Second Annual SAGE Social celebrates sustainability successes

May 31, 2012

On May 22, 2012, the Office of Sustainability hosted its second annual SAGE Social for SAGE Ambassadors and sustainability partners on campus. Over 60 people attended the annual gathering which recognizes the work of sustainability supporters and provides a relaxed forum for students, staff, and faculty from across campus to connect while trying local drinks and appetizers made with ingredients from the Quad Club garden.

Ilsa Flanagan, Director of Sustainability, began the program by sharing some of the past year's accomplishments, including a budding partnership with Argonne National Laboratory, a highly visible and successful SAGE Waste and Recycling Committee, and the sheer volume of volunteers that turn out for sustainability events, such as Earth Week and E-Waste Recycling. Flanagan then introduced Karen Warren Coleman, Associate Vice President for Campus Life & Associate Dean of Students in the University, who described how the collective effort of SAGE Ambassadors has helped to create a culture of sustainability at every level of the University. "Sustainability is being integrated into the University's values," Warren Coleman stated, "which has allowed us to serve as sustainability leaders in numerous areas across campus."

Flanagan pointed out that there is another reason the University has become a leader in sustainability. "Karen has been a big supporter of sustainability since her first day and has said yes to every idea we proposed," Flanagan reports. Warren Coleman laughingly responded, "And then we work together to figure out how to implement those ideas."

One of these ideas was the new dining contract. "Not only did it become a model for integrating sustainability into campus contracts, but the sheer scope of the sustainability goals, including an aggressive 40% local food purchasing goal, puts UChicago out front in sustainable dining," noted Flanagan.

Each year, several sustainability supporters receive special acknowledgment for their leadership and commitment to sustainability. This year, the Procurement and Payment Services department was honored for its efforts on University-wide contracts. Mark Fehlberg, Diane Stanek, Jim Arnold, and John Gronke were recognized for taking the initiative to integrate sustainability requirements into the dining, water delivery, and office supplies contracts. Their work for sustainability has effectively changed the way the University does business. Furthermore, the department has led by example, taking steps to green their own office space, including removing personal printers and fax machines.

Also honored were UChicago Students Against Bottled Water, who built a movement that has garnered attention from all corners of campus. They have reduced the number of bottles of water at Convocation from 40,000 in 2010 to 6,144 in 2012, raised funds to install hydration stations in campus buildings, and led efforts to reduce bottled water sales in Aramark-run facilities by a whopping 50%. For the past two years, Lauren Tarpey, Julie Huang, Jonathan Lai, Jamie Manley, Joe Sullivan, and Alice Ye have collaborated with strategic partners to convey their message of reducing bottled water on campus, a message that is now strong enough to be carried into the future.

Huiting Xu, a fourth year in the College, was recognized for her one-woman composting operation. She single-handedly persuaded campus and student events to compost—she created composting signs, showed up at the events, such as the South Asian Students Association (SASA) Show, talked to attendees about what is compostable, and then disposed of the compost. Consequently, compost became a popular topic of discussion across campus this year, especially for events held by Registered Student Organizations (RSOs). Once the Office of Sustainability got wind of her work, a collaboration was formed and with the assistance from members of Green Campus Initiative, the Green Event Certification program for RSOs was recently launched.

While many individuals and groups take sustainable actions independently within their own office or department, the SAGE Social encourages connections. Chris Smith, a graduate student at the Divinity School and a member of "Greening the Divinity School," appreciated being able to connect with sustainability supporters through the SAGE Social. "As an interestingly semi-autonomous building and community, the Divinity School has the opportunity to be a model for sustainability on campus," Smith stated. "This year has seen several sustainability initiatives at Swift Hall, especially at our student run café, Grounds of Being," Smith explained," and our new connections with fellow "greeners" from across campus and our involvement in Earth Week 2012 has provided insight and excitement for our cause."

SAGE—Sustainable Actions for a Greener Environment—is the University's green leadership program. Through SAGE, dedicated members of the University community attend a brief training session where they learn how to raise awareness about campus environmental initiatives, contribute to the sustainability efforts of the University, and inspire their peers to integrate sustainable action into their daily life. The program is unique in that the 256 Ambassadors come from among the ranks of University faculty, students, and staff, facilitating the opportunity for innovative green leadership and collaboration across all levels of the University. If interested in getting involved, please email