April 30, 2019

Sustainable Student-Athletes: Ellen Westfall

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Ellen Westfall is a senior on the Ohio State field hockey team. The environmental policy and decision making major found a passion for sustainability as a Huntington Bucks Go Pro intern in the summer of 2018. She spent her internship working with athletic department’s sustainability officers.

Using what she learned, Westfall took the initiative to coordinate a pair of Zero Waste events for Ohio State’s fencing and men’s and women’s gymnastics programs. The teams join synchronized swimming, men’s and women’s basketball and football as teams that have participated in Zero Waste efforts. We had a chance to hear from Westfall about her experience planning these events and her perspective on sustainability.

Ohio State Buckeyes

What was your experience like planning Zero Waste events for fencing and gymnastics?

I really enjoyed taking initiative on something I felt strongly about with the help of other student-athletes, friends, and the sustainability and facilities staffs. Getting the approval of the coaches was pretty easy. I think when coaches hear from their own athletes that they’re interested in something like a Zero Waste event they have a hard time saying no. 

What was the hardest part of the process?

The hardest part was organizing volunteers and working the events. Unsurprisingly, most people aren’t thrilled about digging through other people’s trash for recycling and compost and it’s really hard work. I was shocked at the number of people who would throw something recyclable or compostable in the trash right in front of me, as I was arm deep in trash can already! I think in the United State, we’re accustomed to ignoring facilities and waste services. We use something, throw it away and don’t have to think about it anymore. Working a Zero Waste event really put all that into perspective, seeing how much waste we produce and how much of it can be diverted from landfills. It was an extremely fulfilling and humbling experience. There’s not much else like it.

Why are you passionate about sustainability?

I’m passionate about sustainability because of the love I have for our natural world. As a kid, I was always happiest when I was playing outside. My mom definitely fostered that passion in me. My strengths are more oriented in communication and relationship building. I get on well with people and I think I’m well spoken, so sustainable planning and action is pretty up my alley. I believe most people genuinely care about the environment and want to do what they can to help protect it. I like to think that my involvement with sustainability, learning the most I can about reducing our impact on the earth and passing that information onto others, is the best thing I can do as an environmental steward. I just want others to be able to experience the love and passion I have for the natural world and that’s only possible if we’re responsible with the earth and its resources.

What do you do to live sustainably? 

In athletics, other people handle everything from our travel and food to our equipment and gear so we don’t have to think much about its impact, where it comes from and where it goes when we’re finished. I try to remain conscious of this as I utilize our resources and do my best to avoid unnecessary waste. I always take extra food home, take recycling from our locker room and avoid using plastic bags. I always try to educate my teammates about recycling properly!

I’d like to say I’m almost completely in charge of recycling at my house. I have four roommates contributing to our recycling but they don’t always know what can be recycled and what can’t. I spend a lot of time sorting through our recycling every week and I take our plastic bags to our local grocery store to be recycled. I also don’t drive a car at school. I mostly ride my bike and use public transportation. I also do my best to buy local foods or take home food that would otherwise been thrown out.  

Ohio State Buckeyes

What do you hope to see for Ohio State’s future in sustainability?

I would love to see the university allocate more funding towards the sustainability department. I think there’s a lot that can be done in this area. There are already plenty of great things in place, like the promotion of reusable containers on campus, but there’s still so much work to be done, especially with the visibility athletics at Ohio State gets. It would be easy to advocate for more sustainable resources if more student-athletes asked for them. I hope that that’s something that will continue to develop.

What do you plan to do after graduation?

That’s really up in the air! I would love to work in the sustainability sector to some degree or in some type of environmental education. I would love to work at an outdoor afterschool program for kids. I’m also still passionate about field hockey even though my time as an athlete has ended and would love to stay involved with the sport. There’s not much I won’t try so I’m excited to see what happens next!

Is there anything else you’d like to add about your experience at Ohio State?

Just that I have so much love for this school. Everyone I’ve met since I’ve transferred has been so amazing, from my professors and the faculty I’ve worked with, to my teammates and coaches, the friends I’ve made. It’s all been so amazing. I’m so grateful to Ohio State and the way it’s changed my life. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. Go Bucks!