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Green Carpet Awards honor Abernathy and other SEAS members

Harvard's Office for Sustainability to honor Abernathy's lifelong commitment to energy-efficient practices and celebrate staff and students for their green efforts

Frederick Abernathy, recipient of the Spengler-Vautin Special Achievement Award for his lifelong devotion to sustainability.

"If I see a job that can be done and no one else seems to do it, I'll do it."

That's always been the attitude of Frederick H. Abernathy, Gordon McKay Professor of Mechanical Engineering and Abbot and James Lawrence Research Professor of Engineering at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS).

Over the course of a career at Harvard that has spanned more than 54 years, Abernathy has built quite a reputation as the "green" man on campus. Whether leading research efforts on the future of energy, removing power-hungry halogen lamps from students' dorms, helping to assess and redesign Harvard's utility infrastructure, or reminding laboratory researchers to "close the sash" to prevent heat from escaping, he has constantly had his eye on sustainability.

In recognition of Abernathy's lasting and lifelong contributions, the Harvard Office for Sustainability has announced that he will receive the 2012 Spengler-Vautin Special Achievement Award at the Green Carpet Awards on April 12.

Abernathy and Rob Gogan, Associate Manager of Recycling and Waste at Campus Services (also known as "Harvard's Recycling Czar"), will both receive the award for their tremendous leadership and commitment to sustainability at Harvard.

Since arriving at Harvard in the late 1950s, Abernathy has been a pioneer in the implementation and education of energy efficiency measures. Beginning with Pierce Hall in the early 1960s, he has spearheaded energy conservation measures across the University—and continues to advocate for more efficient practices today.

"Through the impact of his teaching and research, his engagement in facilities planning and operations across the University, and his crusade for education and behavioral change regarding green issues, Professor Abernathy has continuously contributed to sustainable practices at Harvard and beyond," said SEAS Dean Cherry Murray and Deans Emeritus Venky Narayanamurti and Paul Martin in their nomination letter. "It is widely held that his energy-saving efforts and sustainable building solutions have saved the University millions of dollars, and his influence on a greener campus well into the future cannot be measured.”

Abernathy’s recommendations and vision have been instrumental for sustainability measures and planning in William James Hall, the recommissioning of the Blackstone complex, athletic facilities, Maxwell Dworkin, LISE, the Northwest Building, and the Allston Science Complex. He is responsible for the timed lighting systems in Sever, Pierce, and Vanserg.

While he is an expert on the technological side of energy efficiency, Abernathy has also been highly effective at rallying behavioral changes to reduce energy consumption.

As early as 1980, he was quoted in a Harvard Crimson article highlighting the role of occupants in efficiency, saying, “It’s really not a technology question; it’s a people question.”

His knack for raising awareness of sustainability issues is most effectively illustrated by his teaching. The phase-out of energy-intensive halogen bulbs in the undergraduate dorms was a direct consequence of Abernathy’s work with Linsey Marr '96, an undergraduate advisee in Engineering Sciences. Through his courses and involvement of students, Abernathy has trained countless applied scientists in both technical skills for energy efficiency and a consciousness of sustainability.

The annual Green Carpet Awards event celebrates the many staff, faculty, and students who have made significant contributions to on-campus sustainability initiatives, including greenhouse gas emission reductions.

The Spengler-Vautin Special Achievement Award acknowledges that a partnership between faculty, students and administrative staff is the key to Harvard's success in sustainability.

Three other members of the SEAS community are slated to receive Individual Achievement Awards: faculty assistant Kate Zirpolo-Flynn and graduate students Hannah Lee and Basma Hashmi.

In addition, the Office for Sustainability will announce the winners of the team awards. SEAS has two finalists in this category. One team includes members of Joost Vlassak's research group and the SEAS facilities staff, for the renovation of a 2,500-square-foot laboratory, which recently earned LEED Platinum certification. The other team is the SEAS Sustainability Task Force, which keeps the message of sustainability alive in the everyday work environment of SEAS, through events including a seed/plant swap, a "freecycle" swap, and a junk mail purging program.

In all, 60 awards will be presented at this year’s Green Carpet Awards on April 12 from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. in Sanders Theatre. To see the complete list of nominated individuals and finalists for the team awards visit: www.green.harvard.edu/greencarpet2012.

Green Award Winners

In addition to a Special Achievement Award to faculty member Fred Abernathy, other members of the SEAS community are slated to receive individual honors:

  • Faculty Assistant Kate Zirpolo-Flynn
  • Graduate Student Hannah Lee
  • Graduate Student Basma Hashmi

In addition, the Office for Sustainability will announce the winners of the team awards. SEAS has two finalists in this category.

  • Members of Joost Vlassak's research group and the SEAS facilities staff, for the renovation of a 2,500-square-foot laboratory, which recently earned LEED Platinum certification.
  • The SEAS Sustainability Task Force, which keeps the message of sustainability alive in the everyday work environment of SEAS, through events including a seed/plant swap, a "freecycle" swap, and a junk mail purging program.

Scientist Profiles

Frederick H. Abernathy

Gordon McKay Professor of Mechanical Engineering and Abbott and James Lawrence Professor of Engineering, Emeritus