As a leader in higher education, you can inspire your campus to chart a new course on climate.


Harnessing Leadership and Creativity

(resize font)

Heather Henriksen’s focus on climate solutions was inspired by taking advice from an A-list group of mentors including her parents, as well as Frances Beinecke of the NRDC, and Paul Brest of Stanford University and formerly the Hewlett Foundation. Her parents nurtured her environmental values and encouraged her to follow her own path. Beinecke advised her on how to align her career experience with her personal passions—environmental sustainability and health of people, animals and our planet. And, Brest taught her how to think critically and consider multiple sides when confronted with complex challenges in order to craft a solution that will work for multiple stakeholders for the long-term.

Taking this advice has not only benefitted Henriksen, but also Harvard University. As the Director of Harvard University’s Office for Sustainability, she has grown it from a startup organization to a professional team that has institutionalized sustainability into the way students, faculty, and staff live, work and learn on campus. Harvard's leadership, including President Drew G. Faust, Executive Vice President Katie Lapp, deans, faculty and staff have made it a priority to address climate change and model an institutional pathway to a more sustainable future. President Faust has said that universities have a special role and special responsibility to confront global challenges like climate change and sustainability. Early in 2014, President Faust launched a bold three-part strategy for how Harvard University will continue to confront climate change. Senior leaders have set aggressive GHG reduction and energy efficiency goals, holding Harvard accountable to change and translate their teaching into action on-campus. The entire community has responded to this vision by taking action both inside and outside the classroom.


  • Build upon senior leaders’ commitment - Leadership support is critical to advancing climate solutions and encouraging the community to act.
  • Tap into students’ creativity - Harvard students are empowered to lead campus programs and act on their innovative ideas through programs such as Student Sustainability Grants that provide seed funding for student-managed projects.
  • Influence through peer-to-peer engagement – Harvard students have proven very effective in inspiring their fellow students to become active in campus climate and sustainability initiatives.
  • Use the campus as a living laboratory – Students are galvanized to engage more deeply when when they are given the opportunity to translate research into practice by tackling on-campus challenges, and when climate change and sustainability are integrated into curriculum. A new $20 million Climate Solutions Fund launched by President Faust will seed new approaches to climate solutions.
  • Develop tools and resources to drive change - By focusing on collaboration and sharing best practices, Harvard has developed tools, including a Life Cycle Cost policy, $12 million Green Revolving Fund and comprehensive and leading Green Building Standards, that spark investment in cost-effective energy efficiency solutions.
  • Spark employee enthusiasm – Through Harvard's Green Office program (a four step recognition program focused on greening offices and reducing resources), employees play a vital role in making the university more sustainable.


The Green Team at Harvard Graduate School of Education
The Green Team at Harvard Graduate School of Education

Students initially pushed Harvard to be more sustainable in operations and creating a healthy community. They wanted the University to address climate change in teaching, research, and practically on campus. In response, Harvard set an ambitious goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 30% by 2016, including growth. Harvard University has reduced it’s emissions 21% inclusive of growth (31% without growth) since setting this goal in 2008.

Today, forty undergraduate and graduate students run peer-to-peer programs and resource reduction campaigns. Through a green think tank initiative that engages freshman in sustainability challenges from day one, a team of students worked together to pilot and then expand composting to all freshman dormitories.

Students also work with staff to develop the vision, priorities, and objectives for the year. The Council of Student Sustainability Leaders is a group of student environmental leaders from Harvard College and all the graduate schools who collaborate to shape policy and strategic direction for the University’s sustainability efforts.

The Office for Sustainability also works closely with faculty on creating living lab projects that both educate and empower students on sustainable solutions through project-based learning. For example, a professor in a popular Computer Science course had students build a website that provided real-time data for a campus energy use competition. Henriksen finds that these projects inspire students and accelerate progress. Henriksen and her team also reach out to faculty and students to craft the future of sustainability at Harvard—for instance, the new University-wide Sustainability Plan’s roots are in research, teaching and ideas from faculty and students, as well as staff experts.


Henriksen and her colleagues recognize the importance of reaching out to staff who do not work directly in resource reduction roles. In 2009, they created the Green Office program to disseminate tools and resources to empower staff engagement in sustainability initiatives. The program launched with 15 green teams, and has grown to over 100 teams representing more than 3500 employees. Because of these efforts, over 200 offices have received some level of green office recognition. The program also provides practical tips, case studies and how-to guides that provide employees with the tools to implement energy or waste reduction campaigns in their workplace.

Recognition of employees’ hard work is also essential to maintaining momentum. Two University-wide award programs recognize employees and teams of employees for their leadership on sustainability. The Green Carpet Awards recognizes exemplary students and staff for their work in helping Harvard achieve emissions and energy reductions. And, Harvard University Heroes, the most prestigious staff recognition awards that are presented by President Faust, now includes recognition of Green Harvard Heroes from every School.


Harvard is active in the Boston Green Ribbon Commission, a multi-sector entity that pulls together leaders in health care, higher education, corporate real estate, finance, utilities, non-profits, and other sectors to develop strategies in coordination with the city’s Climate Action Plan. The commission works toward climate mitigation goals and building a resilient community. In 2014, Harvard hosted a cross-sector Green Labs Symposium as part of its leadership in the Green Ribbon Commission’s higher education working group. Harvard is also active with the City of Cambridge, helping start the Cambridge Compact for a Sustainable Future and by serving on the city’s Net Zero Task Force.


Henriksen believes that keys to success for those getting started include building buy-in and support of senior leaders and developing goals that are public and require accountability. She sees the importance of having a broad coalition of leaders and students as champions, as essential to embed sustainability into the culture. They have the ability to articulate the school's climate and sustainability priorities, and in making sure they are included in standard operating procedures throughout all departments. For example, as part of a partnership with Harvard Planning and Project Management, consideration of energy efficiency and greenhouse gas emissions are now included in the University’s five year capital planning process.

Harvard students participating in climate solution initiative
Photo credit: Harvard Office for Sustainability
In the fall of 2014, Harvard will release its first University-wide Sustainability Plan, providing a roadmap for building a more sustainable campus community. The Plan, organized around five core topics, was develop based on input from hundreds of students, staff and faculty across Harvard. In 2012, President Faust announced the release of Harvard’s first-ever university-wide Sustainability Impact Report. The report offers an in-depth look at the progress of Harvard’s 12 Schools and central administrative departments on many sustainability initiatives, from energy and emissions, operations and maintenance, health and well-being, transportation, and even culture change and community.

Great progress can be accomplished with a directive to bring people together to develop and implement a plan. Harvard has realized the power of collaboration to create and implement university-wide climate and sustainability goals. Every step along the way, the Office of Sustainability gets feedback from people across campus to ensure they co-create solutions and initiatives in order to create a comprehensive strategy that can succeed and be institutionalized so it is sustained over time. University-wide committees involve senior administrators, facilities and operations teams, student leaders, and faculty advisors in policy development to ensure everyone has a voice in decision-making and producing results. Adopted policies reflect feedback from multiple stakeholders and can be tailored to the individual culture of each School and department.

Harvard’s primary goal is to educate and empower its students to address climate solutions within their coursework and through hands-on experience while on campus so they will become leaders who will use their knowledge to create sustainable impact in service to the world. After working hard to develop and implement economically-viable solutions across all it Schools, Harvard strives to share these solutions and as a models for effective change that that institutions can replicate.

Learn more: or follow them on social @GreenHarvard


Next Success Story

Dr. Throop brought faculty and students together, and infused climate change through coursework and goals, to lead GMC to be the first college in the nation to achieve climate neutrality.   > Learn More

View All Success Stories