There are only a few days left in Green Cup, a month-long dorm-versus-dorm competition that challenges students to use the least amount of energy and produce the least amount of waste. And yet, a little known fact is that a representative from every residence on campus is elected each year to promote these ideals yearlong – not just during Green Cup.
“Eco Reps” are essentially students who have been elected by other members iof their residence to help raise environmental awareness on campus. Weinberg sophomore Irene Tu, the Eco Rep for Allison Hall, said that she has no specified duties as an Eco Rep. While the Eco Reps are supposed to attend monthly meetings, nobody ever tells them what exactly to do at these meetings, according to Tu. She said that she would like to do more, but simply doesn’t know how. Northwestern’s new director of the Office of Sustainability, Robert Whittier, is looking to change that. Whittier has not even been at Northwestern for three months and is already looking to revamp the Eco Rep program.
“A well-run Eco Rep program could be an incredibly impactful tool to engaging students, sharing practices and building a culture in sustainability across the university,” Whittier said. He acknowledges that the program is decentralized and lacks any real leadership, and plans to add additional leadership and structure, as well as more tools and resources for the program.
Not all dorms have an Eco Rep, and most fraternities and sororities don’t. Weinberg freshman Michael Knudsen was elected vice president of Sargent Hall and said that with this position came the responsibilities of an Eco-Rep. He has taken on additional responsibilities related to sustainability as vice president, but has trouble telling the difference between his duties.
“I feel like the position does not really hold any real power," Knudsen said. "All I can do is encourage sustainability. It would be better if the Eco-Rep could make real decisions and work with housing more closely. For example, in my dorm, the hallway lights are not on switches, so this means that we have no control of turning them off."
With a kick-off training session in the fall and follow-up meetings at least once per quarter, the Eco Reps will have a clearer mission that also includes environmentally centered group trips, film series, various environmental speakers and events throughout the year. Also, one room per building will be a designated “green room.” Each green room will serve as a demonstration of an environmentally conscious dorm room for all residents. Green rooms will have access to energy saving bulbs as well as power strips and other simple methods of consuming energy.
Whittier said that he hopes that the Eco Rep program and all its ideals will be known to both prospective and current students. “We want people to know about sustainable choices that they’ll have in front of them from the minute that they join Northwestern,” he said. This would mean that students would first learn about Northwestern’s sustainability goal during Wildcat Welcome or even campus tours. Simple acts such as advertising available courses about sustainability and creating a “guide to green living” as a checklist of things to do to go green in a living space could make a surprising difference, Whittier said.
“Green Cup gives students the opportunity to see what a big impact they can make en masse,” Whittier said. “The idea of the Eco Rep program is to take a lot of the behaviors students are doing during Green Cup and explore doing them yearlong.”