Ivy League Material

Features - Sustainability

Part two of an interview with Harvard Office for Sustainability Director Heather Henriksen, who puts aggressive ideas into practice at the Ivy League level.

November 1, 2012
Barry Farber

The October issue of Recycling Today includes Part One of the article “Ivy League Material,” in which Heather Henriksen, the director of the Office for Sustainability at Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass., outlines the steps universities and companies that are implementing comprehensive recycling and sustainability programs are taking. (Part One of this two-part series can be viewed at www.recyclingtoday.com/rt1012-comprehensive-recycling-sustainability-programs.aspx.)

She describes some of the measures that Harvard has implemented to improve recycling on campus and the need for effectively communicating expectations and goals to students and staff and the cost savings that can be realized through recycling. Henriksen also outlines three of six steps to recycling success.

In Part Two of her interview with Barry Farber, president of Farber Training Systems, Livingston, N.J., Henriksen outlines steps four thorugh six that have contributed to Harvard’s success with recycling.

Barry Farber (BF):
The topic of occupant engagement reminds me of my conversation with Dave Duernberger, who is head of facilities at The New Meadowlands Stadium, where a big part of his focus is on the follow through and reinforcement of his goals through continuous engagement with his employees and vendors. Constant education doesn’t let the message fade away.

Heather Henriksen (HH):
I think two things: one, that it actually creates this fun yet competitive spirit within an office or within a company where people are excited about things beyond their day-to-day jobs. What we’ve seen by giving some of these challenges to the office staff or their green office program, is that they come together in their off-hours and come up with these great solutions that reduce impact, and it makes them happier and more productive at work because they feel like, “Wow, I work at a place that cares more about us than XYZ product or service.”

We care about our community, we care about each other and we are doing something to give back, and I can see the results are tangible. I know that people have copied our green tips amongst higher education, and they’re on our website for that expressed purpose. And it would be easy for companies to do them as well.

Another is through our green teams or employees—They are extremely important in setting up these recycling programs and educating people about what goes in each bin, because until you get in the habit of it, it can be foreign. They are really at the front lines. Of the three sets of tools that we’ve set up, we created a Green Office program three years ago in 2009, with tools and resources available on our website (green.harvard.edu/green office).

We had such a great foundation of engagement when I came in, especially with students and staff in pockets. How do we scale this and how do we scale this rapidly? Even if we have several people on our team out talking to people, we still have 45,000 people on this campus who are decentralized. It would take us a hundred years to get out to everybody. What we did as a team at the office of sustainability is pool our knowledge and share what we have learned by working with the 12-plus schools and the central administration. We created the Green Office Program, which is a four-leaf program that you go through as an office.

We created a checklist of nine category areas, like water, waste and recycling, that you can go after. There are simple rules ... you’ve got to get 75 percent of your office to agree to participate. Then we created meeting agendas, PowerPoints and checklists, and literally went step-by-step so that you wouldn’t really have any questions about how you do this. We went from 17 green teams and certified offices to 125 green teams and 300 people involved in about 16 to 18 months. That was one of the ways we really achieved some scale.

We brought together the very best of these green team leaders. We have about 100 leaders that are super charged-up, and we bring them together every two months to share best practices and case studies, which has enabled us to take great ideas from across the campus and incorporate them into university-wide tools and resources and get them out to everybody. The other thing is that they are helping us with new goals and objectives for these volunteers in the green teams across the campus, and we’re going to revise our green office program. We also bring faculty to speak to them to inspire their creative thought process to come up with additional new ideas.

The last thing on occupant engagement is that Rob Gogen, who is the recycling waste reduction coordinator on campus, puts together a regular newsletter to inspire and educate the community. He’s a tremendous resource for our team but he’s also been a tremendous resource for higher education across the country. I never met anyone who’s more excited about reducing waste. And that’s what it takes; it takes passion.

4. Give people the opportunity to be creative and participate. Our green teams may fit under that, but I am also a big believer in putting the challenges into smart people’s hands and saying, “We don’t have all the answers. What do you think we should do?” That would work on any other campus, and I think it would work at any other corporation.

Some of our best ideas have come that way. One such idea is free cycle events. Say I have 500 paper clips and a thousand Post-it notes, and I really don’t need all of those. But what I really do need are file folders and pads of recycled paper or something like that. We organize a day, we publicize it and tell everyone, and you bring your stuff to a central location and display it there. Then people can come that day and literally swap stuff. This has been great because it saves money and it’s reducing waste. Rather than this stuff piling up in someone’s office, it’s getting used. That’s an idea that came from our community.

Another event that we’ve done for the last couple of years with the students is “move out.” Students throw away clothes and furniture and all kinds of things at the end of the year, and we put bins out to collect it. Campus Services’ Office for Sustainability and Waste Management and Habitat for Humanity work in partnership. At move-in the next school year, we offer what was collected for sale to students and then Habitat for Humanity keeps the proceeds.

BF: Getting people involved from the bottom up is always a win-win. I’ve worked with many companies who realized the value of allowing their employees and customers to recommend best practices ranging from customer service ideas to new product changes and have experienced tremendous benefits. Some companies think they have to dictate all the direction from the top and don’t realize that when people are given the opportunity to create a better path with a hands-on approach, it gets done with greater results.

HH: Yes, I totally agree. I’ve seen it work here for the last three years and work really effectively. There’s no better example than our greenhouse gas reduction goal implementation, which is the first non-academic university-wide goal I know of that the president and the dean signed on to and the community came together to implement. It illustrates what our office should do and does do, which is sit in the center of the university working with all the schools and units.

We convene people, we do the backend research and are experts on innovation and suggest ideas and come up with frameworks and goals. Then we convene the community experts in the relevant areas and say, here are the goals and objectives as we see it, but what do you think? And then we engage them in not only agreeing with the goals and objectives but also in creating solutions. What that does is engage them in the process so that they are creating what they’re going to live by but also makes it infinitely better than if one group came up with the idea and then dictated it. With this approach, they’re already implementing it before you even roll it out.

BF: That’s great. It’s so much better to get people involved than just sending out a memo dictating what needs to be done.

HH: Yes. People like to be asked for their opinions. People are smart and creative and have good ideas. It’s always better when you bring a team together rather than rely on just one person.

5. Benchmarking, goal setting and tracking. It’s very important to have goals, to make them well known and then to benchmark and track against those goals and to share that information. Start to conduct waste audits so that you really start to understand where the opportunities are and where the challenges are. And talk to people; the building managers have a wealth of information. They know how traffic patterns in a building work and know everything about how the people are using those buildings. Having clear goals and benchmarking and tracking them is important.

6. Communicate success and honor heroes. I really think there are 1,000 heroes involved, so communicate the success when you’ve met your goals and objectives or report your data publicly and transparently and honor the people that have been part of that success. You reinforce that behavior amongst them but you also shine a light on them and hold them up to the community for folks to emulate.

We’ve done green carpet awards. It’s a fun sort of spoof on the Oscars event. We actually have a green carpet laid out at the event and we bring our most senior leaders—the dean of the faculty of arts and sciences, our executive vice president, the dean of science and senior faculty and administrators—together to honor the community. We have fun performances from the students and we give out awards. At least one individual from each school and unit will be honored at the event, so everyone participates. Then we let people compete in teams for seven project awards. One of them is actually around waste reduction, and last time we had 200 projects apply for seven spots. We also have behind the scenes a very prestigious judging group of senior faculty, senior administrators and students.

We’re engaging people at the right levels so we maximize their time and interaction.

The finalists don’t actually find out until they go to the awards. They get a trophy, mugs and certificates, and then we have a special achievement award that honors the founders of our group and that is for one single administrator and one single faculty member who have gone above and beyond implementing sustainability on campus and incorporating it into the research and curriculum. We’ve had 600 to 800 people come.

The great thing about this is that sometimes everyone is kept in their own silos and not aware of the big picture, which this event gives to the entire group. The other thing that people say is that they had no idea of the creativity and intelligence of these folks on campus; what they’re coming up with is phenomenal. This really wraps things up and it’s a way for the community to get together and have some fun.

BF: Those are six great tips for any university or company to follow. Thank you, Heather, for sharing these.

Heather Henriksen is the director of the Office for Sustainability at Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass. She holds a master’s degree in public administration with a focus on energy and environment from the Harvard Kennedy School (HKS). She also is a partner of Environmental Entrepreneurs (E2), a national community of business people lobbying for environmental policies which protect the environment while building economic prosperity. Barry Farber is president of Farber Training Systems, Livingston, N.J., and the author of 12 published books. He can be contacted at barry@barryfarber.com.