“Green living” comes naturally to Theodora Mautz ’19. She grew up in Portland, Ore., where her father composted the family’s food scraps to raise tomatoes in their backyard garden.
To stay connected with environmental work, Mautz decided to get involved with sustainability on campus and joined one of Harvard’s oldest and most established sustainability initiatives, the Undergraduate Resource Efficiency Program (REP).
REP employs approximately 19 students: one for each of the 12 Houses, three for the Yard, and four captains for the Yard and neighborhoods. According to its website, REP reps “educate their peers on issues such as energy, waste, water, food, and more through fun, personal, community-building events, competitions, and campaigns.” Building on REP’s success, graduate students are also engaged in peer-to-peer outreach programs at Harvard Business School, Harvard Law School, and Harvard University Housing.
Since June 2014 Kelsey Grab has overseen REP as the residential program coordinator for the FAS Green Program at the Office for Sustainability (OFS). REP facilitates campaigns such as waste audits and the Green Cup competition, in which Houses vie to reduce energy and conserve the most resources.
But it is Green ’19 that has gained Mautz’s attention. The Class-specific campaign aims to implement sustainability programming in the Yard.
“[Freshman year] is the time when everything is new and we’re all eating and living together, so it’s the perfect time to form good habits,” she said. “If we can form environmentally conscious habits now, hopefully it will stay with us for the next three years and beyond.” For Green ’17, for example, the Class campaign made such steps as securing composting in freshmen dorms.
No longer a freshman but still passionate about resource efficiency is Mary Jiang ’17, who studies economics and has been a member of REP for three years, serving as Yard captain her sophomore year. From Austin, Texas, she is now the captain for the Quad and Adams House, where she lives. Like many reps, Jiang’s awareness of the necessity of sustainability began when she was young.
“When I was a kid, my dad would read ‘Plan B’ by Lester Brown to me before bed and it scared me a lot, because I realized how limited our resources are and how important it is to manage them wisely,” Jiang said.
Coming from an area of rural northwest China that often suffers from severe drought and pollution, the tangible effects of climate change are very real to Jiang. “Even if we don’t come from a place like that, there are things we can do to decrease our contribution to those larger issues,” she said.
Highly dedicated to her peers’ education, Jiang said apathy is the biggest roadblock to positive change. Her ultimate goal is to increase awareness that turns into action.
In the Houses, reps make their presence felt through simple things such as signs reminding students to recycle and reduce their food waste, facilitating dish returns, and providing Freecycle and Habitat for Humanity donation boxes. REP also has a dynamic online presence, offering videos, student news, quizzes such as the Recycling Challenge, infographics, and more to support undergraduates in the shared effort to live more sustainably.
While REP has been thriving for more than a decade, it is just one of the many green organizations on campus. Sense & Sustainability is a student environmental blog; the Food Literacy Project aims to educate peers in all areas of the food system; the Harvard Community Garden offers internships in urban farming techniques; and the Environmental Action Committee is the undergraduate student environmental advocacy organization. Groups work together to approach issues of sustainability from as many viewpoints as possible, and student environmental leaders are brought together by OFS in the Council for Student Sustainability Leaders where they advise the University on its sustainability efforts.
As a REP member, Mautz is passionate disseminating information and initiating simple waste-reducing action. “I love seeing the different educational tactics REP uses to practically educate students about concrete actions we can take. I want to make sustainability something on people’s minds, so it’s correlated with everything else we do and translated into action.” She encourages her fellow students to be intentional about composting and recycling, “Separating our waste is an easy, feel-good thing we can all easily do, and it has long-lasting benefits.”
Jiang, too, pushes her peers to be environmentally intelligent. “Read about these issues,” she said. “In Cambridge specifically, using reusable water bottles and recognizing that most of what we use is recyclable are great and easy steps to take to be more resource-efficient.”
Although from vastly different backgrounds, Mautz and Jiang mutually value the awareness and action REP encourages and pursues on campus.
Jiang maintains an optimistic outlook: “Overall, Harvard is doing really well in terms of its academics, speaker events, and opportunities. Our community is wonderfully diverse, and it’s exciting to see so many ways of being involved with sustainability.
“If you want to get involved, everyone can make a difference,” she added.