As the Assistant Head of Circulation Division, Thomas Bahr’s official duties don’t include contributing to Harvard College Library’s sustainability efforts, but he has emerged as an environmental inspiration at the library. Besides bicycling to and from work in all but the most inclement weather, Bahr has reduced the use of paper and plastic cups in the Widener café by urging Circulation staff to bring reusable water bottles to work, encouraged staff to recycle the plastic bags used to protect books on rainy days, supports increased recycling among staff – sometimes by sorting through trash bins for recyclable paper – and serves on the HCL Green Team.
Bahr’s commitment to sustainable practices doesn’t end at work, though. At home, his dedication to recycling is even clearer. Most weeks, he said, his recycling bin contains more items than his trash barrel. He also keeps a small composting pile in his backyard, uses a manual lawnmower, and has planted a number of trees.
In explaining his dedication to sustainable practices, Bahr points to his childhood growing up in East Berlin.
“It might be because the Germans are so interested in efficiency,” he said. “But it’s also that waste is very unpopular in the culture, because people remember the hard times. I remember my grandmother, who spent much of her life in wartime, whether it was the first or Second World War – she was absolutely unable to throw away any kind of food. For many families in northern or Eastern Europe, those experiences still persist, so people learned to make do with limited means, which promotes creativity in reusing or recycling items.”
That same creativity is now being employed by staff throughout Harvard to make contributions both large and small toward the university’s sustainability goals, Bahr said. The creation of dozens of Green Teams across Harvard has helped to raise awareness of steps staff, faculty and students can take to become more environmentally friendly.
“That kind of positive message is very important, because it causes people to begin thinking about these kinds of things,” he said. “Once people begin thinking about it, they begin taking those steps. I think Harvard is making a strong effort to support that, which I think is great.”