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Harvard Has Yet to Release Updated Sustainability Plan, Missing Self-Set Target

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Harvard has yet to release updated sustainability goals after its previous University-wide plan lapsed in 2021.

The University’s first sustainability plan — announced in 2014 — spanned fiscal years 2015 through 2020, outlining goals for reductions in water usage, waste, and greenhouse gas emissions, among other targets. The plan set deadlines ranging between 2016 and 2020.

But two years after the deadlines timed out, the school hasn't released new objectives.

Heather A. Henriksen, managing director of Harvard's Office for Sustainability, wrote in an email that Harvard has continued operating under the first-generation plan, though nearly all the target dates it set have passed. Two longer-term goals were added to the plan in 2018 by then-University President Drew G. Faust, who committed to achieving fossil fuel-free campus operations.

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“Harvard continues to make progress on the goals, standards, and commitments set in its sustainability plan and is on track to achieve its climate goals – to be fossil fuel-neutral by 2026 and fossil fuel-free by 2050 – which were set in February 2018,” Henrikson wrote.

Harvard met most of its sustainability targets, but it fell short of its 2020 goal for reducing waste and water usage. Its campus greenhouse gas emissions have been flat for five straight years after a decrease over the previous decade.

The first-generation plan aimed to slash per capita waste in half by 2020 compared to a 2006 baseline. But in 2020, trash per-capita hit a 27 percent increase from 2006 numbers, which the University attributed to operational changes required by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Harvard also failed to achieve its goal of reducing water usage by 30 percent between 2006 and 2020, only meeting the target a year past the deadline when campus was de-densified. The most recent sustainability report pointed to the 14 percent cut in water use achieved by 2018 as “the most accurate” measure of Harvard’s progress.

With the trajectory of Harvard’s waste production and water usage uncertain following the return to full campus density in the fall, the school is without updated benchmarks.

Harvard’s 2020 sustainability report said that the Sustainability Plan Subcommittee of the school's Presidential Committee on Sustainability would publish the next generation plan “by 2022.”

Jody L. Freeman, co-chair of the subcommittee, wrote in an email that the team is still in the process of updating the plan.

“One of the things we are doing is consulting broadly so that we can take into consideration the views of the university’s many stakeholders,” she wrote.

Henrikson wrote that the Presidential Committee on Sustainability and the Harvard Office for Sustainability are seeking input from school affiliates and climate experts in drafting the updated plan.

“At the same time, it is important to know that the university has not somehow stopped working on sustainability. Harvard continues to make progress to meet and exceed the sustainability goals, standards, and commitments set in the original plan,” Freeman wrote.

Freeman pointed to the University’s establishment of the two new climate goals in 2018 as a “first step” that is already underway, but will be included in the second generation sustainability plan.

—Staff Writer Christie K. Choi can be reached at christie.choi@thecrimson.com.

—Staff Writer Carrie Hsu can be reached at carrie.hsu@thecrimson.com.

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