Harvard’s Updated Sustainability Plan Gets Optimistic Response from Student Climate Activists | News

Harvard’s Renewable Sustainability Action Plan has received largely positive feedback from leaders of student climate organizations, who praised the plan’s comprehensive approach while hoping the university will follow through on its goals.

Jointly developed by Harvard’s Presidential Commission on Sustainability and the Office of Sustainability, the university published the updated plan on May 11 after the first sustainability plan lapsed in 2021.

The updated plan focuses on Harvard’s mission to improve climate, equity, and health and provides an action plan to advance sustainability in the university’s energy systems, buildings, operations, and leadership. The plan also includes contributions from students, faculty and staff from across campus.

It also outlines specific steps for Harvard to become fossil fuel neutral by 2026 and fossil fuel free by 2050, including eliminating on-site fossil fuel emissions from the region’s power systems, purchasing 100 percent fossil fuel-free electricity, and eliminating Fossil fuels. Fuel emissions from buildings.

Other priorities identified include steps towards accelerating sustainable construction and low-impact living, such as removing harmful chemicals from building materials, promoting equality and diversity at work, and rethinking food systems.

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Hua said one of the biggest changes in Harvard’s updated sustainability plan was its focus on equity.

“It was very enlightening and helpful to see that equity was one of the key frameworks for this. Specifically, what that means is making sure that Harvard does not perpetuate any kind of negative harms through its actions.”

Ella Anthony, chair of the Phillips Brooks House Environmental Action Committee, also praised the plan’s comprehensive approach to sustainability.

Pointing to the university’s plans to improve sustainability in infrastructure, she said she appreciated that they “take into account not only the emissions from the building, but also the health of the students in the building.”

Carly R. McGrath Tydings ’24, co-chair of Harvard’s Clean Energy Caucus, said she was happy to see that the plan seeks not only carbon neutrality, but fossil fuel neutrality, recognizing that there is “more than one harmful form.” of fossil fuels.”

“I think the world is always talking about the terms of carbon neutrality, but really, we have to look at all different types of greenhouse gases,” she said.

“Secondly, I really appreciate the fact that their goal is to not use carbon offsets to achieve this neutrality,” she added.

However, McGrath mentioned that other universities adopted strict sustainability measures before Harvard — such as American University, which has already gone carbon neutral.

Additionally, McGrath said she thought that while the plan was “great,” it ignored some simpler, cheaper ways to achieve more climate outcomes, such as using solar water heaters.

McGrath added that the many older buildings around campus make it difficult for Harvard to implement energy efficiency.

“I don’t think that’s an excuse. I mean there are a lot of ways to retrofit buildings to be more energy efficient than they are now. “But that’s definitely a unique disadvantage compared to other campuses that are only 100 years old or something like that.”

Hua highlighted the leadership aspect of Harvard’s sustainability plan as well.

“Other institutions are ultimately looking to Harvard for solutions, ideas and new ways of thinking about how to address climate and sustainability, from a comprehensive, cross-disciplinary and cross-disciplinary lens. What Harvard is doing has ripple effects,” he said.

“There has to be accountability, there has to be progress to make sure that the university is actually following up on the matter,” Hua added.

Staff writer Sabrina R. can be reached at He is at sabrina.hu@thecrimson.com. Follow her on X @sxbrinahhu.

-Staff writer Isabella J. Schauble can be reached at isabella.schauble@thecrimson.com.

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