BY JESSICA BAILEY
Over 260 HLS students and staff joined almost 7,000 members of the Harvard University community in pledging to live more sustainably by taking the 5th annual Sustainability Pledge in November. The Harvard Green Campus Initiative’s University-wide Sustainability Pledge highlights the importance of the Campus-wide Sustainability Principles, which were adopted in October 2004. The Sustainability Principles are available at: www.greencampus.harvard.edu/about/principles.php.
Supporters were asked to make their contribution by committing to at least five sustainable behaviors from a long list included in the pledge. Behaviors ranged from well-known, everyday options, such as turning off appliances when not in use or washing clothes in cold or warm (not hot) water to behaviors requiring extra commitment, such as switching to compact fluorescent light bulbs where applicable and buying only 30% recycled paper. While many Harvard community members already performed some of the actions in their daily life, students and staff were surprised at the importance and possible impact of others, such as unplugging cell phone and electronic chargers and adapters when not in use since they constantly use energy, whether they are actively charging electronics or not.
In return, Harvard University pledged to purchase Renewable Energy Credits (RECs) to offset 10% of the greenhouse gas emissions of any building whose residents or staff had 50% or better participation. A REC is a subsidy to the growing renewable energy market, making alternative sources such as wind energy cheaper for others to purchase. While the qualifying Harvard buildings will not actually be powered with the wind power themselves, the subsidy will enable someone else to purchase the alterative form of energy more cheaply and allow the market for renewable energy to continue to grow and develop.
Within the law school, the Harvard Law Green Living Program hosted a competition between the HLS dorms, rewarding the dorm with the highest percentage participation with a wine and cheese party. The average participation in the dorms was 27%, which was much higher than last year’s. This year’s winner was Wyeth Hall, which had 59% participation, qualifying it for RECs and the wine and cheese party. The dorms will be able to compete again in the annual energy reduction competition that will be held in February. To offset 10% of Wyeth’s annual energy use, RECs equivalent to 20 metric tons of carbon dioxide will be purchased, which is equivalent to taking 4.3 cars off the road for a year.
As the pledge website describes, purchasing RECs helps compensate for the negative effects of the fossil fuels consumed by using our standard energy sources. “About 70% of the electrical energy produced in the United States comes from the burning of fossil fuels, such as oil, gas, and coal. This process releases large amounts of carbon dioxide (CO2), a greenhouse gas that contributes to global climate change. In addition, these power plants release air pollutants and other toxic substances. In fact, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says that electricity production is the largest industrial polluter in our nation.” (Source: www.greencampus.harvard.edu/pledge.)
Harvard was the third largest green power purchaser among the United States’ colleges and universities in 2004. Since then, others have increased their purchasing and Harvard has fallen in the rankings, but Harvard recently committed $100,000 to researching and purchasing renewable energy. The College’s dean has also pledged another $10,000 towards renewable energy if students raise $5000 on their own. (Source: www.greencampus.harvard.edu/pledge.)
Since its inception five years ago, the pledge has seen a dramatic increase in the number of people who’ve taken it; last year, 4,000 people took the pledge, and this year 7,000 have. If all of these people follow through on their pledge, millions of pounds of carbon dioxide will not enter the atmosphere and the University can save thousands of dollars in energy costs every year.
If you didn’t get a chance to pledge this year, it’s not to late to do your part to help Harvard reach its conservation goals – the list of behaviors are still listed online and you can check them out to see what you can do to live more sustainably (www.greencampus.harvard.edu/pledge). Each suggested action also has more information so you can learn about the topic. If you were one of the many students, staff, and faculty to pledge, thanks for continuing in your efforts to live more sustainably.
The Harvard Law Green Living Program is supported by Facilities Management and is coordinated through the Harvard Green Campus Initiative. Through the program Green Living Representatives work to educate and engage the residents of the HLS dorms in sustainability initiatives, including energy conservation, water conservation, mindful use of heating and cooling, and recycling. There are four Green Living Representatives for the eight Law School dorms: Jim Krenn for Story and Shaw, Elizabeth (Libby) Fischer for Wyeth and Hastings, Jessica Bailey for North, and Amelia Thorpe for Ames, Dane, and Holmes. Learn more at www.greencampus.harvard.edu/greenliving-hls. There are also Graduate Green Living Programs at the Harvard Business School dorms, Peabody Terrace, Soldiers Field Park, and One Western Avenue apartment complexes.