As a member of a sorority at UC Berkeley, I notice that institutional barriers cause inaction across several issues that pervade the Greek* system, including the issue of sustainability. In an effort to disrupt this stagnation and attack issues of waste generation, food security, lack of sustainability education, etc., I revamped a long-lost club called “Greening the Greeks.”
Our mission is to make sweeping cultural, infrastructural, and educational changes within fraternities and sororities at UC Berkeley in ways that improve our treatment of the environment.
Throughout my first semester in this position, I learned from stakeholders, developing a framework for community change. I hope to demonstrate to other Greek leaders that change is possible with thoughtful and bold leadership.
Much of my work involves dismantling the idea that individual action does not matter. Individual actors contribute to larger cultures. Those who attempt to incorporate sustainability into their own lives better understand barriers to sustainability. This knowledge curates informed voters and can be creatively applied to large-scale solutions, applicable to every person and every field of study. We plan to pair this message with a relatable, empowering education program as well as supporting fraternity houses in acquiring sustainable infrastructure.
Finding Common Ground
Inciting culture change requires an upheaval of social norms and finding common ground among the motives of different stakeholders. For example, community leaders informed my team that their many IFC members demonstrate a lack of will, and interest, in allocating funding towards sustainable infrastructure, so my IFC counterpart and I are working to shift incentives. Members of the InterFraternity Council (IFC) are currently paying the costs of a lawsuit for neighborhood disruption, including generating trash. Overflowing, poorly sorted trash that ends up in the street accounts for much of the disturbance. My IFC counterpart and I met with a fraternity advisor to understand where we could play a role in utilizing IFC’s situation to meet sustainable ends. We learned that the settlement requires fraternities to follow city laws, including those requiring a four-bin waste system for group living accommodations (GLA). Should the fraternities fail to comply, they could potentially violate the terms of their settlement. Currently, we are writing a proposal to housing boards, asking them to make an investment in proper waste sorting infrastructure that can ultimately save them money by not continuing to be a neighborhood disturbance, meeting the terms of their settlement, and not opening themselves to future lawsuits.
Strong enforcement is key. Early in the semester, we met with a Berkeley City Council member to discuss potential fines for Greek houses that did not comply with City waste laws. I use this possibility to leverage my ideas, encouraging leaders to let us help them make changes before potential fines create an additional financial burden. Furthermore, Greening the Greeks launched a “Trash Walks” program, where club members give fraternity events standardized scores based on the way they handle waste. The information will be made available to community members, who can use it to consider where they want to spend their time. We can enforce sustainable behavior by making it a means of social capital.
Frankly, the rate of current culture change feels sluggish when compared to the effort my team is making. However, our actions are planting seeds for lasting institutional change, integrating sustainability into the norms of Greek life at UC Berkeley, and putting in place a sustainable mindset that will impact students moving forward.
*“Greek life” and “Greek system” in this scenario refer to the Interfraternity Council (IFC) and the Panhellenic Council (PHC).
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