Last year, 21 Greek life organizations tracked their sustainability efforts to obtain the title of Green Chapter from the University of Georgia Office of Sustainability in the Greek Goes Green initiative. This year, 42 Interfraternity Council, Panhellenic, service and professional organizations are participating in hopes to earn the title.
The Greek Goes Green initiative began in 2016 when UGA students Anna Trakhman and Matt Siegel received a campus sustainability grant to help Greek Life at UGA develop more sustainable practices, UGA spokesperson Angela Hurt said in a statement.
Fraternity and sorority chapters use the Greek Goes Green scorecard to track their successes in sustainability efforts such as recycling, eating local food and making their houses more energy-efficient. Chapters with 35 points or more on their scorecard are formally recognized as Green Chapters, Hurt said, and the highest performing chapters receive a prize to support their organization’s philanthropy.
The program is currently run by the Office of Sustainability student intern Sarah Corbin. Corbin, a senior public relations major and early alumna of Pi Beta Phi, said she applied for the position because she was interested in sustainability after seeing a lot of opportunity for improvement in Greek life sustainability.
While Corbin runs the program, participating chapters elect or appoint a Sustainability Coordinator to help educate chapter members on sustainability initiatives and ensure that recycling is done properly in an organization’s house or meeting room, Hurt said. Corbin said working with the coordinators is one of her favorite parts of her job.
“I really love getting to talk with [the Sustainability Coordinators] one on one about their initiatives and what they're trying to improve in their chapters,” Corbin said.
Ruth Payne is the Sustainability Coordinator for Delta Phi Epsilon. She currently lives in her sorority house, where she tries to make sure the chapter’s house is as sustainable as possible. Payne, a sophomore economics major, said she wanted to be the coordinator for her chapter because sustainability has always been something she’s been passionate about.
“When I was pretty young, [sustainability] was one of the things I first remember really taking seriously and thinking that my generation has the power to change — and that we have to change — the way that we live in order to sustain the planet for more generations,” she said.
One way Payne promotes sustainability at her sorority house is through making sure other members know what can and can’t be recycled, which has been crucial throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, she said.
“We're all using a lot more disposables like plastic utensils and cups because of the safety measures for COVID-19, so I've been involved in making sure that everyone knows how to dispose of them properly,” she said.
The pandemic has impacted more than one aspect of the Greek Goes Green program. In addition to Sustainability Coordinators having to find a balance between the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines and sustainable practices, program-wide meetings have been moved to Zoom, Corbin said.
Normally, the program hosts three meetings per semester and incentivizes attendance through things like free food, Corbin said. Next week, the program is meeting in-person with The Chew Crew, another Office of Sustainability initiative that brings in goats to eat plants in overgrown or neglected areas of campus for an outdoor workday.
Corbin said one of her hopes for the program is to help more chapters practice sustainability beyond recycling. One of the things she’s working on is getting more participating organizations composting food scraps.
Payne said her chapter is receiving a compost bin this semester, something she’s especially excited about.
“We want to try to implement as many policies as we can so one thing that I'm really excited about is that we're getting a compost bin, which is going to be just one part of the checklist of things that will help get [the Green Chapter] certification,” Payne said.
While a big part of Payne’s role as Sustainability Coordinator is to help promote sustainability at her sorority house, Greek organizations don’t have to have a house in order to participate in the Greek Goes Green program, Corbin said.
Annaliese Poliner, a senior landscape architecture major, is the Sustainability Coordinator for Gamma Sigma Sigma, a service sorority. Gamma Sigma Sigma doesn’t have a Greek house, Poliner said, and although typically they would meet at the MLC, this semester they are completely online.
Poliner said not having a Greek house has only slightly impacted the organization’s participation in Greek Goes Green.
“For the point system, there’s a couple of [categories] that are house-specific like posting signage and making sure there are recycling bins available, things like that,” Poliner said. “We make it up by posting that signage on our website. So we'll still receive those points because it's still available on the platform for our sisters and for anyone else that’s interested.”
Despite not having a chapter house to implement certain sustainability practices, Gamma Sigma Sigma received last year’s Most Sustainable Chapter award, according to the chapter’s website. Corbin said the Greek Goes Green program is working to include more organizations outside of Panhellenic and Interfraternity Council, and that all chapters, regardless of whether they have a house, are encouraged to participate in the program.
Modifications for Greek organizations with no chapter house can be found in the “Getting Started in Greek Goes Green” document for Sustainability Coordinators on the program’s website, Corbin said.
“We're trying to really diversify our program and integrate more Multicultural, National Pan-Hellenic, service and business chapters in our program, so that's a big thing that we're trying to change, because although a big part of [the program] is having chapter house and making sure they have a recycling program in place, there's also a lot of room just for sustainability education for those chapters that don't have a house,” Corbin said.