Penn Athletics is about to get cleaner and greener this semester.
The Eco-Reps program, whose deadline for applications was last Sunday, has decided to expand to Penn Athletics this semester. The program, which focuses on educating the Penn community about sustainable practices, began in college houses in the 2009-10 school year. In 2011, the program expanded to Greek houses as well as Hillel.
“We wanted to bring this message to many different Penn communities and residences,” Eco-Reps Program Director Julian Goresko said. “Athletics is a huge part of student life.”
Goresko said the expansion of the program aims not only to educate athletes about sustainability, but also to help athletes spread the message to others on campus.
“People tend to look up to upperclassman leaders, whether they are in Greek houses or athletes or elsewhere on campus,” he said.
Last year, about 75 students were selected to be college house Eco-Reps. The official kickoff event for this year’s program will take place on Sept. 22.
Dan Garofalo, Penn’s lead environmental sustainability coordinator, said that while Facilities and Real Estate Services previously worked to reduce the environmental impact of large sporting events on campus, this program is a concerted effort to reduce Penn Athletics’ ecological footprint.
“First of all, big crowds come together at sporting events, so all the opportunities to change behavior can be communicated there,” he said. “Second, there are opportunities for improving sustainability with athletic equipment, fuel, travel and so much more.”
Director of Athletic Communications Mike Mahoney agreed that FRES reached out to Penn Athletics because of the volume of people who attend athletic events, citing the 9,000-student capacity of the Palestra, and the 50,000-student capacity of Franklin Field.
“We probably have the highest attended events on campus,” Mahoney said. “These events tend to generate a lot of waste, and of course, the more waste, the more opportunities to recycle.”
While Penn Athletics has collaborated with FRES in the past — most notably by having student volunteers during the Penn Relays — Mahoney believes this initiative will put recycling and waste management at the forefront, which may include announcements at the start of games.
“This program formalizes our recycling initiatives,” Mahoney said. “It puts a name and face on it.”
College senior Samantha Lieberman, a student coordinator for the program, said the initiative has experienced “exponential growth” over the past few years.
Lieberman, who joined the program in fall 2009 as the Eco-Rep of her freshman residence, said that while there are differences between Penn Athletics and a college house, there is potential for engagement with the community.
“The main difference with the Eco-Reps program in a non-residential community is that the program tends to be more autonomous,” Lieberman said.
“They have their own staff coordinator, and so they tend to be more of a satellite program.”
Goresko added that the athletes themselves will determine much of the program’s direction.
“The athletes spend a lot of time in their surroundings, and they will observe changes that they want to make.” Goresko said. “We are going to wait and see how the program evolves.”