managing demand.
• We will begin an assessment of how in the future we should use and develop carbon offsets, taking into account the task force’s observations about the current immaturity and uncertainty in the offset market as well as the advisability of concentrating first on our own activities. Our analysis will seek to identify offsets of demonstrably high quality while also exploring ways to create offsets of utility to others.
• As our initial short-term goal, we will seek to reduce GHG emissions, including those associated with prospective growth, by 30 percent below our 2006 baseline by 2016.
• We will articulate and establish a more clearly defined administrative structure, and add needed staff capacity, to carry forward our GHG reduction program and to ensure that it engages relevant people and perspectives across the University community.
• The task force concentrated its work on so-called “scope 1 emissions” (direct emissions from sources owned by Harvard) and “scope 2 emissions” (indirect emissions from energy purchased by Harvard), leaving “scope 3 emissions” (for instance, those associated with travel on University business) and aspects of environmental sustainability beyond those specifically related to GHG emissions for future consideration. We will explore these issues and determine how they might best be addressed as part of a broad University commitment to sustainability that extends beyond issues of GHG reduction, in areas such as recycling, water use, and enhancing our landscapes and ecosystems.
• Harvard’s commitment to significant reductions in its GHG emissions represents an important act in itself and an important statement about the seriousness of global warming and the need for institutions like our own to take leadership in combating it. But Harvard’s potentially greatest contributions to solving the problem of climate change should reach far beyond our actions to limit GHG emissions arising from our own campus operations. Our research and teaching must generate knowledge about how we, not just at Harvard but across the United States and around the world, might use the discoveries of science, of technology, and of policy analysis to create a sustainable environment for generations to come. There can be few more compelling examples of what I have called universities’ “accountability to the future.” We will therefore encourage and support Faculty and Schools across the University as they address issues of sustainability in research and teaching. Energy and environment must be priorities for intellectual inquiry as well as for institutional action.
We have a great deal of work ahead to accomplish these ambitious aims, and I will be enlisting the participation and counsel of deans, key administrators, and others throughout the University community to build on the momentum created by the task force’s efforts. While the challenge of implementation will require a long-term effort coordinated across many fronts, we can begin now with the following near-term steps:
• We will devote a segment of this week’s Council of Deans retreat to considering what organizational and financial strategies can best position us to achieve our sustainability objectives over time.
• The Administrative Council, comprising the administrative deans of the Schools together with the vice presidents, will focus the agenda of its next meeting on our shared responsibility for GHG reductions and our most practicable means of achieving them.
• I will ask our new executive vice president, Ed Forst, as one of his first priorities, to convene a cross-functional working group consisting of key representatives from the central administration and the Schools to fashion a concrete implementation plan for GHG reductions, including a robust staffing plan and further definition of initiatives likely to accelerate our progress.
• We will plan a University-wide launch event for this fall to highlight Harvard’s enhanced commitment in this area and to raise awareness of the cooperative effort that will be required at all levels to achieve our ambitious goals.
The goal we seek to achieve by 2016 is an aggressive one, especially in light of the prospective growth of our campus, and extraordinary efforts will be needed to meet it. We have consciously set a high bar for ourselves, in view of the importance and urgency – as well as the difficulty – of the challenge. What is at stake is nothing less than a change in the culture of how we work and live. Every member of the Harvard community has a role to play in reducing our GHG emissions – by conserving energy ourselves, by motivating others to do so, and by envisioning and implementing new ideas that will contribute to our progress. Taken together, the habits, the attitudes, and the creativity of every one of us have the potential to make a great difference, not just for Harvard in the here and now, but for the larger world and its future well-being.
For today, we owe thanks to the members and staff of the task force for their thoughtfulness, resourcefulness, and hard work in pointing us forward on this important set of issues. Special thanks are due to William Clark, the Harvey Brooks Professor of International Science, Public Policy, and Human Development, and Thomas Vautin, associate vice president for facilities and environmental services, for their collegial and energetic guidance of the task force’s efforts. It is now for all of us to take up the important challenge they have helped to set before us. I hope you will join me in doing so.
– Drew Gilpin Faust