Campus & Community

Composting program grows in the Yard

4 min read

Class of ’18 inherits large-scale effort in dorm-wide sustainability initiative

Like the freshmen before them, the Class of 2018 will make Harvard Yard another shade greener.

Expanding on efforts to create a more sustainable campus, the College and the Freshman Dean’s Office, in collaboration with the Faculty of Arts and Sciences’ (FAS) Green Program and the Office for Sustainability (OFS), are implementing composting in all freshman dormitories. The waste-reduction program started last year with just two of the dormitories; this year, it will serve all 17 of them — and their nearly 1,800 residents. The program aims to make the Yard a model space for successful sustainability initiatives.

“The expansion of composting to all freshman dorms is a tangible example of how students are encouraged to come up with creative ideas that can transform college life for the better — in this case reducing our collective environmental impact,” said Jasmine Waddell, resident dean of freshmen, Elm Yard. “Helping students access the tools to live more sustainably at Harvard is one of our core priorities and we hope they’ll take those tools with them in the classroom to explore the next generation of solutions that will lead to a healthier planet.”

The drive for full-scale residential composting was kicked off last year by Green ’17, a group of environmentally minded members of that year’s class. The group, led by Cliff Goertemiller ’17, ran a composting pilot last spring in Greenough and Mower halls, with members personally transporting compost from the dorms to the dining halls three times a week.

“One of the reasons this program is so exciting to me is because it is a uniquely collaborative effort between a wide range of people to support a student-led initiative,” said Kelsey Grab, residential coordinator for the undergraduate Resource Efficiency Program (REP) and Green Teen program adviser. “We are able to complete such a large-scale project only with the support and counsel of many departments and leaders on campus. Additionally, educating our students and staff about compost is an incredible opportunity to grow as a campus committed to sustainability.”

For the first time, freshmen were offered a five-minute online crash course in sustainability called GreenEdu.

Goertemiller and his Green ’17 peers, who continue to manage the program, have forged strong partnerships with the FAS Office of Physical Resources & Planning, the Harvard recycling program, and the Freshman Dean’s Office to make the initiative a success. Before students arrived on campus Monday, the project team deployed more than 600 compost barrels and smaller bins to sit alongside recycling and trash barrels.

“Although we are one of the first campuses to have residential composting programs, we are not the only ones who see that compost is necessary,” said Grab. “Compost will cut back on our need for landfill space, save money, and divert waste in a positive way. On campus, our compost is brought to a local farm that produces some of Harvard’s food and is also used as fertilizer for our soil. The closed loop is not only sustainable, but incredibly beneficial to our community.”

This year, for the first time, freshmen were offered a five-minute online crash course in sustainability called GreenEdu, an education campaign conceived and created by Goertemiller, REP, and OFS. The tutorial targets the actions that most effectively contribute to living sustainably at Harvard. The campaign includes an interactive quiz, “Cliff’s Tips” videos, and regular postings to the Class of 2018 Facebook page to educate freshmen on key behaviors for sustainable dorm living, including reducing hot water use and minimizing food waste.

Additional activities include Green ’18, a student-action think tank (originally created by students) that recruits incoming freshmen interested in environmental issues to brainstorm creative solutions to sustainability challenges on campus.

Freshmen will also find that the first “Brain Break” of the year will be sustainability-focused. As in the past six years, the more than 1,400 students attending will receive a free, reusable mug after signing a pledge to use it to reduce waste on campus. The fair includes presentations and information tables from a range of 20 environmental groups and departments.

Harvard’s sustainability activities aren’t limited to freshmen. More than 3,000 reusable mugs and water bottles and over 2,000 energy-efficient LED bulbs are being distributed across campus. Every tenant in Harvard University Housing (HUH) receives a sustainability welcome bag. The 1,400 incoming graduate students at Harvard Kennedy School, Harvard Business School, and Harvard Law School (HLS) will receive sustainability tips and information in their official welcome packets.

To ensure that sustainability programs continue beyond orientation, proctors and RA’s at the College, HUH, and HLS receive individualized sustainability training to help them integrate sustainability into their programming throughout the year.