It’s hard to believe it’s been 10 years since the Resource Efficiency Program (REP) was founded by College students John Hsu ’03, Rachelle Gould ’03, and Wendy Liu ’03. Seeing a need to raise students’ environmental awareness, the students approached the FAS Office of Physical Resources, Harvard’s Green Campus Initiative (now the Office for Sustainability), University Operations Services, and Environmental Action Committee and advocated for creation of Harvard’s first peer-to-peer education program. The four groups pulled together resources to fund two program captains and fifteen student interns for the Houses and dorms. And so REP was born in the Fall of 2002.
We wanted to steer away from gloom and doom and didn’t want to talk at students. Instead, we were striving to create a peer-to-peer program that would make people feel part of a larger social community.
Each generation of REPs had added their unique touches to the program, reshaping campaigns based on lessons learned, student feedback, and REPs’ own ideas. However, the Program’s key premise - “implementing dorm-based ecological education programs and energy-efficiency and waste recycling measures, targeting all 6600 undergraduate students” --never changed, nor did REP’s initial vision to make environmental efforts fun, engaging and personal. Regarding the original vision for the Program, Rachel Gould noted, “we wanted to steer away from gloom and doom and didn’t want to talk at students. Instead, we were striving to create a peer-to-peer program that would make people feel part of a larger social community.”
Creative, Fun Outreach Campaigns Get Results
In its first six months, REP achieved a 26% reduction in recycling rates in the dorms, which saved the FAS $50,000 in annual trash services. The increase resulted from the distribution of new recycling receptacles in all rooms, as well as awareness campaigns such as a waste audit and the visually-striking “Mt. Trashmore.” That first heap of 400 bags of trash, the equivalent to half a week’s trash from Harvard Yard strategically placed in Harvard’s highest traffic area, became a dramatic illustration of the need for continued waste reduction efforts. It also embodied the spirit of REP – fun, engaging, tangible, innovative, and collaborative, and, of course, down-to-earth.
These first REPs also kept busy running education campaigns about how to use radiator thermostats, distributing 1000 common room light-switch turn-off stickers, upgrading washers to more efficient machines, and running ice cream study breaks to educate students about a wide range of issues from energy efficiency to biodiversity. In addition, they got 500 students to make dorm specific commitments, including a pledge to “turn off my computer before I go to bed...every night!” This REP pledge served as a precursor to the Harvard-wide annual Pledge campaign.
Over time, REP has expanded its scope to include additional College-wide initiatives, such as CERtoon (Computer Energy Reduction cartoons, an annual environmental art contest) and Green Cup, an inter-house competition that was launched by the FAS in 1990. Through such initiatives, REP has scored many environmental victories from greatly reducing junk mail distributions in the Houses to collaborating with the College’s Committee on House Life to have them revise all Room Party Registration forms to require party hosts to recycle cans, bottles, and paper.
In 2009, REP launched Green’13, a Freshmen engagement program. The program, now in its fourth iteration with Green ’16, proved to be hugely successful, as evident by the 1,200 freshmen who the Freshmen Green Fair annually in Annenberg Hall . The group has been awarded an average of three grant per year through both the Office of Sustainability and FAS Facilities to pursue environmental projects of their choice. Past projects include a Turn off the Lights competition pilot in Holworthy Hall and a reusable party kit at Leverett House.
Over the years, REPs have come up with many House-specific creative ideas, from an entryway compost program at Adams to reusable party kit at Leverett, to food waste-reducing Clean Plate Club, to name just a few. Perhaps one of the funniest and most original ideas originated in Leverett, where Emily Haas’s ’05 roommates hung up their most interesting underwear in the dining hall to promote line drying!
Inspiring the Next Generation of Environmental Leaders
75% felt that REP influenced their career choices.
The staff at the FAS Green Program has been fortunate to work with an amazing group of students over the years, whose passion and creativity has remained the core of the program and made our efforts so effective. Not surprisingly, we were curious to see what our REP alums have been up to and what their favorite memories of the Program are. Earlier this summer, we sent out a survey to over 100 alums and heard back from more than 40. Their diverse careers range from PhD programs and engineering and clean tech companies to New York Times writer and Vice President for Teach for America. Half of them still work on environmental issues as part of their job responsibilities. Many have remained personally involved with the environment and advocate with friends and family. 75% felt that REP influenced their career choices.
As for favorite memories, the first generation of REP thinks fondly of late night brainstorms in dining halls and still remembers the feeling of empowerment that came from creating a new and exciting program. The memories of later generations, who followed the annual calendar composed by the early REP program, are more project-based. The dirtier and more hands-on the project, the more they enjoyed it. Mt. Trashmore and waste audits were by far the most popular, followed by Green Cup, Earth Day activities, and CERtoon. Above all, the most prevalent themes that emerged from our alums’ responses was the one of advocacy, interacting with housemates, personal connections, as well as management and leadership experience. Not only does REP affect the environmental performance of our campus and change students’ behaviors , but also, and perhaps most importantly, it shapes the experiences of future leaders in the industry, research, government, and non profit sectors and carries REP’s core values well beyond Harvard gates.
The FAS Green Program, Office for Sustainability and current REPs would like to extend a heartfelt thank you to all the students who have been involved in the program over the years, to our REP coordinators whose energy and enthusiasm have inspired both students and staff alike, and to all the administrators who have been part of the REP Steering Group and whose advice has guided us since the program’s inception.