Going into Harvard, I knew I wanted to join a sustainability group. A lot of environmental advocacy is decoding bureaucracy (what else is new) and negotiating with an apathetic administration. The Harvard Resource Efficiency Program (REP) is a model exception. Kelsey Grab, our supervisor, serves as a liaison between the Office for Sustainability administrators and the students’ voices. With REP’s partnerships, we circumvent insurmountable stacks of paperwork and hours lost on hold, and look forward to progress every day. You will always have your foot in the door. Harvard is a leader among universities in going green. Within the last few years, we reduced our overall greenhouse gas emissions by more than 20% from a 2006 baseline inclusive of expansion. I had heard of REP prior to joining as REP stickers were plastered across showers, above bathroom sinks, and over light switches as a reminder to conserve energy. But after joining, I realized that the organization, directly backed by the Harvard Office for Sustainability, truly gave students real opportunities to initiate change.

Before going on, I want to lay down some facts. REP is a student sustainability group comprised of a representative from every house and three freshmen representatives to cover the Yard. Our full name is the Resource Efficiency Program and as representatives, we are “REP reps”. Contrary to popular belief, REP was not named for us to have cute introductions, but rather to be all-inclusive. The word “environmentalist” has a whole spectrum of connotations stretched by the media. But who, no matter your political beliefs or associations, wouldn’t stand for the efficient usage of resources?

For me, it all started with the bottle filling station I discovered on the first floor of Thayer Hall during move-in day. Its vertical flow design made it easier to aim into the top of a water bottle, encouraging the practice so much so that the fountain had already prevented the use of 46,105 plastic bottles before the year had even begun. Every time I walked across the Thayer hallway, I paused to stare. But before REP, all it was nothing more than a fascination.

Forty-six thousand one hundred five seems to be an oddly specific number. Truth be told, it wasn’t one that I memorized. Instead, I pulled it from my application to become a REP freshmen representative at the very beginning of the year. Since, my involvement with water conservation has taken off as REP provides the platform to initiate real change. Partnering with Green ’18, we handed out over a thousand reusable mugs (shown below) to reach every student in the freshman class, enabling them to make the most of the bottle filling stations across campus.

We broadcast water reduction tips on Annenberg Dining Hall table tents and hand out free shower timers to students. In addition to water related initiatives, I have also conducted a waste audit in Allston, raised awareness for and participate daily in the Clean Plate Club (a campaign to reduce food waste), organized themed study breaks (October was Vampire Energy) in Annenberg and in entryways, monitored campus compost bins, hosted a weatherizing launch party for Canaday, met the Indian Minister of Forestry and UN Committee Advisor Jairam Ramesh, and countless more.

Every spring, each REP representative receives the opportunity to pursue an independent project. I chose to raise awareness of these bottle filling stations that first attracted my attention when arriving at Harvard.

QUESTION: How many bottle filling stations around the yard can you list?

Had I not spoken to YardOps directly, I would only know of two: one in Thayer and the other in Sever Hall (which I discovered on accident while looking for the bathroom). While the bottle filling station in Thayer is put to great use, the fountain in Sever is significantly less frequented. Tucked away in the basement corner, the Sever station is much less visible. My goal is to create maps that reveal the location of not just these two, but the five bottle filling stations across the Yard. I plan to visit all of the stations once a week to record the number of plastic water bottles saved as a measure of usage, and will monitor the Thayer fountain every day. Ideally, usage should increase across the map now that students are aware of all the options.

I once just prized the convenience of a bottle filling station (the water is better for you too as it is pre-filtered and has less carbon residue). The Harvard Office for Sustainability is constantly helping the environment by working with partners like the Undergraduate Council, the Environmental Action Committee, and the FAS Operations team to install new fountains and provide other resources. REP gives me the platform to be able to make the most of these resources by contributing student input to make bottle filling stations more public and accessible. 

Christine Zhang, College '18, is a REP freshman representative and resides in Thayer.