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After three-year break, Eco-Reps program returns to campus primarily structured by undergrads

Published: Friday, November 5, 2010

Updated: Friday, November 5, 2010 07:11

eco program

Meagan Maher / Tufts Daily

A student recycles a water bottle in Metcalf Hall. The Eco-Reps program, revived this year, is trying to kindle environmental awareness.

    Tufts' Eco-Reps program, which enlists students in an effort to promote environmental efforts on campus, has returned as a pilot initiative after a three-year hiatus.

    Ten Eco-Reps and two coordinators — whose goal is to bring about change by informing and educating their peers about environmentally responsible behavior — are part of the program, which falls under the advisory of Office of Sustainability Program Director Tina Woolston.

    Students involved in the program resolve to set a standard for their peers in dormitories and work with the Office of Residential Life and Learning (ResLife) and residential assistants to institute changes within dorms.

    When Anja Kollmuss (GA '01) first established the Eco-Reps program in 2000 as part of her master's thesis, it was the first of its kind in the nation. Following Tufts' lead, other colleges and universities nationwide adopted similar programs, according to the Office of Sustainability website.

    A lack of funding and a change in leadership within the Office of Sustainability caused the program to disband in 2007. It returned as a pilot program this year after a number of the participating students took part in Woolston's Experimental College course "Environmental Action: Shifting From Saying To Doing" last year, Woolston said.

    While Kollmuss served as the main coordinator of the old program, Woolston said she wanted the new Eco-Reps program to be structured primarily by undergraduate students.

    "The students in the class were learning how to be leaders, and I wanted to provide a place for people interested in pursuing environmental leadership to express their enthusiasm and energy," Woolston said. "I wanted to see Eco-Reps become more self-sustaining and more student-driven."

    The new program's main goal is to foster a general sense of environmentalism at the university and make students more aware of the collective impact of their decisions on the environment, according to Eco-Reps co-coordinator Jess Madding, a senior.

    "It's our first semester, so we're really just trying to gauge the student response to our pilot program," Madding said. "We want students to know there are resources out there for the environment. Tufts is pretty disjointed in its environmental efforts … with the Eco-Reps, Tufts Institute [of the] Environment and the Office of Sustainability. The general student body doesn't understand how they all relate, and we're trying to change that."

    Although the Office of Sustainability is temporarily funding the program for the year, the program is seeking a permanent source of financial support. Accordingly, it needs to establish a group on campus, Woolston said.

    "The pilot program is important because we're feeling out the campus's reaction to us," senior Emily Ruff, an Eco-Rep for Sophia Gordon Hall, said. "We definitely want to expand, but we're starting at the ground and working our way up."

    Eco-Reps are chosen by the student coordinators and receive a stipend from the Office of Sustainability, according to Woolston.

    Much of the program's work involves educating students about the choices available to them in order to create a base of environmental knowledge on campus that will allow the program to become self-sustaining, Woolston said.

    "There's a lot of will on this campus to be more environmentally sustainable, but we want to give people the tools to do those actions," Ruff said. "We want students to take this up individually and become their own stewards."

    Beyond its efforts to raise environmental awareness at Tufts, the program has more universal goals, according to Ruff and Woolston.

    "The academic side of Tufts is very much about educating its students to become active citizens in the world, and I think this is a part of that," Woolston said.

    Eco-Reps are working to implement initiatives including composting and establishing "free boxes" in dorms to allow students to discard and exchange unwanted possessions. They also are looking at a process of "green dorm certification," by which residents can meet environmentally sustainable criteria to receive recognition, according to Madding.

    Additionally, Eco-Reps are planning on-campus events, including a waste reduction contest between Metcalf Hall floors this week that culminated in last night's "Trashion Show" event, also in Metcalf Hall.

    "I think students are getting excited as they become more aware of the Eco-Reps and their efforts on campus," junior Daniel Meer, an RA in Metcalf Hall, said. "Students were eager to participate in the effort to reduce their hall's waste during the week leading up to our ‘Down with Waste' event this [last] night."

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