Earth Day draws campus partners together for sustainability events

The University of Chicago will commemorate Earth Day with a series of events designed to inform and engage the campus community on ongoing research, student-driven initiatives and sustainable projects.

The April 22 events will be sponsored by 16 campus partners, including the Office of the Provost, the Office of Sustainability and the Program on Global Environment. Among the highlights are an Earth Fest showcasing sustainability programs and a discussion featuring alumnus and former White House chef Sam Kass.

A new event this year will be the daylong Zero-Waste Athletics Event, set to take place during the University Athletic Association’s Outdoor Track and Field Conference Championship Meet. Helping support the event is the Campus as a Laboratory initiative, which uses UChicago's campus as a test bed to explore projects that bring students, faculty and staff together to collaborate, analyze and create innovative solutions with sustainable outcomes used on campus and beyond.

“The Campus as a Lab initiative seeks to encourage and support great interdisciplinary collaborations like these,” said Melina Hale, vice provost for academic initiatives and the William Rainey Harper Professor of Organismal Biology and Anatomy.

The Zero-Waste Athletics Event, which is designed to use sustainable materials and practices to reduce waste sent to landfills, is the result of an Environmental Studies practicum course in which students researched ways to reduce waste generation and recover material for beneficial reuse.

“Our goal is to develop a model of how to run green events or zero-waste events on campus and identify some of the big challenges as well as the opportunities to divert more waste from landfills,” said Sabina Shaikh, senior lecturer in the College and  practicum instructor. “We’re hoping to create a template to do it and learn from our experiences at the same time.”

Maya Scheidl, a fourth-year in environmental studies, was one of the students in the practicum course and volunteered to be a student representative in the bi-weekly meetings with campus partners like Facilities Services, Athletics and the Provost’s Office, and helped lead the Zero-Waste Student Committee. Their work included tasks like coordinating a sustainable concessions menu with Bon Appétit and UChicago Dining and determining the best way to broadcast the event to the student body.

“The most important thing about this whole project is the collaborative effort,” Scheidl said. “Ideally I’d like to see this momentum continued—keeping the student body involved, keeping communications open and updating everyone on the University’s sustainable practices.”

Other Earth Day events include Earth Fest, which is coordinated by the Office of Sustainability and showcases sustainable student organizations, programs and initiatives from UChicago, the local community and the city of Chicago. Participants can learn more about these initiatives and enjoy healthy, sustainably focused food. The event will take place in the William Eckhardt Research Center from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.

The Frizzell Memorial Series will sponsor Earth Fest keynote speaker Sam Kass, AB’04, Lab’98, a food entrepreneur, former White House Chef and senior policy adviser for nutrition for President Barack Obama. He is also the founder of TROVE and a partner in Acre Venture Partners.

For Shaikh, the most novel thing about this year’s events is the diverse array of campus partners. “We have the Office of Sustainability working with Athletics working with a practicum course, to name just a few of the partners involved,” said Shaikh, who directs the University’s Program on Global Environment. “It’s a really great framework that we’ve established for the future, and I think it’s representative of sustainability that everyone has to be involved for it to work.”

The full list of partners includes Bon Appétit; Campus Athletics and Recreation; Campus and Student Life; Environment, Agriculture and Food Group; Facilities Services; Frizzell Memorial Series; Institute for Molecular Engineering; Institute of Politics; Office of Civic Engagement; Office of Sustainability; Office of the Provost; Program on the Global Environment; The College; UChicago Dining; University Community Service Center and UChicago Laboratory Schools.