What would excite you to recycle more? Would competing against other offices do it? Or maybe just the opportunity to challenge your coworkers? Or perhaps a giant trophy? For the employees of 1414 Mass Ave, they had all three driving them.

The FAS Green Program just completed its first recycling competition, pitting the Offices of FAS Finance, FAS Human Resources (HR), Harvard Information Technology (IT) and the FAS Research Administrative Services (RAS) against each other.

Twice a week, an intern from the FAS Green Program would randomly audit the offices, checking the common area trash and recycling bins, as well as a few random desk side bins. After she was finished, each bin would be assigned a letter grade depending on how much of the waste was correctly sorted. For example, if two of the ten items in the trash should have been recycled, the bin would probably earn a B. At the end of each audit, all the scores for that office were averaged together to give the floor’s score for that day, and then posted on a centrally located score board.

This competition was spurred by the Eco Citizens at 1414 Mass Ave. Elizabeth Whitley at Finance, Audrey Harmon at HR, and John Courville at IT reached out to the FAS Green Program to come up with fun ways to engage their coworkers, and thus the competition was born. It was such an immediate success that a few days into the competition, Dean Fitzgerald reached out to add RAS to the competition.

The Eco Citizens went the extra mile to help their offices win. John added a new battery recycling bin and prepped his coworkers; Elizabeth labeled everyone’s personal bins with recycling instructions, and Audrey created a visual display, taping recyclable items to the common area bins. In RAS, Marva Bernard-Sanders took up the mantel, covering the recycling bins in reminder sticky notes, and getting personal bins for all the staff that didn’t have any.

Their efforts paid off. Across the board, recycling rates improved tremendously amongst all staff. During the first audit, paper coffee cups could be found in almost every trash bin on every floor; by the last audit, there was only one paper cup for the whole building. Staff enthusiasm for the competition was palpable, with many staff taking the time to show off the grades their bins received, taping results to their door or a wall.

To get more concrete evidence of improvement, Harvard Recycling and the building manager took a random sampling of the building’s trash before the competition to see, by weight, what percentage could have been recycled. With 36% of the trash being recyclable, there was a lot of room for improvement.  Now that the competition is over, Harvard Recycling will be doing a similar study to see how much that percentage has improved.

After three weeks of all floors giving it their all, Human Resources emerged victorious, barely beating out its competitors.  Besides bragging rights and eternal glory, they will be receiving a trophy made out of recycled material, constructed by one of our student interns, which will presented at an upcoming staff meeting.