The goal of sustainable and high-performance building requires an integrated interdisciplinary orientation that seeks not only to make advances, but also to find ways to change the behavior of firms, occupants of buildings, and local governments to adopt more environmentally friendly development and building use practices. The Center will draw together experts from across Harvard’s various schools to pursue highly interdisciplinary research and teaching to advance the state of knowledge and practice in green building. Experts from the Graduate School of Design will be joined by researchers from various Harvard institutions including the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, the School of Public Health, the Business School, the Kennedy School, the Law School, and the Faculty of Arts and Sciences. 



The Center engages in four interrelated streams of research that represent various dimensions and scales of the sustainable built environment:

Modeling Dimension: Design and Operation


Conventional building simulation models do not consider many uncertainties and are not yet geared to aid in rapid decision making for building design or performance evaluation. The Center is pursuing research to develop modeling methods that enable building simulation to reflect uncertainties including human behavior and local conditions.


  • Examine new forms of data visualization and human-building interaction
  • Utilize, build, and maintain a large Building Performance Database
  • Pursue interdisciplinary engagement with mathematicians, computer scientists, and behavioral scientists within the Harvard community and beyond


  • How can we develop modeling methods that enable building simulation to reflect uncertainties involving human behavior and local conditions?
  • How can we improve energy saving technologies within building systems?
Application Dimension: High Performance Materials and Construction


Buildings consume energy, produce carbon emissions, and impact the environment not only during operation, but also by utilizing material resources that are typically derived from raw materials extracted at an environmental cost. Contemporary building construction is extremely wasteful in its practice of extraction, use, and landfill as the end-of-life scenario for all buildings, and as a result, the majority of the world’s material consumption is related to construction. In fact, the energy embodied in the construction of an average office building built to current U.S. standards equals about 5 to 8 years of operational energy consumption.


The Center’s research initiatives seek to establish how buildings can be designed and built to radically improve material consumption patterns and life-cycle building performance through:

  • Studying, evaluating, and developing building-specific, design related environmental assessment metrics and framework
  • Researching environmentally smart material and construction solutions from the nano-scale to the building scale
  • Emphasizing an interdisciplinary approach that combines researchers from the Harvard Graduate School of Design and the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Science with other external contributors
  • Conducting research at the forefront of material innovation and digitally supported sustainable material and construction strategies
Economic Dimension: Technology Adoption and Diffusion


Societal impact and benefits from advances in knowledge and technology depend upon the adoption and diffusion of actual product and process innovations in the marketplace. New business models and financing models are needed to overcome divergences between social and private rates of return on green building investments. Laws, regulations, and enforcement mechanisms are critical public policy drivers for technology adoption and diffusion. Similarly, behaviorally informed tools for public policy such as choice architecture, default rules, norms, simplification, and information are critical to shaping technology adoption and diffusion.


  • Utilize our database of product and technology introductions to better understand the rate of technological change in the building industry and the factors that influence technology adoption and diffusion
  • Develop economic models for drivers of innovation and technology adoption relating to incentives, government policies, and individual and business behavior
  • Create cost-benefit studies that assess the potential returns to firms that adopt technologies that improve building performance
  • Analyze ways to shape incentives and behavior of individuals in buildings to support better building performance outcomes


  • How can we shape incentives and the behavior of individuals in buildings to support better building performance outcomes?
  • How can we better understand the factors that influence technology adoption and diffusion so that we can create better government policies, regulations, and enforcement mechanisms?
Macro Dimension: Sustainable Planning


Harvard UniversityAs environments around the globe urbanize at unprecedented rates, it is critical to consider the urban fabric within which buildings operate. Sustainable planning addresses the context of the individual building, seeking to advance, guide and coordinate the systems that underlie sustainable urban developments, including energy codes. Assessment systems should be expanded and modified to extend beyond the individual building to infrastructure systems that influence the efficiency of entire communities.


  • Develop and evaluate tools to enable implementation, improvement, and compliance with energy-efficient practices and codes
  • Refine and test the next generation of regulations, such as outcome-based codes, that will ensure on-going building performance
  • Develop computational models and framework to design and manage sustainable communities and cities



A major advance in any of these dimensions has potential to improve lives around the world. The interaction of people, ideas, and knowledge across various disciplines at the Center will create greater potential for major advances.