• Environmental Impact on Campus and Beyond

    Phoenix Sustainability Initiative brings sustainable practices to UChicago and the greater Chicago community

By Belen Edwards

Phoenix Sustainability Initiative (PSI) is a Registered Student Organization (RSO) at the University of Chicago that seeks to bring sustainable practices and thinking to the UChicago campus and the greater Chicago community.

Founded in April 2013, PSI started as a handful of students who were passionate about sustainability and trying to make a change on campus. The group has grown to about 50 students who are involved in developing and carrying out PSI’s projects and initiatives.

PSI is divided into eight project groups: Campus Composting, Campus Sustainability Partners, Hyde Park Business Partnerships, Green Data, Public Engagement, Service, Professional Development, and Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.

“All these groups are really making things happen,” said third-year Amy Tian, who is president of PSI. “Our Service group started an environmental education initiative last year. They made lesson plans about energy and environment and are teaching them at local schools around the area.”

This project was so successful that Bon Appetit awarded it a national Student Activist Grant, which recognizes projects centering around food security and agricultural education.

Locally, the Hyde Park Business Partnerships helps Hyde Park businesses implement sustainable business practices. Two businesses they’ve already partnered with are Medici on 57th and True North Café. PSI helped design waste and recycling signs for Medici to improve sorting in their store, and they partnered with Healthy Soil Compost to ensure that True North Café’s coffee grounds are being put to productive use.

On a campus-wide level, PSI’s Campus Sustainability Partners group works with on-campus groups such as Student Government and other RSOs. “One thing that the Campus Sustainability Partners group does is help sort waste at various RSO events,” said Tian.

The Campus Sustainability Partners group is also currently working with the Council On University Programming (COUP) to implement long-term change at one of UChicago’s largest events: the Summer Breeze Carnival. “We’re trying to make a zero-waste Summer Breeze happen,” said Tian. “The people at COUP are excited about the idea, and they’re very committed to improving their group.”

“Our goal is to have a proposal at the end of the quarter, and COUP said that if the proposal is feasible, they will try to adapt it to their other events,” said Tian.

PSI is also hosting an Earth Day Carnival on April 22nd, featuring games that focus on environmental education and sustainability practices. “It’s ambitious, but we’re trying to challenge ourselves this year,” said Tian.

“Our previous events, like inviting speakers, have always been self-selective,” said Tian. “We want to reach out wider so everyone has sustainability on their minds. It’s pretty different from what we normally do.”

Creating new large-scale events and working toward long term change are some of the things that drew Tian to PSI in the first place. “I see my time at UChicago as an undergraduate not just as getting my degree but also actively working to improve something at the same time,” she said.

“Everyone in PSI is ambitious,” added Tian. “They all want to make large-scale, global change, and a large part of that is learning how to make local change, starting right here on our campus.”

Read more about PSI here.