Capturing the History of Sustainability at the Harvard Chan School

By , August 15, 2016

President of the Clinton Foundation and 2016 Harvard Chan Commencement speaker Donna Shalala poses with EcoOpportunity members David Havelick (left) and Adam Meier (right). The 2016 Commencement ceremony aimed for “zero waste” with the support of EcoOpportunity volunteers.

Archiving the history of grassroots initiatives, whether at Harvard or elsewhere, is often problematic. Often records are scattered, in addition to the early leadership itself, by the time a group is recognized for its contributions. As a result, records representing the work of grassroots initiatives are generally under-represented in archival collections. The history of grassroots work surrounding sustainability at Harvard is often of great interest to researchers, making it an important acquisition target. Sustainability can be defined as identifying and prioritizing resource conservation opportunities, and reducing environmental and health impacts.

In February 2016, Heather Mumford, Archivist for the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, began to explore archiving the history of sustainability initiatives at the Harvard Chan School. Specifically, Heather targeted EcoOpportunity, a Harvard Chan School group which evolved from humble beginnings to eventually form a successful Longwood-wide sustainability team.

Heather proactively reached out to current volunteers and leadership. Working together, they compiled a number of records (including email, early documentation, and photographs) and authored a history of the organization. When gaps were identified, current volunteers reached out to former volunteers and asked for assistance. The result is a collection of records that offer a comprehensive history, insuring that the contributions of these early sustainability efforts at Harvard will not be lost to time.

September 2014 2

EcoOpportunity volunteers in 2014.

 

History of EcoOpportunity

EcoOpportunity is indeed a unique group at Harvard. It was formed in 2008 as part of a larger initiative from the President’s Office, after an email was sent encouraging departmental administrators across Harvard to create “Green Teams” at their schools. This was known as the “Green Campus Initiative”, and has since become the Harvard Office for Sustainability, which is part of Campus Services. Early meetings of these school “Green Teams” included brainstorming sessions on sustainability topics, speakers, and events.

After their first few meetings, the Harvard Chan School’s green team decided they wanted an official “team name”, even though no other green team at Harvard had chosen to do this. There was a small internal contest, and “EcoOpportunity” (EcoOp) was chosen as the favorite. Volunteer Tiffany Colt (Operations Office), who had a background in design, created their logo.

Although interest was strong at first, eventually the effectiveness of these early EcoOp meetings dwindled. It was then that David Havelick and Jen Bowser, two Green Team volunteers, held an emergency one-on-one meeting. They decided to take on a leadership role together, form their own agendas (instead of relying on agendas sent by the Office for Sustainability), and to create subcommittees that tackled specific green initiatives. This restructuring allowed work to get done outside of each meeting, and created a sustainable model that allowed EcoOp to persist beyond the original Harvard University-wide experiment.

EcoOpportunity is one of the few green teams at Harvard that receives funding directly from a school, in addition to managerial support from Harvard Chan School Operations. Although initially a Harvard Chan School group, the team held their first joint meeting with Harvard Medical School volunteers in February 2014. The group’s mission is to inspire the Longwood Community to reduce environmental and health impacts, and help Harvard become a leader in campus sustainability efforts.

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