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Bright Ideas for Sustainability at Harvard Library

A partnership between Harvard Library and the Office for Sustainability is leading to increased energy savings.


Photo: Stephanie Mitchell, Harvard Gazette

The massive chandelier that greets visitors to Widener Library is not only impressive to look at; it’s an impressive feat to change the bulbs. Since Widener has switched to LED (light-emitting diode) lights, they haven’t had to in two years. This is just one benefit of a new initiative that is helping the Library to implement greener lighting strategies. With support from the Green Revolving Fund, Harvard Library has partnered with the Office for Sustainability to convert the lighting in Widener and Lamont to super-efficient, mercury-free LED bulbs, reducing energy consumption and curbing maintenance costs.

“Harvard Library was one of our earliest adopters of sustainable technology, and with this recent LED conversion they’ve proven once again they are valuable partners in Harvard’s commitment to build and operate a healthier, more sustainable campus,” said Heather Henriksen, director of Harvard’s Office for Sustainability.

The Green Revolving Fund provides upfront capital for energy conservation projects being implemented by Harvard’s Schools and departments to reduce the University’s carbon footprint. It has served as an important tool for facilities teams and building managers across the University to create more energy-efficient spaces. This contributes to making progress toward the science-based climate goal Harvard established in 2008 to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 30% by 2016, including growth. LED conversion projects are among the most popular energy-saving projects on campus because the savings in energy and maintenance costs pay for the project so quickly.

Though the scale of the project is enormous, involving over 10,000 bulbs, the key, says Andrew Laplume, associate director of FAS Library Facilities, was to start small: “Hallways, stairwells, and meeting areas are a good opportunity to introduce LEDs. You can test the color, lumens, and overall quality of the lamp before making an investment." First, the facilities team identified areas for LED lamps, such as the circulation desk at Lamont Library. Then they researched if the types of LEDs they were looking for were on the Mass Save incentive program list, where they could purchase them for as low as one dollar per lamp, reducing the length of payback. They worked with librarians every step of the way, consulting them to see if they liked the color temperature and if there was any discernable difference from the previous lights before moving forward with the installation.

LEDs are more affordable in a big building such as Widener, but the stacks that house over 3.5 million books provided a unique challenge. There are 7,064 bulbs in the stacks, divided among 4-foot-, 3-foot-, and 2-foot long lighting fixtures. The team tested different types of lamps to ensure they would get comparable color and light quality before selecting the right model, and found that T8 LED lamps consume approximately half of the energy of a standard fluorescent version. “Small changes in electrical consumption become big at the end of the day,” Laplume said. The facilities team is calculating that the new lights will save approximately $18,000 per year.

Loker Reading Room was another opportunity for energy efficiency. The distinctive lighting in the ornate ceiling may look like skylights, but they are actually light fixtures consisting of 486 T8 lamps that remain on from open until close. The facilities team was able to install LED T8 lamps in the ceiling, resulting in a 50% energy reduction, and the 66 reading lamps on the study tables were also retrofitted with LEDs. In addition to Loker, there are more T8 lamps in the Rotunda and Widener Memorial Room that are scheduled to be retrofitted with LEDs.

The facilities team also found many occasions to be resourceful at Lamont Library. Lamont’s lights are on 24 hours a day, 5 days a week, and the return on investment is shorter when the lights are on longer. They went through Lamont room by room, and started with replacing the lights at the main entrance. These lights were older 8-foot T8 lamp fixtures; they were also dangerous to handle because of mercury content. The team researched applicable LED alternatives, and found a solution at their fingertips: they would replace units of 8-foot lamps with single four-foot lamps. They were able to achieve comparable lighting with fewer lamps while maintaining greater energy efficiency.

In Lamont and Widener, library hours change approximately nine times per year. Diligent monitoring of schedules allows the team to find solutions that use the least amount of electricity without compromising conditions for the collections. Over the recent holiday break, the facilities team replaced all the lights in public spaces in Lamont. The re-lamping project at Lamont is now 95% completed, and this $15,000 project will result in a savings of $19,000.

When these lighting projects are completed the projected savings in kilowatt hours totals over 494,000 annually—equal to the annual energy use for 31 homes. These tangible results from the projects in Widener and Lamont have built positive momentum for the library to continue exploring energy-efficient options in more buildings, such as Pusey and Houghton. “The LED project is an example of how people working in the Library are always thinking about how to improve performance,” said Sarah E. Thomas, Vice President for the Harvard Library and University Librarian. “Andrew Laplume and his team have been persistently on the lookout to reduce energy use, and the payoff is brilliant.”

Article written by Kaitlin Buckley, Harvard Library Communications, with contributions from Kate Hammer and Colin Durrant, Office for Sustainability.

Article published on February 10, 2016.


Andrew LaPlume, Associate Director of FAS Library Facilities, in the Widener Stacks.

Andrew LaPlume, Associate Director of FAS Library Facilities, in the Widener Stacks. Photo courtesy of Kate Hammer, Office for Sustainability.

Loker reading room graphic

Graphic courtesy of the Office for Sustainability.

Widener LED graphic

Graphic courtesy of the Office for Sustainability.