Your Planet Needs You: Celebrating 41 Years of Earth Day

 In the spirit of Earth Day, let me be the messenger of some pretty shocking environmental news that is surely relevant to each and every one of us…..


Last year, the heat waves across Eastern Europe and Russia were unprecedented – the highest summer temperatures ever recorded in the last 500 years. An anomaly? Perhaps. But climate change scientists warn of a 4 degree Celsius increase in global temperatures by year 2060; that is within our lifetime. This seems immaterial, until we learn that dry dams and river beds are becoming an increasingly common phenomenon across the globe during the non-summer seasons, that Mauritius triggered its disaster recovery plan as the country is expected to disappear off the face of the planet with rising sea levels; that United Nations projected that 80 percent of the world’s population lives within 100 miles of coastlines by 2010; that rising sea levels would mean writing off billions of dollars of damage as many of the world’s largest and densely populated cities are near coasts – New York, Shanghai, Tokyo, Calcutta, Dhaka, London, Lagos, etc.

Resources & Consumption

Diplomatic wars on water rights are being waged in many parts of the world – Egypt, MEA, within India, and even within California. Ismail Serageldin, ex Word Bank vice president, predicts that the next world war is not going to be for oil or minerals, but for water. The right to clean air and potable water is no longer a right in the emerging world cities. It is a luxury. There will also be ugly decisions to make about in whose backyard we dump our garbage in as Western corporations cannot continue to rely on dumping grounds off shore forever. You may have heard statements like “if we put all of the solid waste collected in the U.S. in a line of average garbage trucks, that line of trucks could cross the country, New York City to Los Angeles, more than 100 times.” While these lines may get old and can be corny, they hopefully put our collective environmental impact into perspective.

So, are you (and I) doing enough?

How YOU can make a difference

Take the baby steps– to live responsibly in small ways. Make small changes in your lifestyle. Switch off bathroom lights when you leave your apartment at 8:39am for your first class. That plastic clamshell container in the Grille can be recycled (provided it is has minimal food leftovers). Do you purchase frozen meals? You can recycle those containers too. And the next time you print the learning team write-up (assuming you belong to the minority whose learning teams have not disbanded), then ask whether you need 1.25” margins format and consider changing margins to the ‘narrow’ 0.5” format. These hardly inconvenient measures would make a substantial combined impact.

Peer pressure is good, exert it– When we see a colleague trashing that yogurt cup – remind him/her that it can be recycled. Ask why he/she buys bottled water, to understand his/her BATNA. Surely, there will be ZOPA. By subtle peer pressure, you will be validating the importance of baby steps. And the worst case would be, you have a 5 minute conversation about something other than an HBS party, or the HBS cases!

Recycle the “waste” in your trash can-Check your dorm room trash can. Our waste audit last semester told us that 30% of our trash could have been recycled. If you are not sure whether something can be recycled ask your Green Living Rep. Or check the Harvard Business School sustainability intranet (

Stop buying bottled water for 1 week– I’ve been told that bottled water is convenient and while this might be true, filling up your own bottle at HBS can be just as convenient given the number of filtered water fountains located throughout campus. Try it for a week and you might develop a new habit.

Save on coffee –Did you know that Restaurant Associates gives you a discount on coffee or tea when you bring your own mug? You don’t have to buy the Harvard Recycles Mug. Bring your own to any of the HBS dining venues (Grille, Aldrich, etc.) and a refill in a reusable mug is the price of a small. If you forget your mug and choose to use the paper coffee cups, please recycle them.

Earth Day @ Harvard

Given Harvard’s sustainability and greenhouse gas commitments (to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 30% below a 2006 baseline by the year 2016, including growth), Earth Week activities are being organized across the University to raise awareness of the many present day environmental challenges.  Here at HBS, the Green Living Program (student group), Green Team (staff group) and HBS Operations have collaborated to bring a whole list of activities that you can get involved in. For more details on Earth Day events at HBS and Harvard refer  About 1 in 10 Americans had participated on that first Earth Day in 1970. Can we at HBS do better?
We are all at HBS on a mission to “make a difference in the world.” With baby steps in transforming our lifestyle to be more environmentally sustainable, we certainly will make a difference in this world; ideally a positive difference. Let’s collectively reduce our environmental footprint and instill this behavior in our professional lives after leaving HBS. The idea is to live green, 365 days of the year. Not just on Earth Day.