One common misconception is that Greek life is a community that doesn't care about the environment, with excessive waste being a part of many traditional events, such as pomping with wasteful amounts of colorful tissue paper on fraternity lawns during Homecoming Week. Sororities and fraternities across the University of Minnesota Twin Cities campus strive to change that, and have been making steady progress to become more sustainable.
The group living aspect of Greek life leads to more carpooling and the sharing of clothes and other consumer products, leading to less overall consumption, and consequently, a lower carbon footprint. In recent years, living in a sorority has become significantly more sustainable with composting bins for all food waste, napkins, and other compostable products. Additionally, the introduction of recycling bins with clear instructions about what is and is not acceptable has cut down the environmental impact of having over 40 women live in the same household. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the use of single-use plastics had significantly decreased in the Greek community, and interest in making the community more sustainable had increased.
Greeks Going Green (a national sustainability nonprofit) expanded to the University of Minnesota in 2008, and has since educated the campus’ Greek members on how to make their daily lives more sustainable. Over half of the current National Panhellenic sororities on campus have their own sustainability chairs. The Panhellenic Council (the governing body of Panhellenic organizations on campus) designates a Sustainability Director, who works to incorporate sustainable practices into each Greek event.
Formal positions aren't the only way Greek organizations are increasing their focus on sustainability; there have been educational opportunities presented to all members, as well as round tables for sustainability chairs to share ideas between chapters. These occur once per semester at minimum and consist of at least one representative from each Panhellenic chapter.
Additionally, there are frequent volunteer opportunities for members to engage in environmental efforts throughout the Greater Minneapolis-St. Paul community. Amidst the pandemic, these efforts have included trash pickups around Dinkytown with individuals from the same household, as well as events that can be conducted virtually over Zoom. With more people on campus and more in-person classes next semester, sorority and fraternity rush is expected to increase significantly compared to prior years. Welcoming in all of these new members points to the necessity to implement even more sustainable practices in Greek life.
Of course, the current measures still aren’t enough to call living in a sorority or fraternity fully sustainable, but small steps can be taken in Greek housing, or any home, for that matter! Some examples include switching all light bulbs to compact fluorescent light bulbs and installing showerheads that use less water and more pressure. Such small changes can cumulatively make a huge impact, no matter where you live. In the future, we hope to see Greek organizations (both with and without chapter housing) pushing towards more sustainable practices that can decrease their carbon footprint and help mitigate the devastating effects of climate change on our communities - not to mention, our entire planet.