Welcome to our series of interviews with leading female CSR practitioners where we are learning about what inspires these women and how they found their way to careers in sustainability. Read the rest of the series here.
TriplePundit: Briefly describe your role and responsibilities, and how many years you have been in the business.
Heather Henriksen: I am the Director of Harvard University’s Office for Sustainability where for the last five years, I have led a team of 15 professionals that works in partnership with the faculty, students and staff at our 12 schools and central administrative departments to craft Harvard’s sustainability strategy. Our approach has been to create a large change management initiative focused on making our campus more efficient, reducing costs and fostering a healthier community. (You can learn more about our work here, or on Twitter and Instagram @GreenHarvard. We’re also on Facebook.)
Other than my work at Harvard, I have been a member of Environmental Entrepreneurs (E2) since 2002, and my previous work experience includes private and nonprofit sector posts at Time Warner as a Director of Business Development & Communications and an Associate Director at Stanford Law School.
3p: How has the sustainability program evolved at your organization?
HH: It has gone from a startup, grassroots organization and effort to one that is institutionalized into the way folks work and live on campus. President Faust has said that universities have a special role and special responsibility to confront global challenges like climate change and sustainability. Our entire community has really responded to that vision by taking action both inside and outside the classroom. As much as possible, we try to tap into the creative ideas our students, faculty and staff are generating and then work to replicate them university-wide for greater impact.
Over the past five years, we have been particularly focused on crafting and implementing a strategy that addresses Harvard’s aggressive university-wide goals related to reducing greenhouse gas emissions/energy and creating an efficient, healthy and sustainable community. Our progress has included the creation of a governance structure that encourages collaboration and ensures that leaders across our decentralized university have a voice in decision-making. University-wide working groups and committees meet to identify opportunities to incorporate sustainability into the goals of our COOs, CFOs, CMOs and other senior leaders on campus in addition to our facilities and operations staff. Out of this work, new tools or policies have been developed including a Harvard Life Cycle Costing Calculator and the incorporation of GHG emissions and energy reductions into our five-year capital planning process.
We also work hard to facilitate continuous improvement by identifying, aggregating and sharing cost-effective solutions that can be replicated here at Harvard and beyond. For example, we post case studies of our LEED-certified buildings online and hold forums across campus for building managers and green team members to share best practices. Ultimately though, Harvard’s greatest asset is our students who will go out into the world and make change. In partnership with the Harvard Center for the Environment and other groups, we try to provide undergraduate and graduate students with as many opportunities as possible to get involved and collaborate across disciplines to solve the complex sustainability challenges we all face.
In the last year we have also begun working more closely with municipal, private and nonprofit sectors in addition to continuing to build relationships with others in the higher education community. I think breaking down the silos that exist across sectors so we truly work together to address shared areas of focus such as climate mitigation and preparedness as well as health and sustainability will enable us to transfer knowledge and go farther, faster. Two good examples of this work are Harvard’s work as Chair of the Higher Education Working Group of the City of Boston’s Green Ribbon Commission and our participation as a founding signatory in the City of Cambridge’s Community Compact for a Sustainable Future.
3p: Tell us about someone (mentor, sponsor, friend, hero) who affected your sustainability journey, and how.
HH: Besides my parents, the two mentors who stand out are Frances Beinecke, President of the NRDC, and Paul Brest, former President of the Hewlett Foundation and former Dean of Stanford Law School. Paul taught me how to think critically when confronted with complex challenges and how to consider multiple sides to a problem in order to craft a solution that will work for multiple stakeholders and be a good long-term solution. Paul also supported me in my decision to get private sector experience before returning to the nonprofit arena.
Frances put me on the path to take my past career experience and align it with my personal passion—environmental sustainability and health for people, animals and our planet. Frances is a sage, can-do and determined leader and she applied her talents to helping me partner with the NRDC on environmental advocacy through Environmental Entrepreneurs which gave me a great education on environmental policy, science and how to address real world environmental challenges. Frances also encouraged me to get my MPA focused on energy and environment—the best career decision I have made.
3p: What is the best advice you have ever received?
HH: I think the best advice I ever received was from my mom, who encouraged me to follow my own path. One of my favorite quotes that exemplifies this is by Eleanor Roosevelt: “The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.” I think you need solid plans to achieve your dreams, yet we all need to strive to accomplish something that hopefully will be a lasting force for good.
3p: Can you share a recent accomplishment you are especially proud of?
HH: We just completed our first-ever University-wide, online Sustainability Impact Report as well as a four-year review of our GHG reduction goal and its implementation by faculty, students and senior administrators which was a continuous improvement milestone (in six years our GHG emissions are down 16 percent inclusive of growth and 24 percent excluding growth). Key projects moving forward are to update our Green Building Standards and to craft a university-wide strategic sustainability plan.
3p: If you had the power to make one major change at your company or in your industry, what would it be?
HH: It would be to make the connection between our personal health and the environment in a ubiquitous way that fundamentally changes the materials in our buildings, products in our homes, transportation and energy sectors and what we eat to eliminate toxic chemicals and minimize waste. This will take changes in our laws, consumer demand, infrastructure changes as well as education, communications and meaningful engagement but together we can accomplish anything.
3p: Describe your perfect day.
HH: My perfect day would start with a long walk on the beach with my dog, working on a strategic project at work with my team and our community members (faculty, students, staff as well as partners in the government, private and nonprofit sectors) followed by dinner at home with family and friends.