What can college freshmen do to reduce energy use and combat climate change? The answer is quite a lot, starting right here on campus.

At Harvard, students often take initiative to solve problems that they observe. And for a group of freshmen from the class of 2021, that meant looking implementing a variety of ideas about how to make small improvements to sustainability here at Harvard.

Green '21 is a student group dedicated to helping Harvard do its part to protect the planet and the environment. Inspired by the principle that small actions can lead to greater impacts, the group brainstormed methods to help “green” the campus. Previous year’s projects include implementing composting in the freshmen dorms and launching a campaign to promote use of tap water. This year the group was initially overwhelmed with a plethora of ideas from installing solar charging stations to holding “Meatless Mondays” in Annenberg.

Green '21 meets to discuss sustainability projects across campus.Green '21 meets to discuss sustainability projects across campus.

Ultimately we settled on a few main initiatives. The first was improving access to drinking water. Although members of the group invariably drank from reusable water bottles, we found that our friends sometimes resorted to environmentally damaging plastic water bottles, often out of sheer convenience, to avoid a several minute trip to a filling station. To figure out what motivated plastic water bottle use, the team designed and administered a short survey that garnered responses from more than 10% of the freshmen class. Analyzing the data, we found certain dorms where filling stations were absent or underutilized. Strategic locations for new filling stations were identified. With funding from Faculty of Arts and Science’s Office of Physical Resources and Planning, we were able to install two new filling stations in freshman dorms, with more to come this summer. Hopefully these stations will help the student body to transition away from plastic bottle use.

With funding from Faculty of Arts and Science’s Office of Physical Resources and Planning, we were able to install two new filling stations in freshman dorms, with more to come this summer.

Our second main initiative centered around reducing paper towel waste in hallway bathrooms in freshmen dorms. Seeing that paper towels are entirely compostable and typically the only waste product to come out of dorm bathrooms, we realized that putting compost bins, in addition to trash cans, in the bathrooms would be a simple way to make a large impact on waste reduction. We set this up in Greenough Hall, and took it even further by installing two hand dryers in that dorm’s bathrooms, in order to have an even bigger impact on reducing paper waste.

Throughout this year, the members of Green ‘21 experienced the full lifecycle of a sustainability project, from brainstorming ideas, to deciding on goals, to the implementation of those goals. We began the year by brainstorming many possible projects in a wide range of environmental topics, with each one just as exciting as the next; the most difficult part of this process may, in fact, have been honing down our many ideas into just a few which we could pursue. Once we did, though, we made our plans, and then looked to several sources for potential funding, using our one unsuccessful application to make the next even better.

 

 

“I live in a rural mountain town, and I get to ski and hike and appreciate one of the most gorgeous places on the planets every day in my backyard. Being around that, it’s hard not to care around the planet. You see this beauty, you want everyone to see this beauty, and you recognize it is being encroached upon.⠀ ⠀ In my town two years ago, we had so little snow I had to travel every single day to ski, and last year we had eight hundred inches. It’s these crazy changes in weather patterns that make me realize in my own personal life this isn’t sustainable.” - Sinead, Class of 2021⠀ ⠀ Green ‘21 is a group of first-year students who work to make #Harvard more sustainable by focusing on projects of their choosing and partnering with staff and faculty to make changes to our campus. ⠀⠀ ⠀⠀ Follow @harvard_admissions for more perspectives and experiences from Sinead, and others at Harvard. ⠀⠀ ⠀⠀ #GreenHarvard #DiscoverHarvard #PictureHarvard⠀⠀ #Harvard #Sustainability #ClimateChange #ClimateAction

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View more profiles of Green '21 members

Throughout this year, the members of Green ‘21 experienced the full lifecycle of a sustainability project, from brainstorming ideas, to deciding on goals, to the implementation of those goals.  

Implementing our projects was a lesson in accountability (to the group itself, to the sponsors of our grants, and to the timelines we set for each project stage). Given the scale of our projects, we learned the importance of breaking up a large goal into smaller pieces and taking those one step at a time. Weekly meetings were the driving force throughout the process, during which we recapped what had gone on so far, introduced new action items, and learned important information about our progress and logistics. With two huge projects under our belts, we all agree that we’ve ended the year empowered to take on even more environmental issues, at Harvard and beyond.

With two huge projects under our belts, we all agree that we’ve ended the year empowered to take on even more environmental issues, at Harvard and beyond.