Helping to make Booth and Harper Center more sustainable

Sustainability is all the rage in the corporate world, so why not at business schools? That’s the question we asked ourselves as we set out to tackle a new challenge. As members of GBC, Kristina Lee, Raphaël Calabrese, and I were passionate about finding ways to illuminate sustainability principles at Booth. Together, we formed a Sustainability Task Force along with Sarah Clark-Hamel and Rebecca Li. Our charter was to explore actionable ways to reduce Harper Center’s carbon footprint and educate fellow Boothies about sustainable habits.

We kicked off our efforts in the winter quarter and immediately met with Booth’s Facilities director, Kari McDonough, to learn about the landscape. UChicago has an Office of Sustainability that was recently staffed by a new director, signaling that this has become a priority for the university. Being Boothies, we were interested in collecting as much data as possible to track Harper Center’s progress. Unfortunately, we learned that recycling and trash data is aggregated at the university level, not by individual buildings. We also learned that the City of Chicago governs the recycling programs that residents can participate in. Regardless, we knew that recycling habits could be improved. Kari’s team was in the process of creating new recycling signs that our Task Force provided input on. Since they rolled out in the Spring quarter, we have gotten many inquisitive questions and positive feedback!

GBC Social Impact & Sustainability Committee’s next target: box lunches.

GBC Social Impact & Sustainability Committee’s next target: box lunches.

We also sought to improve the sustainability of some daily activities that we all subconsciously ignore. Pollution from disposable plastic is a serious threat to our environment: the US alone produces around 35 million tons of plastic per year, out of which a whopping 91% is not recycled and ends up in landfills and in our oceans. This plastic comes in the form of daily items we all use daily: for example, at Booth coffee cups are conveniently provided but constitute an enormous source of waste. Imagine if all 1,200 MBA student purchased one cup of coffee per day. This amounts to 6,000 cups per week! It’s not just the cups (which are wax lined and can’t be recycled) - it’s also the plastic lids and cardboard sleeves! In a quarter, that’s around 60,000 cups. To think that’s just Booth and extrapolate that to the University, the City, and beyond, is absolutely mind-boggling! Our Task Force made a small dent in this problem by focusing on priority on reducing the use of plastic: we advocated for Facilities and Aramark to incorporate a discount for those who use reusable mugs. Thanks to their quick action, you can now get $0.50 off your cup of coffee at both Kovler and the Opening Bell. Compostable coffee lids have also been introduced recently. We have also requested compostable utensils to be incorporated into the dispensers. For reference, normal plastic utensils are made from crude oil and are not biodegradable.

Thanks to the quick work of our entire team and stakeholders, GBC decided to incorporate our task force into its committee structure. We are now part of the Social Impact & Sustainability committee, which is co-led by Sean Madison and me. As part of our early outreach this quarter, we have extended our impact to advocate for Student Life to provide all incoming MBA students with reusable coffee mugs! Our next targets are to try and mitigate box lunch and bottled water waste. Stay tuned for more progress as we try and make Harper Center and Booth more eco-conscious!