Officially launched in November 2015, the Green Greek Representative Program (GGRP) is a student-run program at the University of Washington working to make the Greek Community a more sustainable place. Working through UW EcoReps and supported by the UW Sustainability office, this newly-created program has already been extremely successful. A sustainable lighting project is estimated to save one chapter thousands of dollars, and other initiatives have increased energy efficiency, led to greater sustainable sourcing, reduced waste, and explored the feasibility of integrating renewable energy technologies.
The UW Green Greek Director Talia Haller explains how the UW Green Greek Representative Program is promoting sustainability within their own community, while also perpetuating the nation-wide Greek sustainability movement.
Why is it important for Greek communities to focus on green and sustainable initiatives?
The University of Washington as an institution is a leader in sustainability. After on-campus dormitories, Greek housing is the largest source of student housing at UW with 18 residential sororities and 32 residential fraternities. Despite 15% of students living in fraternity or sorority housing (approximately 3,600 students), our unique position, sanctioned by the University but outside the jurisdiction of campus administrators, means we’re often not served when it comes to campus initiatives or programs. In addition, we’re often managed by alumni boards located in other parts of the country. As a result, fraternity and sorority houses are often left out of campus sustainability initiatives and their management is often unaligned with local culture or programs. This lack of engagement resulted in huge amounts of waste, high utility costs, and many missed opportunities to take action and create change, especially in a community full of resources and leaders.
There are also benefits for the chapter: Sustainability is important to students on campus and it’s something they will be increasingly looking for during the recruitment process. Chapters that take sustainability seriously will have an advantage during the recruiting process. Also, more and more, businesses, cities, and other organizations are taking sustainability seriously. Chapters that have sustainability chairs are preparing their members for life after college – every day, there are more sustainability-related jobs.
Tell me about the Green Greek Representative Program at UW: How did it get started?
The GGRP was developed as an outgrowth of an existing Green Greek program in August of 2015 to address the critical gap described above. Our goal is to engage the Greek Community in sustainability issues and to develop programs to improve the environmental outcomes of Greek chapters. The movement for sustainability on college campuses is rapidly gaining momentum and while UW as an institution has the opportunity to be at the forefront, the UW Greek Community has had the opportunity to be a leader for chapters nationwide.
An up-and-coming program, the GGRP has been constantly evolving since its launch. During its first two quarters, it was largely a social outreach and education program, focusing on promoting chapter education and increasing sustainability awareness. This past spring quarter, its reputation and permanence established, the GGRP transitioned to become more focused on chapter-specific projects through the creation of project task force groups. Projects include sustainable lighting, installing water-efficiency technologies, increasing energy efficiency, outfitting chapters with recycling/composting bins and encouraging best waste practices, developing procedures for more sustainable parties, exploring renewable/alternative energy technologies for chapters, creating sustainability presentations, and more. View our project gallery here. In addition, the GGRP plans three events per year (one for each academic quarter) and contributes weekly to the UW Sustainability blog. Consisting of 70+ members, the GGRP is comprised of at least one representative chapter from almost all 50 residential chapters and the leadership team, led by the Green Greek Director. By structuring the program in this way, the GGRP provides the broadest base possible for resources and creates a network to disperse information and promote our events.
What are the goals of the organization?
We are a very goal-oriented group! One of our main goals, which we’ve accomplished, was to get every single chapter involved… at least on some level. Ultimately, we want to increase the sustainability awareness within the Greek Community, provide environmental leadership opportunities, and promote personal and professional individual development. On a big-picture level, the program is one small step towards promoting the sustainability conversation and encouraging best practices in living areas and communities globally.
What does your role as director entail?
As Director, my overarching role revolves around making the program successful. I’m given a lot of independence in how to do that. I do a lot of management, project facilitation, etc. I make sure that we have strong membership and I’m always recruiting people to join. I work with the EcoReps Marketing and Outreach Director to create awareness for the group: blog posts, social media marketing, and designing event/promotional materials. I oversee the event planning for our three yearly events. The best part of my job (because I love being creative) is designing and constantly evolving the program. I come up with new project ideas and assign people to lead those. I lead the weekly leadership meetings and the monthly representative meetings. Currently, I’m designing a website and working to expand the program into a practicum that students can take and receive credit for through the UW Program on the Environment.
As the Green Greek Director, I’ve made it my duty to personally connect with each and every individual involved: to find out their motivations, to understand the change they want to create and what they need, and to help them achieve and see their successes. I believe that because representatives feel valued and are shown the differences they’re making, they’ve been much more involved and active.
The GGRP seeks to promote action and involvement through the empowerment of its members. Rather than overwhelm representatives with tasks and assignments, we’ve learned to map out broad goals and let the representatives themselves be innovative and gauge how much they want to personally take on. When representatives go above and beyond (or even just “above”) I make sure to recognize them for their efforts, to reward passion, and to encourage new ideas. This encouraging, supportive environment is what has drawn and kept many members involved, returning, and churning out great project results.
What successes has the program seen so far?
The results are truly amazing given that the program has been around for less than a year. The fact that we established a Green Greek Representative in almost every single residential Greek chapter on campus through an intensive two-month recruitment process still amazes me. We’ve also had the majority of chapters complete the Green Greek Certification Survey, which establishes a starting point for measuring progress, highlights areas for improvement, and targets specific actions and goals for “next steps.” We’ve successfully planned, organized, and produced a professional promotional video in under a month. We’ve used the video to alert the national chapters’ affiliations to what their UW chapters are doing. This resulted in notable national attention. For instance, the Delta Tau Delta Brands Communication Manager published an article publicizing our efforts, “Green Greeks Work Towards Sustainability at UW.” Our Greek events have been successful: A majority of chapters participated in the Fall Community-Wide Street Clean and over 29 chapters participated in the Spring Green Greek Competition.
Individual projects have also seen tremendous success. In the “Environmentally Lit” project group, Theta Chi Representative Ben Weymiller persuaded his Corporation Board to switch completely from CFLs to LEDS by showing them his calculated cost savings of over $10,000 within one year. The “Sustainable Parties” project group succeeded in convening discussions about party sustainability and educating the people who clean up the parties on how to correctly recycle after parties. A sorority project group focused on designing “Sustainability Education” power points and delivering them to their chapters. Individual chapter success varies but an article highlighting project results from my own chapter that I created when I was the Sigma Kappa Sustainability Chair can be viewed here. Our new website is up this week and now all chapters have their own page and the opportunity to showcase what they’re doing. As an example, here’s Sigma Kappa’s page.
We’ve also made it a priority goal to collaborate with a number of different sustainability-focused organizations on campus, further establishing the GGRP as a resource and key stakeholder in sustainability efforts. These organizations include UW-Solar, the UW Farm, Husky Neighborhood, the UW Biodiesel Cooperative, and the Green Husky Coalition. Last year, I began talking to the UW Farm Director about the possibilities for Greek volunteer hours in return for leftover crops. This is something that we’re still discussing but has already culminated in my chapter successfully servicing the “Farm-To-Table” dinner. The UW Biodiesel Cooperative, a group repurposing leftover cooking oil into an alternative fuel supply, is setting up a collection
system to use the GC’s leftover oil. We’re in the process of testing the solar feasibility for Greek Chapter Houses with the help of UW-Solar, a group that works on solar energy projects. Learn more UW-Solar + Green Greek Representative Program: A Shining Collaboration. Additionally, a UW senior used the GGRP to gather data for her research for Seattle Public Utilities on creating an outreach strategy that encourages tenants to fully transition to composting. I believe that collaborative efforts like these hold the key to sustainability success in the future.
Where do you see the program going?
We want to extend our reach and expand our collaboration efforts with other Greek Communities around the nation. This summer I’ve been doing a lot of research: I want to know what other Green Greek programs are up to, what successes and what challenges they’ve faced, where we can combine our efforts. Right now, I have an ever-growing document of potential ideas for the UW Green Greek Representative Group that I’ve seen other groups doing. To name a few, Cornell has a really cool LEAF rating system, the University of Arizona has been doing “Zero-net-waste” philanthropy events that I’d like to try, and Indiana University does a Spring Energy Challenge that would be cool to incorporate into the UW program. I’ve been putting out a lot of feelers and seeing what’s possible. On the other side, other communities are reaching out to me as well. Sustainability stewards at Syracuse University just contacted me to learn about potential program possibilities for the Syracuse Greek Community.
What got you excited about energy and the environment?
It’s just such an exciting, growing industry. In fact, I wrote an article in May (after attending my first energy-related conference) about the potential of the industry: “The Most Exciting Business Story I’ve Ever Heard.” I love the people in the renewable energy industry, too. From what I’ve seen so far, the people getting involved in clean energy start-ups, investing in renewable energy, pushing sustainability policies, etc. are some of the smartest, most forward-thinking, hilarious, entrepreneurial and aspiring people I’ve yet to meet. I love being surrounded by ambitious, positive professionals striving to make the world a better place. Many of the people I’ve met at conferences love the environment, love being outdoors, care about their fitness, are so excited about life, and a joy to talk too. The purpose and the people, the volatility and the adventure, the entrepreneurship and the opportunity of this industry has me beyond excited about energy and the environment.
What’s next for you?
I plan to graduate in 2018 with a double-major in International Studies and Business with a focus on energy and the environment, and a Certificate of International Business. I would love to take two years and join the Peace Corps. Since my graduation is still 2-3 years out I haven’t looked into specific offerings but I would love to find an opportunity where I can work on renewable energy development projects in Latin America (put my Spanish to use) or teach about environmental awareness. Eventually, I want to go to grad school at Stanford’s Steyer-Taylor Center for Energy Policy and Finance, which explores innovative finance solutions for advancing cleaner, secure energy.
Talia Haller is co-founder and Director of the Green Greek Representative Program, a freelance writer on sustainability, energy, and the environment; and a Built Green Intern for the Master Builders Association of King and Snohomish County. She works with HeatSpring as a writing Fellow, spearheading the Sustainable Women Series and connecting with industry professionals to create technical content. As the only two-time Husky Green Award winner, the 2016 Greek Woman of the Year, a Chester Fritz Scholar, and a three-time recipient of the Don C. Brunell Scholarship for Future Leaders, her exemplary environmental leadership throughout the greater Seattle area has been noticed. In the past, she’s been a Field Manager for Environment Washington and Washington’s Public Interest Research Group, leading campaigns for clean water, going solar, and stopping the overuse of antibiotics on factory farms. In the future, she hopes to perpetuate the clean energy movement by financing renewable energy projects internationally, specifically in Latin America.
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