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Jennifer Paonessa Head ShotJennifer Paonessa, Senior Account Executive with Georgia Tech IMG Sports Marketing, recently shared how she was able to merge her passion for marketing with her passion for sustainability through her work with Georgia Tech’s athletics program and the introduction of the “Swarm for Sustainability Day” to educate students and the community on the importance of advancing sustainability.

“Football is a huge part of the Georgia Tech culture,” Ms. Paonessa shared. Knowing that, the “Swarm for Sustainability Day” program was introduced to incorporate sustainability actions into the game days at the Bobby Dodd Stadium at Grant Field this year. Ms. Paonessa’s first step was to team up with the institution’s sustainability department where she learned about waste diversion efforts, sustainable food vendor selections and landfill recycling education efforts already underway – but widely unnoticed. She became determined to help educate the 40,000 fans that frequent Georgia Tech’s football games about ways to advance sustainability.

With the 2018 kickoff game as her goal to start to test this program, she knew that she would need the support and expertise from others on campus. She pulled together a team from the Office of Sustainability and the Athletic Department, as well as students, to launch a pilot of this grassroots campaign to reach the campus and surrounding community. “Don’t think you can do this by yourself. Create a team. Find support. Connect with other departments,” Ms. Paonessa emphasized when asked about her tips to others who try to build institution-wide athletic sustainability programs. “Consider incorporating things such as corporate support to expand the program by providing more sustainable solutions such as water facts and education at filling stations, as well as giveaways for things such as reusable water bottles, to really engage fans,” she continued.

While this program is still in its infancy, having only been pulled together in six months, signs of success are starting to roll in with greater use of appropriate bins during game day and increased involvement from businesses willing to help educate fans on the importance of sustainability advancements in day-to-day life.

“Since we only started piloting this program; it is still a work in progress, but we were able to launch the water bottle systems and give away water bottles on the Sept. 1 game particularly for the purpose of educating fans on water resource management. We also included recycling messages to make sure fans were recycling in the proper containers,” Ms. Paonessa shared when recapping the program’s initial launch. “We gained a lot of interest over the year that has resulted in a ‘student athlete swarm for sustainability team’ and an invitation to partake in sustainable initiatives and events throughout the community,” she continued.

Ms. Paonessa and the team continue to re-evaluate efforts to boost the success of this program for a full launch by the 2019 football season.  For additional support, she takes advantage of AASHE member benefits such as the online community, where she believes there is a lot of support in exploring ideas such as how to get businesses involved to a greater extent and spread the sustainability message at Georgia Tech and beyond.

How do you collaborate across departments to increase sustainability efforts at your institution? Share in the comments!