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John Harvard's Journal | Harvard Portrait

Heather Henriksen

January-February 2017

“This might be a little in the weeds, but trust me, it’s cool.” Heather Henriksen is warming up an impassioned (but definitely cool) oration about a University-wide push to get harmful chemicals—“flame retardants, antimicrobials, stain repellents, water repellents”—out of campus buildings. “I’m a bit obsessed with this.” It’s her job to be: Henriksen directs the Office for Sustainability, a post she took in 2008, a few months after the office formed as a successor to the Harvard Green Campus Initiative. Among her tasks: shepherding into existence Harvard’s five-year Sustainability Plan, a wide-ranging “road map” for enhancing well-being and reducing the University’s overall environmental footprint by 2020. The campus, she says, is “an excellent test bed” for solutions: “If we can pilot and prove it here, we can scale it” to the world beyond. “That’s the real goal.” A child of northern California, Henriksen grew up hiking, biking, and volunteering for beach cleanups. “I was the kid who was reading the Berkeley Wellness letter.” She interned one summer with Save the Bay, removing mercury pollution from the San Francisco Bay—and would discover 10 years later that her own mercury levels had skyrocketed from eating fish. “That’s when I said, ‘OK, this environmental work isn’t casual anymore.’” Before coming to Harvard as a Kennedy School student (she’s M.P.A. ’08), she worked for five years in business development for Time Warner in New York; she spent her off-hours two blocks away at the National Resources Defense Council, listening, learning, working. These days Henriksen spends her nights with her two-year-old daughter, Liv, whose name means “life” in Danish. “She reminds me why we’re doing all this.”

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