You might not know Jason Luke ’94, but you know his work.He’s associate director for custodial and support services at Harvard’s Facilities Maintenance Operations. That makes him the Commencement superintendent who every June transforms the campus into a well-oiled machine for merriment (and solemnity).His team sets up 80,000 chairs, 7,500 tables, 120 tents, and all the signage, pole hardware, and sound equipment to go with it.During most of the year, Luke’s work takes a quieter path, but one that you see every day. He supervises a crew of 250 Harvard staffers who wash, buff, and shine 40 percent of Harvard’s 5 million square feet of building space.The onetime Leverett House English concentrator worked on the Harvard cleaning staff as an undergraduate. In the past 13 years, Luke has traded a head full of Shakespeare and Melville for grittier (but still important) stuff. These days he puzzles over things like the life span of mops and what polishes work best on stone, slate, and marble.While doing that, the father of two goes for the green. Ten years ago, Luke sensed a shift in his line of business, and started evaluating environmentally sound cleaning products. In the past five years, what was once a fringe fraction of the marketplace has emerged into the mainstream. As green products got steadily cheaper and better, he said, “we started to see this was the future of the whole cleaning industry.”A 2003 pilot program at Harvard Divinity School turned into a blessing. For two years, Luke and his crews tested nonpolluting cleaners based on hydrogen peroxide, reusable microfiber rags, HEPA-filter vacuums, and nonammoniated glass cleaners. They used nontoxic floor strippers, adopted exact-measure dispensers for cleaning products, installed nonaerosol dispensers for restroom soap, and replaced toweling with unbleached brown paper.Products and technologies like these improve indoor air quality, reduce waste, and minimize toxins and carcinogens.By 2005, Luke said, the Divinity School had reduced the number of its cleaning chemicals from 40 to four, and the FMO’s Green Cleaning Service was ready to roll out University-wide.He credited the Harvard Green Campus Initiative with co-developing the program. The University’s sustainability principles are important, said Luke, but the HGCI “creates excitement around participation.”Low-tech and low-toxicity brands are his staff’s “default products,” he said, and comprise 75 percent of all the general-purpose, glass, and floor cleaners used. These safe, multiple-use products are certified by Green Seal, a nonprofit organization that identifies environmentally friendly cleaners.Green products are gradually edging out their aggressively chemical counterparts, said Luke. “We’re continually trying to look at what’s out there, to stay on the cutting edge.”— Corydon Ireland
By rights, I should be analysing parliament’s legislative programme this week. Five weeks after a general election, you would expect to be reading about the latest crop of government bills. Except that there aren’t really any. Yes, there’s an Academies Bill, which will allow all maintained schools to apply for academy status before the new intake in September. That’s clearly urgent. There’s also a remarkably forthright Identity Documents Bill (‘the secretary of state must ensure that all the information recorded in the National Identity Register is destroyed’). That’s expected to save a lot of money. For everything else, we need to look back at the Queen’s speech, amplifying the coalition programme for government (now online with readers’ comments). But what’s missing is the detail. Ministers are declining in-depth interviews while feeding titbits to the Sunday papers. They are padding out the parliamentary timetable rather than putting policies to the electorate. That’s not, I believe, because they want to keep their plans secret. It’s partly because everything important must be agreed by coalition partners with different philosophies. But it’s mainly because ministers don’t know what they can afford to do until their departmental budgets have been finalised through what is being termed the ‘star chamber’. In the meantime, we have to fall back on vague pledges, such as ‘we will extend anonymity in rape cases to defendants’. You can see just how ill thought out they are from the prime minister’s response to a question from Harriet Harman last week. David Cameron recalled serving on a Labour-dominated select committee that had recommended anonymity for defendants, but only between arrest and charge. This, he thought, would be a good way forward. But, as the Home Affairs Committee said in 2003, pre-charge anonymity would offer only limited protection to defendants. In many cases, the reform would make no difference: there might be only a few hours between arrest and charge – perhaps just a few minutes. It might help those who are arrested, released and then kept waiting for several weeks before being told they will not be charged. But if the police cannot name suspected rapists or publish their pictures, it will be harder to catch them in the first place. Another commitment that will require a great deal more thought is the coalition’s promise to ‘review libel laws to protect freedom of speech’. This sounds like a promise to narrow the scope of defamation or increase the available defences. But we have no idea where the balance is to be struck. In the meantime, the best one can do is to examine the private member’s bill published last month by Lord Lester QC. The human rights specialist, who moved from Labour to the Social Democratic Party when it was founded nearly 30 years ago, now finds himself a backbench member of the Tory-led coalition. But that has not prevented him from publishing his own plans for reform. Under the Lester bill, there would be a statutory defence of ‘responsible publication on matters of public interest’, based on principles established by the Reynolds case in 1999. There would also be statutory definitions of two other defences: fair comment – to be known in future as ‘honest opinion’ – and justification, which would be renamed the ‘defence of truth’. What’s curious is that the bill seems to preserve the existing common law defences – albeit under new names – although Lester’s intention was clearly to sweep away some of the more arcane presumptions and fictions that make libel so hard to understand. Another striking thing about his defamation bill is that it would retain the rule under which it is for the defendant to prove the truth of what he asserts. Many critics have argued over the years that it should be for claimants to prove that allegations against them are false. On the other hand, the Lester bill would normally require claimants to show that a publication has caused substantial harm to their reputation – or is likely to. Amber Melville-Brown, a solicitor with Withers specialising in reputation management, suggests that claimants might have to go round looking for people who think less of them in order to meet this requirement. But Heather Rogers QC, one of the libel specialists who advised Lester on his bill, believes it clarifies the law while striking a fair balance between free expression and protecting reputation. ‘This is not a licence to libel or a defendant’s charter,’ she adds. Another area of civil liberties in which the government has promised reform is surveillance: ‘We will further regulate CCTV,’ it says, and ‘introduce safeguards against the misuse of anti-terrorism legislation’. Where does that leave the Guardian’s disclosure at the weekend that counter-terrorism funding has been used to set up a network of cameras that will track the movements of people and vehicles in two predominantly Muslim areas of Birmingham? The government’s answer, given in parliament last week by Lady Neville-Jones, is that the Home Office will be ‘considering whether more needs to be done to strengthen controls and safeguards’ relating to the use of automatic number plate recognition technology. This needed to be ‘proportionate in order to command public confidence’, she added, telling us nothing about where the balance is to be struck between protecting the public and upholding civil liberties. That balance was emphasised by senior police officers when I interviewed them for BBC Radio 4 about street surveillance. Asking the questions seemed preferable to being searched by officers under anti-terrorism powers. You can hear how close I came to that on this week’s Law in Action (broadcast tonight at 8pm).