The Resource Efficiency Program (REP) is a peer education program based in Harvard's undergraduate Houses and Dorms. REP representatives, Reps for short, educate their peers on issues such as energy, waste, water, food, and more through fun, personal, community-building events, competitions, and campaigns.
Here are a few personal accounts from current Reps, explaining why they are involved.
David Bicknell, Eliot House, College '15
When I first came to Harvard, I quickly learned that life in Cambridge and life in my hometown of Boca Raton, Florida were polar opposites. Having grown up within five miles of the beach, moving to the city of Cambridge was the start of an eye-opening journey. Although I have learned about and engaged with an incredible number of issues regarding sustainability and environmental efficiency at Harvard University and in the city of Boston through the REP Program, my concern for our environment started when I was in Florida.
When I was younger, I spent many summers at the Environmental Camp at Gumbo Limbo Nature Center and truly believe this experience inspired my love for our coastal and marine ecosystems. At these camps, I was able to witness the damage human activity has caused these ecosystems and learned how to prevent them from happening again. Later on, when I began fishing, free diving, kayaking, and attending beach clean-ups, my love for marine life and the ocean grew even stronger. Never again did I want to see a Pelican suffer from fishing line wounds embedded in its flesh. Never again did I want to see a sea turtle hatchling mistakenly crawl towards car headlights to the road instead of the moon’s light to the ocean. Never again did I want to see aluminum cans and debris clutter and destroy our precious reefs. Never again did I want to see plastic bags or plastic can-rings deform and kill our marine life. Never again did I want to know our coastal and marine ecosystems were suffering because of us. Never again.
Never again did I want to see plastic bags or plastic can-rings deform and kill our marine life. Never again did I want to know our coastal and marine ecosystems were suffering because of us. Never again.
Alex Hem, Leverett House, College '16
When I first saw the email from Leverett's previous Reps about a position that offered experience with sustainability, deep interaction with House-life, and a chance to meet like-minded students, I couldn't believe it was real! What better opportunity could exist for a rising sophomore and aspiring Environmental Science and Public Policy concentrator? After having been a Rep for two years, I can say that among all that REP has offered me, two things stand out: first, the opportunity to meet countless Harvard students I otherwise might not have, and secondly, to engage with those students, whether they be environmentalists themselves or whether they have never recycled in their lives, in meaningful conversations about what it means to live sustainably. That is what makes REP special to me.
Alex Foote, Lowell House, College '15
Two summers ago, I became an environmentalist. I sat in a packed car of teenagers riding from Xining, a large city in Western China, to the grasslands near Qinghai Lake on the Tibetan Plateau. I opened my eyes after a nap and gasped. To my right was the vast turquoise expanse of the Qinghai Lake. To my left were miles of velvety green hills and pastures. The sky was a piercing blue, and the plump white clouds seemed close enough to touch. I had never seen any place so pure and vibrant. Thinking of the smoggy, polluted cities I had been to before, I immediately thought, “Wow, if we let this gorgeous place degrade, our planet is in big trouble.”
That summer I interned with a non-profit for Tibetan communities, the theme of the group’s academic camp that year was environmental sustainability. As soon as we found out we would be in the grasslands, four hours from the nearest city, we realized we needed to reconstruct our daily activities and behaviors since the Tibetan plateau is one of the most fragile ecosystems on the planet. Each bottle of shampoo, toothpaste, and lotion we brought had to be environmentally friendly. We created a strict shower schedule (once or twice a week) to conserve water. And we bought reusable bowls, chopsticks, mugs, and water bottles so that students and volunteers would not throw anything away. One of the projects a fellow volunteer initiated even involved creating sustainable feminine products.
One of the first science classes of the camp taught about the importance of recycling and using reusable water bottles instead of plastic ones. When we went to the beach and collected armfuls of debris left behind by tourists, everyone realized the consequences of our actions. For the rest of the summer, I heard students discouraging their fellow classmates from buying water bottles in the nearby convenience shop. I realized the importance of making the connection between actions and their consequences.
I also learned of how actions made by gas guzzling humans thousands of miles away were affecting people who had no carbon footprints at all. Climate change is melting the icecaps in the mountaintops of the plateau. I wanted to find ways for us, as big consumers of energy, to realize the consequences of our practices and to improve our behaviors. This was why I joined REP. Although it is my first (and last!) semester with REP, I have already learned a lot about recycling processes and energy consumption. I hope to return to the plateau someday, and I hope that its beauty and ecological vibrancy will not have degraded.
Fiona Davis, Freshman Yard Rep, College '18
Soon after I joined the Cross Country team in the fall, three of my teammates began telling me about their jobs as Reps. I had never been a part of my school’s green teem or any other organizations for sustainability before, but I decided to give REP a try a with the encouragement of my teammates. I soon learned why so many runners are attracted to REP and why I enjoy being a Freshman Rep. REP combines two of the aspects I love most about running: the environment and teamwork. My identity as a runner carries over into my daily life, and working as a Rep is a way I can work to preserve the environment that is so important to me as a runner, and to work with other self-motivated students in a group setting.
REP combines two of the aspects I love most about running: the environment and teamwork.
Emma Payne, River East REP Captain, College '16
One environmental interest of mine is the elimination of Styrofoam—in the form of take-out containers and cups—from our restaurants and coffee shops. I first developed this interest in the spring of 2010, when I spent a semester on the small island of Eleuthera in The Bahamas, as a student at The Island School. There, living in a small community of 48 students and a handful of amazing teachers, the waste we generated was glaringly obvious. Getting rid of it meant shipping it off the island, where it would likely be added to one of the many floating “trash islands.” We did our best to minimize this waste, and we aimed to reuse much of this by incorporating it into art pieces that decorated our small campus. We then sorted the remaining waste into a number of different categories and types of plastic to be recycled.
The most difficult category, however, was Styrofoam. This substance is environmentally harmful even in its production, as it is made of petroleum, which is a non-renewable and polluting resource. Further, it can’t be recycled, except in certain cases where it can be turned into packing peanuts (which then lead to the same set of problems all over again). Additionally, Styrofoam takes 500 years to break down, during which time it often ends up in the ocean, harming marine life and decreasing the yields of fisheries. There are also numerous health hazards associated with Styrofoam, as it contains Benzene and Styrene. These chemicals have been linked to cancer and nervous system problems, and when Styrofoam is burned, these toxic chemicals are released into the air and can be inhaled by nearby residents.
By helping to alter the day-to-day behaviors of my peers toward more sustainable practices, I hope to have a lasting impact.
Luckily, in my experience it seems that many local restaurants have shifted their take-out containers away from Styrofoam. However, there is still significant room for improvement, as these white clamshells continue to persist in many locations. This issue is also especially pressing in terms of coffee cups. One major example is the Styrofoam cup used by Dunkin Donuts, which has several thousand locations in 36 U.S. states and several more thousand international locations that are spread over 32 countries.
By working as a Rep, I’m doing a small part to spread the word about this issue and many others. By helping to alter the day-to-day behaviors of my peers toward more sustainable practices, I hope to have a lasting impact.
Michelle Chang, Dunster House, College '15
As a current senior in the middle of thesis writing, it seems that these days my thesis is all I can talk about (I bring it up all the time, can you tell?)—but only because I feel strongly about my work. I am writing about an eco-development in south London, and one of the things I loved from my research interviews was getting to see how many ambitious and innovative thinkers have approached the paradox of sustainability within a culture of ambivalence and an irreverence for calls to action. One ideology I heard in my interviews stood out to me in particular as being very representative of the REP approach: sustainability, not as a series of authoritarian dictates, but as a way of making sustainable alternatives more affordable, more convenient, more attractive, and ultimately, more preferable to the conventional.
It’s not easy to stand in front of your peers and preach a laundry list of their environmental errors: “you’re doing A, B, and C wrong,” before presenting a didactic lesson in how to become a better person: “instead, you should be doing X, Y, and Z”— it’s also not easy to hear. Making the alternative easier means instead of telling people they’re awful for taking the dishes out of the dining halls and demanding they return them, REP places boxes for the dish return right outside their doors so that they can return their dishes without having to do any of the work. Making the alternative easier means instead of placing recycling bins far away from trash cans, REP makes sure they’re not only present, but clearly labeled, and even individually distributed to every single student’s dorm room. Making the alternative easier is through study breaks with the added bonus of cookies. Making the alternative easier is presenting a friendly face to ask all the “dumb” questions to. That’s what I think makes REP so special.