20 May 2015

Harvard Business School 2015 Commencement to Feature Expanded Sustainability Measures


There are no guarantees for bright sun and blue skies, but the 2015 Harvard Business School Commencement exercises will definitely be green.

For the first time, the event will feature completely compostable lunch containers and utensils along with guest compost bins. There will be 20 sorting stations staffed by HBS Green Team volunteers, who will assist guests in sorting items into recycling, composting, and trash bins. Over the past several years, led by its Operations department, HBS has put an increased focus on making its large events more sustainable and this year’s efforts at Commencement and Reunion will be an important step forward.

“We want to make it easier for guests and members of the HBS community to contribute to the sustainability mission of the School and we also want to offer them a learning opportunity while they are here on campus,” said Allison Webster, the HBS Sustainability Program Manager. “The signage and assistance from Green Team members will provide valuable, hands-on guidance to those attending commencement on how to properly dispose of waste with an emphasis on composting and recycling. In addition, we’re also looking to expand this practice to HBS reunion events, laying a foundation to establish this as the standard for all of our events in the future.”

Guests will also have the opportunity to offset the carbon footprint of their travel by planting a tree in the Harvard Business School Forest through a partnership with Patagonia Sur. Set up in 2010, the partnership allows faculty, staff, students, and guests to affordably offset the carbon footprints associated with their travel and event attendance by funding the planting of a native tree in Chile (for around $6 apiece). To date, the project has planted more than 3,500 trees, offsetting nearly 1.8 tons of carbon dioxide, and features a page where supporters can find the exact location of the trees they helped plant in Patagonia.

The HBS Sustainability Team has been in planning mode for the Commencement efforts since January. There are a number of touch points across departments and many logistics to manage to execute this effectively. Color-coded bins and educational signage were designed and ordered specifically to make sorting more intuitive for guests. HBS staff and volunteers will all receive special training for the day.

“The advanced planning we put in place has helped us get well ahead of the game for this month’s Commencement,” Webster said. “We’re expecting a successful day and that success is a testament to the great teamwork and collaboration between many groups across the School, including Operations, Restaurant Associates, MBA, and Alumni & External Relations. Everyone has been really willing to work together to make this happen.”

HBS and HU Commitment to Sustainability

Confronting the challenges of climate change and sustainability is a University-wide priority for Harvard’s Schools and administrative departments. A Sustainability Plan set in 2014 provides the roadmap for building a healthier, more sustainable campus, including a goal set in 2008 to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 30 percent from a 2006 baseline, including growth.

To date, HBS has reduced emissions on its campus by 45 percent and energy use has dropped by 21 percent. The School has focused on operating healthier, more efficient buildings to support its unique academic curriculum. Eleven HBS building projects have been LEED-certified, more than 277.5 kW of rooftop solar PV have been installed, and over 100 energy efficiency measures have been implemented. Leftover food from Spangler Dining Hall is donated to local shelters and food banks via the Food Donation Connection. Single-stream recycling, composting in the dining halls, increased awareness through peer-to-peer education programs, and reuse collection stations during move-out have helped contribute to reaching the University’s goal to reduce waste per capita by 50 percent by 2020.

“Moving over to compostables at Commencement and other major events will help us reach, and hopefully surpass, Harvard’s waste reduction goals,” Leah Ricci, HBS Assistant Director of Sustainability and Energy Management said. “Just this past year, HBS achieved a 67 percent recycling rate, exceeding the University’s rate by 14 percent. We take the sustainability challenge put forth by the University very seriously and are excited to continue initiatives like this to help us meet those goals.”

In addition, the HBS Sustainability Team also focuses on staff and student engagement with its employee based Green Team (the first of its kind at the University) and the Student Sustainability Associate Program, which hires 10 MBAs each year to lead campus sustainability projects. On the academic side, the Business and Environment Initiative is led by HBS faculty and staff working to deepen business leaders' understanding of today's environmental challenges and to assist them in developing effective solutions.

Ricci and Webster are still looking for additional volunteers for the 2015 Commencement exercises, and can be reached at lricci@hbs.edu and awebster@hbs.edu.

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