Emma Chiu ‘19 and Allison Hufford ‘21 have worked as Sustainability Chairs in their sororities to raise awareness about campus sustainability initiatives within the Greek system. We caught up Emma and Allison to hear more about their work and what motivates them to work on sustainability on campus!
Why are you passionate about sustainability?
My passion for sustainability largely comes from being raised by two parents who have had careers in public health. They really influenced me to care about the intersection of sustainability and the health of all living things and beings who inhabit our planet.
I've been passionate about sustainability since I was a kid - I was a Girl Scout in a troop where 'saving the planet' was a big focus, and I remember obsessively turning off lights that were left on around my house, unplugging electronics that weren't in use, collecting bottles to recycle, etc. I always felt really at home in the natural world and had a fascination with animals, and I think those feelings naturally transformed into concern and anxiety as I learned more about climate change and what was happening to the planet.
I'm an English major, but I started taking classes in the Environmental Studies program when I got to Dartmouth just because climate change is such a personally significant issue to me and I wanted to be more educated on the topic, and it's naturally devolved into me being an Environmental Studies minor and becoming
sustainability chair of my sorority.
Do you have an example of how you think about or engage with sustainability in daily life?
I really think it’s all about the little things – from taking the extra 2 seconds to sort your waste to making the choice to eat something instead of red meat for dinner. Additionally though, I try to utilize my position as a senior leader on campus to influence how we can promote sustainability culture, whether it’s leading an educational waste sorting activity on Trips or doing the same for our Greek house. These sessions inform underclassmen students not only how to sort waste but also establish culturally that sorting waste at Dartmouth is what we DO.
I've definitely become a lot more aware of my own personal resource consumption and waste the more that I've educated myself on the topic, and I've found ways to turn my generalized anxiety about the planet into more positive and productive actions/choices that limit my own negative impact on the Earth - because of this, sustainability has definitely become a day-to-day concern of mine. Since freshman year, I have been making an effort to eat vegetarian whenever I'm on campus, and have found ways to limit my own waste by ordering less online, replacing disposable items with reusable water bottles/sporks/green-to-go containers, reducing my own daily usage of electricity (turning off lights, unplugging chargers and other devices when not in use), and generally recycling whenever I can, and trying to encourage the same behavior in others.
What are some things that you are working on in your Greek House? Why are you excited to do this work?
Firstly, we’ve been working on a couple ways to minimize liquids going into recycling bins. Beginning in the spring of 2018, I created two buckets for our basement to discard of excess liquids from pong games that people didn’t want to drink. This has been great not only on a sustainability front, but it also encourages people that you don’t have to drink everything on the table and additionally prevents liquids from leaking out of bags and making our cans sticky or smelly!
We also emphasize to members how to sort their waste and we do this starting on bid night (i.e. the first night we receive new members into our house after rush). We inform members that both the cans and plastic cups we use are recyclable, and that liquid needs to be dumped into the sink before they throw it into the recycling. (We also do a more thorough education with additional miscellaneous items for the girls who are living in the house.)
In the fall of 2018, we did a really big purge of old things that have been sitting for years in the basement storage. We offered up unclaimed items to members of the house for free and everything else was donated to the Listen Center, a local non-profit.
I was really excited when I became Sustainability Chair of my sorority last term, since I noticed from the beginning that there were so many ways that Greek life could become more sustainable and I wanted to take part in making it that way. One of the first things I did was meet with Sustainability Outreach Intern Abby Bresler and have a talk about sustainability in Greek life, what was already being done and what could be improved. Throughout the term, I started sending out regular newsletters to my sisters with sustainability tips or information about sustainability events on campus, helped with finding vegetarian and vegan recipes for a sisterhood brunch, talked with one of my sisters (Meriem Fouad - also part of the Sustainability Office) about starting a house compost (and got feedback from the sisterhood), and at the end of the term ran a clothing drive where sisters donated old and unwanted clothing to the LISTEN community center in Lebanon - which is so much better than it just ending up in a landfill. The drive had a really good turn-out, and ultimately it's been such a great experience to be able to do something productive in sustainability on a larger scale than just my own personal choices.
How is it going? What have you learned? What has been unexpected or challenging?
Things have been going great! I’ve learned that it’s really important to have your nose to the ground (e.g. passing by trash and recycling bins to see how well people are sorting their waste). If it’s clear things could be better, reminders can honestly go a long way. Before we leave on Wednesday meetings, we make an announcement to pour excess liquids down the sink and then throw your cups or cans into the recycling. People are really good about taking that extra step once it’s on their mind – they just need the initial reminder!
I think it’s been challenging to figure out how we can implement sustainability in other houses that operate on a much larger ‘social’ scale than we do. I have friends in houses who not only deal with more waste but also have much greater traffic which includes people who are not necessarily focused on sustainability when they are out in a Greek house that’s not their own. I hope we can utilize bright spots from Chi Delt and apply it in whatever small ways we can to the rest of the Greek system!
One of the first things I noticed about being sustainability chair was how little connection there was between the sororities regarding this issue - I knew nothing about what other houses were doing in order to be sustainable, or even who to contact about it. This was definitely a challenge at first, but there were actually really simple ways to resolve it. A few weeks after we met, Abby helped set up a meeting between the suitability officers (or equivalent) of several of the sororities on campus, and we all talked about what each of our houses was doing on the topic of sustainability, and how we could further improve and also increase collaboration between us. We created a Google Docs that we all have access to, full of all of the ideas we talked about and options for how to move forward, which I think is a great first step! It should also serve as a helpful guide for future sustainability chairs, to make sure that each new sister isn't just 'starting from the beginning' but is aware of the progress that has been made and the progress that could be made in the future. Bringing sustainability into Greek life definitely isn't a small goal, but I think if we keep making these kinds of steps and keep spreading awareness to the issue we'll be getting somewhere, and I'm really excited about what the future holds.