At the beginning of January last year, I began my role as the first-ever Sustainability Chair for Sigma Kappa Chapters nationwide. My passion for sustainability has – to use a nice “green” metaphor – grown and bloomed in ways that I never would’ve imagined when I accepted the position a year ago. It seems only fitting that after such hard work from myself and all of my fellow sisters, I take some time to highlight what the Sigma Kappa Mu Chapter has accomplished in regards to “sustainability” this year and share our sustainable goals for the future.
The road to sustainability is most definitely not the smoothest of roads. Defined as “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs,” sustainability intrinsically revolves around long-term planning – investing now for an ever-changing future. Yet, as the movement grows, especially here on the University of Washington campus, even the most traditional of establishments are adding green to their purple and gold.
Already, the UW Greek Community is working towards chapter-wide Green Greek Certification through EcoRep’s Green Greek Program. In the meantime, certain chapters are taking giant steps to get there. My chapter Sigma Kappa, one of nineteen sororities on campus, has become a role model in sustainability.
“Sigma Kappa’s role in sustainability has been budding for the past few years. Our green initiatives really took off within the last year after the hard work of two sustainability-minded individuals,” said Hailey Zurcher, the Sigma Kappa President.
On one side was Jaclynn Treat, the current President of the Sigma Kappa Corporation Board and an architect at the sustainable design firm Perkins+Will, who wanted to pilot a brand new initiative to demonstrate the potential for waste reduction and energy efficiency in Sigma Kappa Chapters nationwide. On the other side was myself, who I think I can appropriately describe as an engaged, motivated student eager to take a leadership role in bringing green innovation to the chapter.
Together, Jaclynn and I created a “Sustainability Chair” position. It was a completely new role with no precedents and very few guidelines. Quoting myself from the annual Sigma Kappa Annual Board Meeting this December; “Less than a year later, sustainability has definitely become a cornerstone of our chapter. I’ve seen real change in our members – from the way they pause in front of disposal containers, deciding whether they should recycle or compost, to the way they jump at the opportunity to get involved in our sustainability volunteer opportunities.”
There were four crucial steps in progressing Sigma Kappa’s sustainability initiatives: 1) Creating a Baseline 2) Establishing Goals 3) Choosing Projects, and 4) Focusing on Collaboration.
Within the first month of being elected, I created a baseline that tracked Sigma Kappa’s energy expenditures and utilities, including gas, waste, electricity, and water from over the past five years using an online tracking tool called Energy Star Portfolio Manager. Next, I worked with members of the Sigma Kappa Corporation Board, specifically Jaclynn, to create reduction goals and target specific problem areas.
We brainstormed potential projects, prioritized them according to feasibility, cost, timeliness, and impact, and then got to work. Potential projects included increasing the house’s lighting efficiency through implementation of LEDs and motion-sensor lighting, sustainable food sourcing, achieving Green Greek Certification through EcoReps, and collaborating with other sustainability-oriented entities on campus, like the UW Farm.
Already, the chapter has been extremely successful in reducing waste. As of November, public spaces within the house, including bathrooms, individual rooms, the study room, and kitchen, have an easily accessible recycling, compost, and trash set-up. Making use of behavioral psychology, garbage cans tend to be smaller than the other two bins with large red signs alerting the disposer to think before mindlessly tossing everything into the trash. What’s more, members have taken it upon themselves to create unique “recycle” and “compost” signs. Above the community printer, there hangs a beautiful hand-drawn poster that features weeping trees with large, watery tear drops falling from their branches and a message that reads: “Save the trees!”
One problem the house recently solved is what I called the “One-Stop Garbage-Dump:” garbage piles up in individual rooms and then the whole trash can is dumped in the larger “public space” garbage without being sorted. To stop this, I ordered every single room its own blue recycling bin, since most of the “trash” from rooms is recyclable: paper, napkins, coffee cups, etc.
The chapter has also focused on our Green Greek Certification, spurring increased networking with other chapters and EcoReps. In fact, through these efforts, I found an additional outlet for my endeavors. I am now the Director of the Green Greek Representative Program (GGRP), which I helped to launch in November of this year. The goal of the program is to make sure that every chapter has a Green Greek Representative who takes on chapter-specific sustainability projects. The GGRP participated in the Greek-wide street clean on November 21, gathering on the sunny autumn morning to pick up trash and beautify our neighborhood.
“Ultimately, we want to create a coalition of sustainability activists in the Greek system so that we have a network of motivated people and a way to communicate about sustainability initiatives,” said Kiyomi Morris, Director of EcoReps, the GGRP’s parent student-run organization.
Aside from involvement with the GGRP, I also organized collaborative volunteer events with other sustainability-focused organizations. In line with our Inherit the Earth philanthropy, Sigma Kappa serviced the UW Farm’s “Farm-to-Food Event” on October 22nd – some manned the pumpkin carving station, while others served food, ran the slideshow, and all took part in progressing the sustainability conversation.
What’s more, the Sigma Kappa Mu chapter is already expanding our sustainability net. About two months ago, I began working with Sarah Tennyson, a Sigma Kappa from theZeta Omicron chapter at University of Arizona to create a sister sustainability pilot-project. From there, we are continuing to branch out, now talking with Sigma Kappa sisters at Washington State University and Texas Christian University.
As the sustainability movement within Sigma Kappa and the Green Greek Representative Program continues to expand (both already turning towards the national level), it is clear that sustainability in UW’s Greek Community is fast becoming the next big trend.
Originally published on UW’s Sustainability Blog.