The UW prides itself on being a green institution, and now the university’s Greek community is rising to the challenge.
Tali Haller, a member of Sigma Kappa, wanted to encourage sustainability and environmental awareness at her sorority. She worked with Jaclynn Treat, the president of the Sigma Kappa corporation board, to create the new position of sustainability chair.
In January 2015, Haller became the first sustainability chair at Sigma Kappa. After obtaining the position, Haller realized the need for each chapter to have its own sustainability chair.
Meanwhile, the sustainability department at the UW has been encouraging student-driven sustainability efforts by working with EcoReps, a student initiative to create a more sustainable campus.
“Obviously if you’re more sustainable at home, you’ll be more sustainable on campus,” said Chris Toman, who works for the sustainability department at the UW.
While not actually a part of the UW, the Greek community is one of the largest sources of housing for UW students. As part of its ongoing project to encourage sustainability at the UW, EcoReps began thinking about inspiring green living within the Greek community.
Haller met with then-EcoReps program coordinator Merrick Calder and started fleshing out the Green Greeks Representative Program, which officially launched November 2015.
Haller found a representative from each of the 52 chapters at the UW who wanted to make their houses more sustainable. These Green Greek representatives attend monthly meetings to work toward that goal. But the representatives are not chairs within their houses.
When the Green Greek program decided to focus on specific group projects, Danny Maier was the project leader to get sustainability chairs for the currently chair-less chapters. Maier was the first Sigma Alpha Epsilon sustainability chair.
“The goal is to get every chapter in the Greek system to adopt the chair,” Maier said. “It really gets the dice rolling sustainability-wise. It makes the Greek system and community in general more green.”
Implementing the sustainability chair will ideally legitimize the role of the current Green Greek Representatives and offer more responsibility. Right now, the representatives are not officially recognized by their houses. An official chair position would make them accountable for their duties.
Haller notes that sustainability chairs can feel the impact they’re making.
“I’ve heard a lot of people say that it’s really fulfilling for them,” Haller said. “The other members of their chapters aren’t as aware, so the little things [the chairs] tell them go a long way.”
The Green Greeks Program has a lot of momentum to it. Mac Robinson, current EcoReps coordinator and member of Kappa Kappa Gamma, is working to create a chair position for her chapter.
“I understand what the Green Greek Representatives are going through, which has been helpful,” Robinson said.
Thanks to the sustainability chairs, several projects have been put in place. Ben Weymiller of Theta Chi led a lighting project to transition from compact fluorescent light bulbs to light-emitting diode light bulbs (LEDs). To successfully pitch the project, he calculated how much money the house could save by making the switch. In six months he was able to fully transition the house to LEDs, saving thousands of dollars.
Additionally, Maier helped organize a street cleaning event to tidy up the Greek community. Some sororities have focused on educational projects, creating curricula and other materials and giving presentations. A number of fraternities have aimed to make their parties and house events more sustainable by reducing waste and offering more recycling options.
There is also the ongoing goal of expanding the sustainability chair position beyond the UW.
Haller has found Sigma Kappa sisters across the nation who are interested in creating their own sustainability chairs. Washington State University has recently taken an interest, wanting to merge sustainability into their philanthropy programs.
Haller points out that there are other benefits to the sustainability chair.
“More and more businesses and students are starting to take notice of sustainability, and this is becoming a career path,” Haller said. “This position isn’t a fluff position, it’s something that can prepare you for your future profession.”
Reach contributing writer Kel Lyle at firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @Kel_Lyle