Members of the Harvard Undergraduate Resource Efficiency Program have adapted their work to suit a virtual semester, pushing students to make sustainable choices and working to engage students on environmental issues before this fall’s elections.
For the fall semester, the group’s members — known as REPs — have focused on three categories of projects: civic engagement, energy usage awareness, and sustainability grants.
“We have two main agendas this semester,” said Dannie C. Bell ’24, one of four REPs assigned to Harvard Yard. “So that would be civic engagement and energy.”
Unlike in previous semesters, the group has also focused on political engagement.
Ella M. Bradford ’24 said promoting voting in the election dovetails with REP’s mission.
“Representing [your voice] in politics, and making sure people are turning out and they're voting is really, really important," Bradford said.
Aside from election-related efforts, Bradford has also worked with Harvard's Office of Sustainability to publish a “Harvard at Home” guide, with information ranging from how to compost to where to buy reusable masks.
“This applies to people on and off campus,” Bell said. “People in dorms don’t really get the summary of their energy usage at the end of the month along with their bills, but this might be a new experience for some people who are staying in an apartment.”
Despite those new projects, Bradford said REP has faced challenges communicating with a remote freshman class.
“It's very hard to connect to the first-year class as a whole because there's so many of us, we're overly spaced out, and there's no one email list that we can just send to,” Bradford said.
Even as the pandemic exacerbated communication barriers between students, REP has encouraged students to pursue projects related to more responsible and efficient energy usage by offering sustainability grants.
DaLoria L. Boone ’22, an Adams House REP, wrote in an emailed statement that in addition to providing grants, the group has pushed students to be more independent and creative in their eco-conscious messages to peers.
"We still are offering sustainability grants for students to apply for," Boone said. "We have also been given some freedom in this uncertain time to really go out and try to make it the best program we can by really being creative."
Boone herself has had to exercise some of that creativity, reaching out to her House Administrators to create a sustainability webpage for Adams. She said she wanted to avoid overwhelming students studying at home with yet more emails.
"I personally took this idea and chose to ask my House Administrator, could I get a page on the Adams House website to provide students with important resources without overwhelming people by constantly sending out emails," Boone wrote.
In addition to grants, emails, and political efforts, the group has invited a series of guest speakers to talk about issues ranging from climate policy in government to economic reform.
“[Sustainability] is tough right now, so don't be too hard on yourself,” Bell said. “It can be a long road. And that's okay.”