University of Vermont

University Communications

UVM Eco-Reps Program Wins Governor's Award

Release Date: 12-14-2005

Author: Erica M. Spiegel
Phone: Array Fax: (802) 656-1075

The University of Vermont's Eco-Reps Program has been honored with a Vermont Governor's Award for Environmental Excellence & Pollution Prevention. The award recognizes Vermonters' contributions to protecting the environment, safety and health.

The Eco-Reps Program, initiated and supervised by Erica Spiegel, UVM Recycling/Solid Waste Manager, promotes environmentally responsible behavior in the residence halls, which house about 3,800 undergraduate students. For the past two years the program has been coordinated by Deb Perry, a graduate student in the Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources. About two dozen students are hired to work four hours per week during the academic year to educate their dorm-mates about recycling, composting, energy use, water use, food and transportation. Activities include weekly postings on bulletin boards, energy audits, surveys and special projects.

The Eco-Reps have found that changing student behavior can pay off environmentally and financially. For example, a "trash sort" of 271 pounds of trash from 15 randomly selected bags found that almost half of the trash could have been recycled. The trash sort report concluded that if students properly composted and recycled in the residence halls, about $30,000 in landfill tipping fees could be avoided each year.

The Eco-Reps have also conducted several light bulb exchanges, swapping incandescent bulbs for compact fluorescent lights. One exchange of 500 bulbs was estimated to save approximately 16,300 kilowatt-hours per year, with an annual savings of about $1,630.

Other activities by the Eco-Reps are purely educational, such as a monthly environmental film night; a weekly EcoMind column in the campus newspaper; and a Pedal Power project consisting of a bicycle attached to a generator that powers different types of light bulbs.

Recruiting Eco-Reps has been easy—in fact, this year twice as many students applied as there were openings. "I wanted to work as an Eco-Rep because it seemed like a fun job that would actually make a difference in my school community," said Corey Ann Beach in a debriefing in April. Changing behavior, on the other hand, isn’t so easy. "Apathy will always be our biggest enemy," says Kesha Ram, who is an Eco-Rep for a second year. "The really frustrating part of the job is that a majority of students will only do things like recycle or turn off lights if it's of the utmost convenience. But the more you educate, the better things get."

The program, modeled after successful programs at Harvard and Tufts universities, was developed by the Recycling Office in collaboration with the Environmental Council, Residential Life, Energy Management, and student advocacy groups. Since the program started in 2003, several other universities have contacted the UVM Eco-Reps program to learn how it has worked before designing their own programs. Spiegel and Perry now regularly exchange ideas and experiences with program coordinators at Harvard, Tufts, Bowdoin College, Carnegie-Mellon and University of Texas at Austin.

The University of Vermont won a Governor's Award for Environmental Excellence and Pollution Prevention in 2000 for a mercury thermometer swap program and again in 2004 for its environmental report card and stakeholder participation work.

For more information about the program, visit its website.