Dan Schupsky is an assistant coach in both men’s and women’s swimming and diving programs at Penn. He has been in this role at the University since 2010, before which he coached at Bucknell University in Lewisburg, Pa. As a Staff Eco-Rep, Dan encourages sustainable behavior by educating other coaches about the value of green practices. Recently, Dan has been instrumental in helping student athletes to form their own Athletics Eco-Reps community, which will provide a common ground for them to create sustainable programs.
Q: When you look at the amount of green space around the campus, and then consider how much of that space is used by student athletes, what is your thought on the relationship between those students and the grounds they play on?
A: I’d like the student athletes to understand that they are stewards of some of the most beautiful places on campus -- Penn Park, Boathouse Row, off-campus cross country trails, or the athletics facilities surrounding Hollenback. It would be great if each team invested themselves into the maintenance and greening of these spaces they practice and compete on.
My plan is to get one Athletics Eco-Rep from each team, thereby designating a point person to help us address the sustainability gaps within facilities, on various fields, and within the “flow” of their sport. Identifying areas of need or, simply the absence of knowledge, is crucial for us to communicate to the Athletics Department, and the Building/Grounds Managers, areas for improvement.
Penn’s facilities are premier facilities in the region, so at some point in the future it would be a wonderful campaign to have our student athletes help promote their sport to younger athletes in the greater Philadelphia area and frame it around healthy land use and preservation through sustainable athletics.
Q: When someone attends an athletic event at Penn – whether it’s a swim meet or a basketball game – what are the sustainability issues that are present, even though they might not be seen by someone sitting in the stands?
A: One of the goals of the Athletics Eco-Reps is to look at the main populations present at each event and figure out what their needs are and how we can address them in a more sustainable manner. For example, how did the fans get there? Did they drive or take public transportation? Are there incentives we could offer, like a ticket discount, for those who came by bus or train, or even bike?
We have also been thinking about ways to engage fans in sustainability. Some ideas that have come up are small, such as a CFL bulb giveaway, and others are things like the Philllies have done, handing out small composting bins, or doing an e-waste collection on game day.
Specifically related to the pool, I am in the special position of coaching, running the facility, and leading the Athletics Eco-Reps. There are many things I am doing behind the scenes that are facility-based. We have an ultra-violet disinfection system for the pool, which means we can operate using very low levels of chlorine, thus our chemical use is lower. We have had energy efficient lights put into the facility. We have recycling bins that we encourage our fans to use during events and the housekeeping team to use afterward. Our team has recycled t-shirts as part of our apparel. We are lucky to have a lot of involved parents who want to help out, so I’d like to suggest to them that they provide us with things other than plastic water bottles. As for fan engagement, that’s next on my list.
Q: Related to your experience working with students, what has been a sustainability message that has really resonated with them?
A: The message that has resonated most with them, at least at this point in time, is simply that they have an ally (me). The students are excited that a staff member is willing to help them start this Eco-Reps group. They are great about coming up with their own ideas, making a plan of attack, analyzing quantitative data, and reporting their findings back to the group, the team or Athletic Department at large. Awareness is a great thing in the push towards sustainability in all arenas.
The Athletics Eco-Reps are energized by their ability to get small projects done, and see some results from their research and work. They are learning about how localized, or small-scale change, can aggregate into a larger campaign and positively influence the administration to evolve their ways of playing sports and doing business.
Q: What are some of the things you have encouraged the Athletics Eco-Reps to get started with as they build their program?
A: The thing I have impressed upon them in the group’s infancy is that their focus should be about making contacts, gaining internal traction, working well together within the sub-committees, and identifying low-hanging fruit that is both manageable and achievable on a semester-based time-line.
I am also encouraging the Athletics Eco-Reps to voice their opinions with their head coaches and teammates, as well as in their off-campus houses. Student athletes are natural leaders, so I am pushing them to promote this groupmm, and their own personal philosophies regarding sustainability in athletics. As we build an internal network and strengthen our mission, I want to develop sustainable champions on each and every team who begin to step out and call on their peers to follow their example.
Q: What is the single biggest thing you think the greater Penn community should know about the relationship between sport and sustainability?
A: We know that fans come to games to watch basketball players dunk, to see Hail Mary touchdowns being caught, swimming records being broken, and over-time penalty kick shoot-outs. That’s a fact, and we are not trying to shift the spotlight to sustainability, nor do we want to!
What I hope the community, both internal and external, starts to realize is that reducing our footprint and becoming greener is not a simply a trend, but a way to do better business, play better sports, and live better lives.
The relationship between sport and sustainability is an excellent one to foster because there is so much energy and enthusiasm in Athletics and our players, coaches, and operators are role models. As such, we can begin to teach sustainability to our fans in a way that is not intrusive. Education, tips and ideas, and small, yet manageable, changes are what people are looking for, and Penn Athletics can help reach an external population that most of the other segments of the University do not have access to.
Each issue, we recognize a member of the Penn community for his or her environmental sustainability efforts on campus. If you know someone at Penn who is "leading the green," let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org .