Mary Whitney and the Eco-Reps (Not a Rock Band)

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 “Eco-Reps are a new student employment role. They’re basically peer educators on environmental and sustainability topics,” says Dr. Mary Whitney, Chatham’s director of University Sustainability. “For the first campus dinner of the year, when everyone eats together, they came in and taught composting.” It’s more of a rewarding position than demanding: five hours a week, mostly undergrads and a couple graduate students. They mainly focus on educational projects for students, staff, and faculty. They are, after all, representatives.

Eco-Reps began at Tufts University in 2001, and the program is now officially recognized by the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE). Chatham has had a gold STARS rating (Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System) from AASHE since 2012. In the past few years we’ve reduced our water usage by half and have reduced or kept stable other emissions despite the tremendous growth in both the student body and the campus area itself.

It’s this growth which revealed the need for an Eco-Rep program. “The student body has changed; it’s grown, and we need to make sure we’re all keeping up with the growth sustainably,” Whitney says.

Chatham has a goal to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2025; there’s no time to waste, so to speak. The Eco-Reps are off to a great start and have their minds set on even more relevant educational projects. Something as small as standing in Café Rachel and informing students that they can save money by bringing in their own mug has huge effects. “People didn’t know that,” Whitney says.  “Oh, and look at this.” She excitedly pulls out a cardboard box. Not-so-fun fact: Even though Keurig has lofty recycling goals on their website, none of the cups are recyclable in the United States. None. “These are compostable coffee pods,” Whitney says, grinning ear to ear, “We’re having a taste test for this brand ‘Tayst’ and if they’re good, then we’ll start using them on campus.”

Unsurprisingly, it’s people like Whitney who would make perfect candidates for the Eco-Rep program, people who are genuinely happy when they find ways to be more sustainable, people who are excited to share these methods.  Most eco-reps value the flexibility of the position. 

“Most jobs I just do what is told and get paid, but for this one I have more input in what is done and what I can do” says Leah Johnson ‘22, a current Eco-Rep, majoring in Interior Architecture.

With Recyclemania coming up—a friendly competition to promote waste reduction on college campuses—it’s going to be all hands on deck. Those composting skills the Eco-Reps taught will be put to the test. “We’re working towards a platinum STARS rating from AASHE,” Whitney says, “We’re so close.” Currently, only five schools have been awarded a Platinum rating on the STARS website, so they’re especially strict once an institution looks like they’re close to Platinum. The Eco-Reps have hit the ground running towards that goal. Whitney has worked tirelessly these past years, so she’s certainly eager: “When we hit Platinum we want a parade,” she laughs. Mary Whitney and the Eco-Reps may not be a rock band but they are rockstars.