The 10-year anniversary of the Harvard Resource Efficiency Program has made REP seniors start reminiscing. As REP veterans, Parijat, Isabella, and Annie have thought back to their time together as freshmen Yard representatives for REP, and how far they have come – just as REP has grown over the past decade. They began as bright-eyed, naïve freshman, eager to make a change at Harvard, a much bigger community than we had ever been a part of in high school. It would be easy, they thought, to make every one of their 1,600 classmates change their behavior – and cumulatively, the difference they could make would be huge.
So they began with what they thought was a relatively benign campaign – Trayless Tuesdays. The execution was simple: convince every one of the roughly 900 students eating in Annenberg for breakfast to eat without a tray, dispose of their food waste in a plastic container, and place their dishware as carefully as possible into pre-organized bins. But soon, as the 10 am class time neared and the line for the dish return snaked around the wall, the dishes piled faster in their containers than they could move them, and as students began to grumble about wasting time, they couldn’t help but question our campaign. Their quest to make students aware of the totality of food waste accumulated during one meal at breakfast (an astounding amount), as well as reduce the resources invested in washing our trays, was obscured by concerns about making it to class on time. Perhaps, they reasoned, there were less drastic but equally effective measures to make our peers think and act on their environmental impact at Harvard.
Understanding the "Why" and "How"
First as Yard Captain, and then as Captain of the Quad REPs the past two years, Annie has thought long and hard about what makes campaigns effective – and what makes the most lasting impact on the Harvard community. The longest lasting changes have been seen when we were able to help our fellow students understand the ‘why’ and the ‘how’ of every campaign – why does it make a difference to recycle, and how do I go about doing that? REP’s job is twofold: to provide the tangible (reusable mugs, enough recycling bins, educational materials) as well as foster the intangible (changing our peers’ mentalities for the rest of their lives). The REP job is never done. As our status as environmental citizens changes every day, so does our role as Eco-reps. It is up to the members of REP to communicate the immediate importance of our actions as Harvard students, as well as the long-term impacts of living with an environmental mentality.
Make it Clear and Straightforward
Parijat entered sophomore year as Mather House REP more aware of the realities of working on Harvard’s campus. While such experiences certainly were disappointments to what was an otherwise great year working with REP and the freshman class of 2013, she gained a better sense of what projects would be most successful and how to market REP initiatives to get the most student participation. From our trayless experiment in Annenberg, it became obvious to me that students would be most likely to undertake sustainable behaviors if what we asked for was straightforward and the reasoning behind it was clear. In Mather, as part of the REP food waste campaign, I sought to apply this wisdom. In all my posters and emails to the house about reducing food waste, I sought keep my message simple, and always explain the rationale for why these actions mattered. That year, we had a pretty impressive reduction in food waste relative to all the houses, and this eventually factored into Mather’s Green Cup victory!
A Portal to a New Way of Thinking
For Isabella, REP has presented an incredible opportunity to funnel her passion for sustainability into active engagement on campus. She has found it incredibly rewarding to see Harvard’s commitment to going green, both through REP and the recent Sustainability Impact Report, and is confident that the University will continue to evaluate how it can improve upon its record of sustainability. Students are and always will be busy, but the problems of resource scarcity are critical and demand both education and attention. Isabella believes that REP can act as a portal to a new way of thinking and a new mode of awareness. For her, Cabot’s “Stop the Grill Orders Left Behind” Initiative to reduce food waste was a great example of reminding students that they can be sustainable even when they might least expect it. It’s so easy not to think about sustainability or resource waste when you’re digging into your lunch on a daily basis, and REP’s dream is that we can empower everyone to be a little more mindful throughout their daily activities.