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Sam Houston, Undergraduate Resource Efficiency Program Coordinator, Harvard Office for Sustainability

Green is the new Crimson…well, it’s only new compared to the 376 years Harvard has been around. The truth is Harvard has been going green for decades! Sustainability emerged from small pockets of students and faculty at first. It then took an Olympic gymnast­-style vault into the spotlight when the University established a goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 30% by 2016, including growth. Today, sustainability has taken a prominent place in the culture of the campus and, whether you’re in a classroom or a dorm room, it is a fundamental part of the Harvard experience.

Whether you’re walking through one of Harvard’s 75+ LEED-certified green buildings or showering in the Yard dorms with hot water provided by the Canaday Hall solar energy and steam heat-recovery installation, you’re experiencing the living lab that is Harvard’s campus. Individual action also plays a prominent role and has an enormous impact on the waste we produce and how we run our labs and operate our buildings so we can better support Harvard’s research and teaching mission.

Now in its tenth year of operation, the undergraduate Resource Efficiency Program (REP) is one of Harvard’s most successful and replicated sustainability programs. The peer-to-peer outreach initiative hires eco-REPs in each house plus three freshmen in the Yard to run creative sustainability campaigns and educate their fellow students about how to cut energy and conserve resources.  REP focuses on inspiring and activating students in three key ways:


The Green Cup Competition pits upperclassman house against house in a contest to reduce energy and waste. Last year, as a result of the competition we saw a 4.3% electricity reduction across the houses and an individual house reduction as high as 16.6% in Winthrop. Food waste was at an all time low of 1.22 oz/person in the fall 2011 tray food waste audit, nearly as low at 1.51 oz/person in the spring 2012 audit.

Green House Committees (HoCos) are also getting involved, like the 2012 contest winner Dunster HoCo who hosted zero-waste events and ran educational environmental trivia games. Mather and Cabot House also led the way, in part by turning out their houses for events like the weatherization of the Office of the Arts and Office of Career Services, Harvard Green Carpet Awards.


Every year REP joins Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) Office of Physical Resources and the Office for Sustainability in organizing a Green Fair for incoming freshman. The Green Fairs regularly draw 1300 freshmen, each of whom received their own reusable travel mug, signed an eco-pledge, and checked out educational displays. With a strong majority of freshman toting reusable mugs, Annenberg Hall has eliminated the use of thousands of paper to-go cups each week. Many of these students join the freshman green group, now called Green ’16 (for the class of 2016), which serves a key role in identifying opportunities and solutions for a greener campus.


With formal resources, like the Harvard Innovation Lab, and the incidence of spontaneous brainstorm sessions, like dinner conversations in the dining halls, there is no shortage of innovative ideas bubbling from the minds of Harvard students. Sustainability-related projects are no exception, and the Student Sustainability Grants provided by the Office for Sustainability was set up to bring these ideas to reality. From the Harvard Community Garden to a worm composting bin in Thayer Hall and mobile ethnic garden grant-funded projects are making a difference around campus.

Harvard is a leader in sustainability both inside and outside the classroom because over time students have pushed for change. Today is no different. The REP Program and many ways students are encouraged to get involved with sustainability inside and outside the classroom are constantly propelling the campus along toward bigger and better solutions to the enormous global challenges of climate change and environmental sustainability.

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Since my last blog post during Wintersession, campus has become a lot more lively because everyone is back. I’ve finally decided on my schedule, which includes several new things that I’ve never tried before.

  1. I’m working in the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) undergraduate labs under the direction of Sujata, my concentration (major) advisor for Biomedical Engineering. Sujata and I met earlier this week to decide on a project that I’d be interested in. With sustainability and this whole “Green is the new Crimson” initiative on campus that was implemented in recent years, we decided a really neat project would be to work with naturally-derived, renewable materials. This semester, I’ll be performing both biological and mechanical characterization of these materials with clinically relevant cell lines and exploring them for biomedical applications. For example, perhaps a corn-derived material or fabric could be used in supporting the lungs of someone who is suffering from emphysema (loss of elasticity in the lungs) or just had a heart attack. I’ll essentially be trying to mix these things to see if corn-derived materials can be used in things like medical devices and to see whether or not they can be used in the body safely, without adverse side effects.
  2. I am taking 5 courses! Well, my research counts as a course, so it isn’t the traditional class with a lecture and homework. While it isn’t all that unusual for someone to take 5 classes, the typical semester here includes only 4, which is what I’ve always done. Regardless, I’m excited, and I think I’ll be able to manage it.
  3. I have 8:30 am class on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. For those of you high schoolers reading this, that may sound very late. However, you realize that in college, 9:00 am becomes your 6:00 am as an undergrad. Of course, I woke up at 6:00 am in high school for a 7:15 am first class and was so accustomed to it that it just became part of everyday life. Waking up past 6:00 am was considered sleeping in. But in college, 9:00 am is pretty early, and 8:30 am is nearly unheard of (in my experience, I’ve found that very few classes meet before 9). This is, indeed, tragic, but having done it for a week, it’s not all that bad. I guess I’m being a bit dramatic, but it’s nice to be done with class for the day by 10:00 or 11:00 am, which is before some people even start!

I’d like to invite you all to follow us student life bloggers on Twitter. Our username is @HarvardBloggers (, and it’s simply another way for you to connect with us. We’ll be tweeting about life on campus, as well as whenever one of us has a new blog post! Check it out!


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