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Increasing access to local produce

 Authored by Student Sustainability Associates Taylor Leyden, Brett Cantrell, and Prineeta Kulkarni

When thinking about emissions that contribute to global warming, it is likely that the first images in your head are of power plants spewing plumes of smoke into the air or crowded highways hazy with heat and exhaust. You may not as quickly think of rows of green vegetables growing in the sun. But the truth is that in today’s world, the food supply chain is responsible for 26% of human-created greenhouse gas emissions.[1]

With this in mind, our team set out to address the significant contribution that food – particularly its transportation – makes to emissions. Out of a variety of avenues through which to approach this problem, we settled on a narrower focus of promoting local produce, since there are certain fruits and vegetables that tend to be much higher in carbon intensity due to growing and transportation practices. To figure out where we could add value, our team set out to discover the measures already taken by HBS to promote responsible food sourcing activities. It turns out that HBS is on the ball. Restaurant Associates, HBS’s food service provider, already contracts with food suppliers who are committed to providing locally-sourced produce and who have turned their attention to this problem. HBS also supports green roofs on several of its buildings, which supply the community with a variety of fresh vegetables and herbs.

Inspired by several other Harvard schools that have already successfully built gardens, along with Harvard’s Sustainable and Healthful Food Standards, we came up with the idea to work on a self-sustaining, scalable, and educational community garden at HBS.

Our objective was to generate a plan for a visible community garden on the HBS campus that provides educational signage about the benefits of local produce, engages the community, provides a space for people to garden, and yields local produce for the benefit of the community. To figure out the logistics and operations of a community garden, we met with representatives from existing Harvard gardens, Restaurant Associates, HBS Facilities, and engaged staff members who would be interested in utilizing the space. After the set of meetings, we settled on a proposed location for a garden, developed cost estimates and proposed two potential models for moving forward.

Under the first proposed model, the school would build and own the community garden, its landscaping contractor would maintain the garden, and community engagement and education would be driven through a series of staff- and volunteer-led events, including planting and harvesting events. Under the second proposed model, staff members would be encouraged to buy into a specific plot (or box) and maintain and harvest their own plot. In either scenario, specific attention would be paid to the selection of planted vegetables, with an eye toward existing carbon-intensive vegetables that require extensive transportation for delivery, such as asparagus. This would enable the garden to highlight the importance of encouraging local supply and sourcing of what are otherwise more damaging, carbon-intensive varieties. In addition, the garden would be configured as raised beds in the form of above-ground planters to prevent invasion by pests and animals and to allow the garden to be movable and modular.

The reception of faculty and staff to the proposed gardens was positive, and their feedback helped strengthen each of our proposed models through new suggestions for location, use, and funding of the gardens. Our team hopes to see increased adoption of locally-grown food on the HBS campus in the near future!

[1] Poore and Nemeck, “Reducing food’s environmental impacts through producers and consumers.” Science, 2018.

Source: Sustainability at Harvard Tools and Resouces Feed

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Tracking greenhouse gas emissions – A move towards real-time emissions data

 Authored by Student Sustainability Associates Nathan Nemon and Lingxi Huang

If you’re reading this post you deserve credit — comparisons of accounting methodologies rarely qualify as “clickbait”. However, given the increasing importance of accurately tracking and reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to prevent the worse effects of climate change, this topic is highly relevant.

Singularity Pilot

When considering focus areas for our Student Sustainability Associates Project, we wanted one that would help Harvard meet the goals outlined in its Sustainability Plan. We were fortunate to have the opportunity to meet with Singularity, an award-winning Harvard spinoff that offers an AI-powered energy management platform incorporating real-time CO2 signals from the grid into the optimization of energy resources. Singularity and HBS are planning to pilot a battery storage deployment at Batten Hall which will enable HBS to optimize not only for electricity costs (i.e. choosing when to charge and discharge the battery based on electricity prices) but also for greenhouse gas reductions (i.e. charge / discharge based on the GHG emissions associated with the electricity). The Singularity and HBS teams wanted to better understand the standards being used today to account for GHG reductions — information not only valuable for reporting this specific pilot’s performance but more generally to inform overall emissions reporting, evaluation of energy projects and purchases, and compliance with state and federal policies.

Average Annual Emissions Factors vs Real-time Emissions Data

While researching the topic, an interesting debate emerged around using Average Annual Emissions Factors vs. Real-time Emissions Data. To date, Harvard and most organizations use the Average Annual Emissions Factors as found in the Greenhouse Gas Protocol to estimate GHG emissions.  This approach estimates the amount of GHG emitted per unit of energy from the grid over the course of the year. This method is fairly easy to employ but can be less accurate if used to compare emissions reductions at different points in time since the emissions intensity (i.e. the emissions associated with a unit of energy) of power grids can vary significantly over the course of the year and even from hour to hour.  For example, during a day when the sun is out and the wind is blowing, renewable energy sources such as wind and solar represent a higher percentage of supply and hence the grid has a lower emissions intensity. The average annual emissions approach considers only a change in the total amount of energy consumed, regardless of when this energy is deferred, stored, or consumed.

Figure 1 Average Annual vs. Real-time Emissions Factor example calculations

Emissions using Average Annual emissions intensity:

Emissions using Real-time emissions intensity:

Note: this method factors in the timing of the power generated (the delta t variable)

Real-time Emissions data are increasingly important for evaluating GHGs impacts. A 2017 study on the California Self Generation Incentive Program (SGIP), for example, highlighted the need for real-time emissions data to use as signals for battery charging. The incentive program, designed to motivate deployments of battery storage to reduce GHGs, was shown to have actually increased emissions in its first couple years because batteries were charging and discharging during times that were not in line with periods of lower grid emissions intensity.  The batteries were responding to electricity price signals but the price of electricity was not directly coordinated with the emissions intensity (i.e. higher electricity costs did not correspond to higher grid intensity). California is now focused on adjusting its rates to better align monetary and GHG costs using real-time emissions data.  Examples of companies that are utilizing real-time emissions data include Google managing its data centers and eMotorWerks optimizing their electric vehicle chargers. Google visualized its data center annual energy usage as percentage of carbon-free energy used. (Figure 4)

Figure 2 The relative size of the yellow negative bar (emissions due to charge / discharge timing) compared to the black (“parasitic” charge from round-trip efficiency losses) shows the importance of having and responding to real-time emissions data.


Figure 3 Example of variable grid generation mix. As the sources of energy change throughout the day, so too will the grid’s GHG emissions intensity.

Source: Resource Mix. ISO New England, Resource Mix,

Figure 4 Google’s emissions data charts.

Source: Moving toward 24×7 Carbon-Free Energy at Google Data Centers: Progress and Insights. Google, 2018, Moving toward 24×7 Carbon-Free Energy at Google Data Centers: Progress and Insights,×7-carbon-free-energy-data-centers.pdf.

In addition to the need for real-time data to inform the behavior of energy storage and consumption, the concept also applies to how GHG reductions should be accounted. The Greenhouse Gas Protocol, used by more than 1,000 companies and institutions worldwide, also outlines how grid-connected electricity projects (e.g. new power plants) can use real-time data to account for GHG reductions. The method includes an “Operating Margin Emissions Factor” comprised of the approximate marginal emissions of electricity production on an hourly basis.

A Shift Towards Real-time Data

Pros and cons exist for using real-time emissions data to make energy decisions and account for GHG reductions. The benefits include improved precision and accuracy of GHG reporting, more effective demand-response schemas, and more informed project decision-making.  However, the annual average emissions factors used widely today require less monitoring of infrastructure (meters to obtain real-time data) and are easier to implement.  Additionally, it’s not always clear that the added precision and accuracy of real-time data is worth the effort required to establish emissions baselines with the more complicated approach, especially if the real-time GHG emissions data may not be 100% accurate itself due to the highly dynamic nature of the grid. One thing we believe for certain, HBS and Harvard University should continue to evaluate this tradeoff as it designs its GHG reporting and decision-making tools.

A Note of Thanks

We would like to thank the following people for their generous support and input on this project:

  • Courtney Fairbrother, Sustainability Manager, Operations
  • Julia Musso, Manager, Energy and Sustainability Manager, Operations
  • Leah Ricci, Assistant Director of Energy Management and Sustainability, Operations
  • John Pelletier, Harvard University Transportation Project Manager
  • Wenbo Shi, Singularity Battery Storage Project
  • Michael Macrae, Energy Analytics Manager for HU Engineering & Utilities
  • Henry Richardson, Analyst, Watt-time


Source: Sustainability at Harvard Tools and Resouces Feed

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Improving accuracy of waste sorting through behavioral nudges

 Authored by Student Sustainability Associates Cathy Xu, David Zhuo, and Trey Sides

The first campaign the Student Sustainability Associates ran was focused on waste. We educated our section on the environmental impacts of waste and reviewed how to sort compost versus recycling versus trash. We capped off the campaign by donning hazmat suits and sifting through dozens of bags of waste. After we aggregated the waste audit data, one thing stood out—HBS students do not sort their waste accurately. We threw away and recycled what should have been composted and this translated into two big environmental challenges.

  1. Directly throwing away compostable material increases waste (HBS waste is mostly incinerated for energy recovery and a smaller portion is landfilled) 
  2. Contaminating recycling leads recycling loads to be rejected thus increasing landfill waste and reducing the benefits of recycling. This problem is exacerbated by the recycling industry setting stricter standards for contamination.

With these challenges in mind, we set out to change the status quo.

Our Ideation Process

To get our project started, we looked at the resources available at HBS and the broader Harvard community. We set up meetings with NudgeU, the marketing department, the sustainability team, Harvard Recycling, and a research group at the Kennedy school. Through the meetings, we had sessions on using behavioral nudge techniques, learned about interesting research done to nudge people’s behavior towards environmental friendliness, and learned there is a field course offering opportunities to deep-dive into behavioral economics projects in a short period of time.

We also spent meetings deciding on the specific nudges we wanted to implement. How do we want to design the waste bin signage? Do we make it bigger, add emojis to each sign, or borrow Whole Foods’ shadow box idea? Do we include a poster on top of the signage, and if yes, what kind of nudging tool do we want to use? We can shape behavior via loss aversion, social norm, or a simple reminder on how we are doing compared to other people. So many calls to make!

Our Solution

In the end, we decided to use the Spangler Grill as the location to run our experiment. It offered a high traffic area and was easy for the team to access. We utilized the following concepts in our design

  • Loss aversion: highlighted the downsides to not sorting trash with the tagline “10 seconds to sort, 1000 years in a landfill
  • Social norms: positioned the signage in an area where students can see each other’s trash disposal behavior
  • Simplification: used physical presentation of trash and added a tag line for each waste stream. Trash-> the last resort, recycle -> no food or liquids, compost-> all HBS to-go ware.

We donned our hazmat suits once again and conducted a baseline trash audit with the original signage and followed up with a week later by auditing the trash with our new signage.

Source: Sustainability at Harvard Tools and Resouces Feed

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The human element of sustainability

 Authored by Student Sustainability Associates Sasha Slayton and Nicole Yeska

Your first semester at Harvard Business School is similar to your freshman year of undergraduate in many ways. You don’t know the majority of your classmates, and you’re insecure. You’re not quite sure how the case method works, so you’re stressed preparing and running through every possible situation in which a professor could call on you. The entire first semester is honestly a quagmire. As one of the goals of Harvard Business School’s sustainability plan focuses on Health and Wellbeing, we decided to embark on a project called, “The Human Element of Sustainability.” We were curious to see if and how the Student Sustainability Associates could improve the healthy, social offerings for students during this stressful time.

To begin answering this question, we surveyed our peers and spoke with staff and faculty to learn about the wellness initiatives on campus. Through our survey of students, we learned that 20% would be interested in participating in healthy activities not already offered. We also interviewed representatives from many campus services about the offerings that already exist in this realm. Ultimately, we discovered there was a gap in the range of healthy social activities offered on campus. Specifically, students wanted to get outside and try new activities with their new HBS friends.

By this point in our project, it was the middle of Boston’s notorious winter, so we waited a couple of weeks, and on a beautiful Saturday in April the SSAs organized a hike to the Middlesex Fells Reservoir, a nature park twenty minutes north of campus. The event helped us gauge interest and get a feel for how students responded to a new type of activity. The hike started off with everyone introducing themselves and sharing their “dream vocation.” People shared jobs that ranged from dog walker to pastry chef, and we all laughed at how our dream jobs weren’t typically occupied by HBS grads. Hiking through a wide, grassy lawn we entered the slopping forest floor and enjoyed seeing foxes, birds, and the friendly neighborhood dog. Conversations throughout the day included different section norms, internship aspirations, and lessons learned during our first year at HBS. Midway through the hike we shared our favorite childhood memory.

After a successful, healthy social event, we believe the long-term solution is for the clubs at HBS that are sports and/or outdoors-focused to offer more beginner or “intro” events to students before requiring them to pay club dues. This will help students make friends early on, participate in healthy, social activities, and pick up new healthy hobbies while at HBS. The HBS club presidents for the 2019/2020 school year are excited about the idea! For example, the Outdoors club plans to offer an intro to rock climbing event, and the volleyball club plans to offer Volleyball 101 not only to recruit for their club, but also as a reminder that there are many different types of social activities to get involved in!

Source: Sustainability at Harvard Tools and Resouces Feed

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Escape the Room: Earth Day Edition

From its first iteration, Earth Day was a celebration meant to engage, educate, and inspire the public. The movement was initially conceptualized and founded by Wisconsin senator Gaylord Nelson, who had been unsuccessful in his attempts to bring about meaningful environmental legislation in the Senate, and thus turned to the public for support and pressure upon national legislators. The focus of the day was education: to have environmental leaders, activists, and supporters inform their fellow citizens about issues of environmental protection, in order to create a broad base of support for environmental legislation. The first Earth Day, on April 22, 1970, engaged 20 million people, and helped to kick off a decade of monumental environmental legislation and action with support from both political parties, including the Clean Air Act, the Endangered Species Act, and the establishment of the Environmental Protection Agency.

Harvard affiliates have been strongly tied to the Earth Day movement since the beginning. The small team that Nelson brought together to take on the daunting task of organizing the first Earth Day in 1970 included 3 Harvard alums. One of these men, Dennis Hayes, was a Harvard graduate student at the time. Nelson appointed him as national coordinator, and to him went a large part of organizing the national movement from a small D.C. apartment that served as their headquarters. Hayes not only was a leader for the first Earth Day in 1970, but also led the campaigns that took Earth Day international in 1990 and that first utilized the internet to establish renewable energy as the focus of the event in 2000. Earth Day now engages 1 billion people in almost 200 countries every year, thanks in part to the efforts of Harvard alums. Current Harvard students continue to carry this legacy through Earth Day programming and festivities every year. This past week, groups like the Office for Sustainability, Environmental Action Committee, and Harvard Undergraduates for Environmental Justice have all hosted events to inform and engage students and community members in Earth Day and environmental programming.

Among these events was an innovative Escape the Room, created and hosted for three days by the Resource Efficiency Program – starting on April 22, 2019. In this Escape the Room, teams of community members were tasked with following clues and solving puzzles in order to save Cambridge from impending flooding as a result of climate change induced sea level rise. Tasks were meant to encourage participants to think creatively about how they individually could take small actions in their daily life to be more sustainable, including unplugging appliances not in use and properly disposing of recycling and compost. Over the course of three days, over 100 participants “raced the clock” to solve the impending climate crisis.

This project was the culmination of months of planning on part of the leaders of the Resource Efficiency Program. Over the course of the fall and the spring semesters, REP captains brainstormed and gathered support from the Office of Sustainability and assistance from Redbox, a local Escape the Room company. The City of Cambridge also agreed to partner and support the Escape the Room, as this pilot can serve as a source of inspiration for a possible Escape the Room put on by the city this coming fall. Additionally, Cambridge high school students were the first to test the Escape the Room, and provided helpful feedback on their experience before the project was officially rolled out. Members of the Resource Efficiency Program were pleased with the amount of people they were able to reach with this project, especially given that this was the first pilot for this programming. In future years, this project could grow to an even larger scale, and further REP’s mission of encouraging members of the Harvard community to act more sustainably in their day-to-day lives and engaging people generally– a fitting project for Earth Day.

Source: Sustainability at Harvard News and Events Feed

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Reducing Laboratory Energy through Financial Incentives

Author: Quentin Gilly, Harvard Office for Sustainability
Published: April 2019

If you’re a researcher, simple actions like shutting of lights and closing fume hood can be your biggest contribution to the environment.

Laboratories are a major source of energy use at Harvard.  There are many strategies for making labs more efficient, such as upgrading fume hoods and lighting systems, running energy competitions with the researchers, and putting reminder stickers on equipment that can be turned off.  This report details a program that tested the theory that a financial motivator is the best way to achieve energy efficiency in labs. Can researchers save more energy if their lab group is financially motivated? Further study is needed, but some meaningful assumptions can be made.


Source: Sustainability at Harvard Tools and Resouces Feed

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Climate One at Harvard: John Holdren and Gina McCarthy

Join us for a special recording of the Climate One podcast and radio show at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, featuring Harvard’s John Holdren and Gina McCarthy and hosted by Greg Dalton.

With the Green New Deal in the national spotlight, a vigorous debate is happening: how ambitiously and broadly must the U.S. act on climate? Are issues like economic equity, job security and public health outside the frame of climate action — or fundamental to its success?

Progressive Democrats contend a holistic solution would tackle all of the above. Critics such as former Congressman Barney Frank argue that society can only handle so much change at once. How bold does action need to be to avoid the worst impacts of climate change — and at what cost to citizens? Are environmental justice and human health central to the success of the climate action, or just a nice bonus? How can policy and innovation work together to decarbonize the economy?


  • John Holdren, Theresa and John Heinz Professor of Environmental Policy, Harvard Kennedy School; Former Science Advisor to President Obama
  • Gina McCarthy, Director of the Center for Climate, Health, and the Global Environment (C-CHANGE), Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health; Former Administrator, U.S. EPA


Source: Sustainability at Harvard News and Events Feed

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Run the Yard 5K: University-Wide Untimed Fun Run

Lace up your running shoes and join the Harvard community for a University-wide 5K! This untimed 5-kilometer fun run will do three loops around historic Harvard Yard and the northern Law School campus.  Harvard students, faculty, and staff, along with their friends and families are welcome to participate. Registration, refreshments, and activities will be held on the Plaza.


More information can be found here

Facebook event

7:15am Check-in opens on the Plaza, adjacent to the Science Center. Get a free raffle ticket upon check-in.
7:45am Harvard Recreation leads warm-up exercises.
8:00am Fun Run begins!
8:30-9:30am Harvard Recreation leads cool-down exercises on the Plaza along with light refreshments. Raffle winners will be announced. Must be present to be present to win.

Source: Sustainability at Harvard News and Events Feed

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The Land and the Waters are Speaking: Indigenous Views on Climate Change

The ongoing destruction of Earth’s natural systems is the result of decisions, made daily, by billions of people. These decisions are voluntary and involuntary at once, collective and personal. The question must be asked: what is driving our actions? How do we reignite and reimagine a spiritual relationship with this beautiful planet we call home? From traditions around the world, and from within ourselves, how might we create different narratives that honor Nature and acknowledge the sacred? Two indigenous leaders – Nainoa Thompson and Angaangaq Angakkorsuaq (Uncle) – have both been identified by their communities as messengers who are sharing their wisdom with us as we try to heal this broken world together, and they will guide us through these challenging questions as they reflect on their traditions and spiritual practices. Storytelling is a form of bearing witness to change as we contemplate what it means to be responsible citizens in the Anthropocene.

Nainoa Thompson is the president of the Polynesian Voyaging Society and a Pwo navigator, who, inspired by his kūpuna (teachers), has dedicated his life to exploring the deep meaning of voyaging, and Uncle is an Eskimo Kalaallit Elder, shaman, healer, storyteller, and carrier of the Qilaut (winddrum), whose family belongs to the traditional healers from Kalaallit Nunaat, Greenland.

“The Land and the Waters are Speaking: Indigenous Views on Climate Change” is part of The Constellation Project, a larger collaboration between the Planetary Health Alliance, the Harvard Divinity School, and the Center for the Study of World Religions that brings together science, faith, arts, and indigenous communities to explore larger questions about our place in the world and imagine a better future. This event is co-sponsored by the Planetary Health Alliance, the Harvard Divinity School, the Center for the Study of World Religions, the Harvard University Center for the Environment, and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, and the Harvard College Hawaii Club.

Questions? Please e-mail

Source: Sustainability at Harvard News and Events Feed

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Implementing the UN SDGs through the private sector

For our “Greenpreneur Series”, which features alumni working in sustainability sectors, Tajrean Rahman (Harvard College ’19) interviewed alumna Meera Atreya. Meera (Harvard College ’09) was a Resource Efficiency Program REP for Kirkland House. She followed her passion for the environment and science, striving to tackle the UN Sustainable Development Goals through the private sector.

What sparked your passion for environmental sustainability?

I have been passionate about addressing climate change from a young age, even donating my allowance sometimes to environmental non-profits. As a teenager, I remember reading a government publication entitled Climate Change: State of Knowledge that was published in 1997, when I was 10. This booklet explained, in simple terms and diagrams, what we were doing to our planet and how we needed to scale back our greenhouse gas emissions to prevent catastrophic climate change.

In the two decades following, I have felt overwhelmingly disappointed in society’s failure to act on something so vital to our very existence. Combining this passion for sustainability with a belief in my own abilities to effect change, I feel compelled out of both interest and a sense of duty to address what I believe to be the most important challenge humanity faces. We need every smart mind on this problem; the effects of climate change exacerbate all other issues: health, security, education, etc.

I feel compelled out of both interest and a sense of duty to address what I believe to be the most important challenge humanity faces. We need every smart mind on this problem.

How did your aspirations evolve over time, especially during your years at Harvard?

To address climate change, I understood that the priority was to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. This meant transitioning from fossil-based energy to renewable energy. I became especially interested in and fascinated by science, concentrating in Chemical & Physical Biology and enrolling in electives such as “Energy, Technology, and the Environment” and “Atmospheric Chemistry.” Outside of class, I was a Resource Efficiency Program REP, where I helped my Kirkland classmates change their behaviors, and most importantly, I pursued world-class laboratory research. Thanks to the incredible mentorship of Professor David Liu and then graduate student Kevin Esvelt (now a professor at MIT), I developed a love for research and the confidence to pursue high-impact opportunities (my undergraduate research project, culminating in a Hoopes thesis prize, involved using directed evolution towards developing a gene therapy to prevent HIV infection).

How did you pursue those aspirations after graduating?

Because I found my scientific research experience at Harvard so enriching and aimed to generate technological innovations to mitigate climate change, I decided to pursue a PhD. When I was applying to graduate schools, in 2008, it was unclear which renewable energy technologies would really help us wean off fossil fuels. Solar and wind were still far from being cost-competitive. I considered all forms of renewable energy technologies, from algal biofuels to fusion, and landed on bio-energy as the one most aligned with my scientific interests in chemical biology. Although biofuels are not necessarily my “favorite” renewable, my research expertise was well suited to tackling this topic, which I worked on for six years at UC Berkeley as I pursued my PhD.

After earning my doctorate, having realized academia was not the right fit for me, I spent 2.5 years as a management consultant at McKinsey & Company in their London office. This past summer, as a McKinsey Global Social Responsibility Fellow, I worked on the environmental footprint strategy of the firm, helping to drive the company to become “carbon neutral” by investing in carbon-reduction projects to offset their greenhouse gas emissions, to set science-based emission reduction targets, and to purchase 100% renewable electricity in all of their offices. This was a satisfying legacy to leave.

Tell me about the work you’re doing now at SYSTEMIQ.

SYSTEMIQ is a mission-driven B-corporation focused on driving the implementation of the Paris Climate Agreement and the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by transforming markets and business models in three key economic systems: land use, materials, and energy. With its strong focus on alleviating climate change, relevance to my scientific and consulting expertise, and high ambition to change entire systems to be both more sustainable and more equitable, SYSTEMIQ is a perfect fit for me.

I am currently working on a project to help address the ocean plastic crisis. We aim to understand the current flows of plastic waste (e.g., from waste generation to its collection, sorting, and recycling or disposal) across geographic archetypes. Working with experts around the globe, we will provide an evidence-driven analysis of the costs, trade-offs, and impacts of potential solutions to reduce the flow of plastic waste into our oceans.

Source: Sustainability at Harvard News and Events Feed