September 12, 2019

Sustainable Student-Athletes: Sarah Walsh


Sarah Walsh is a junior on the Ohio State synchronized swimming team and is majoring in environment, economy, development, and sustainability. Her interest in athletics and sustainability led her to secure an internship within the Huntington Bucks Go Pro 1.0 program, working alongside Ohio State’s sustainability coordinator in the Department of Athletics and Business Advancement.

The synchronized swimming team has been holding Zero Waste swim meets in the McCorkle Aquatics Pavilion for three years now, but Walsh didn’t want to stop there. During her internship, she created and coordinated a new zero waste event for her synchronized swimming team: helping their annual fundraiser for cancer research called “Sync Cancer”. We had the opportunity to hear from Walsh about her experience with coordinating Zero Waste events and how sustainability plays a role in her life.

Ohio State Buckeyes

Sustainability takes on many definitions and meanings. Can you tell us what the term sustainability means to you?

To me, sustainability means that the current generation is doing their part to ensure that future generations can enjoy Earth’s natural resources as they exist presently. I always think of a quote that my mom says – ‘Leave it better than you found it’ – meaning that everyone has a right to meet their present needs but a responsibility to avoid having that action affect future others negatively or leave less to benefit from. No one is excluded from this responsibility. Everyone – individuals, companies, governments, society – has to do their part to ensure that we are not hurting future generations by our actions or robbing them of the opportunity to enjoy natural resources. When we use natural resources to meet our needs, we cannot reduce the availability of that good to others in the future.


What was your experience like planning Zero Waste events for synchronized swimming?

Very eye-opening. I had no idea that so many logistics and planning went into a Zero Waste event but I’m glad that I got to experience it firsthand because it makes me more appreciative of the behind-the-scenes processes. A lot of people collaborate to make it happen, which made me realize that sustainability is a team effort and if even one person involved is not in the loop, the event won’t be as successful. However, the process of planning Sync Cancer, the synchronized swimming Zero Waste event, did not take an insanely long amount of time to organize or have high costs, so it is very feasible for other athletic teams and facilities to host more Zero Waste events! I want to encourage other teams to take the initiative because it sends a positive message to all fans and actively involves getting teams to be accountable for their waste volume and climate impact.

What was the hardest part of the process?

 I don’t necessarily feel like any one task was significantly harder than the other but I guess the one that took more creativity was actually designing the flyers that would be posted at the event. Planning and coordinating the Zero Waste event was mostly emailing back and forth between various parties but I was also tasked with creating informational flyers to be posted next to the waste stations to grab people’s attention and instruct them on how to properly dispose of the food. Since the waste from this synchronized swimming event was pretty unique in the fact that it was all from an outside caterer and not the usual food from concession stands, I had to modify the flyers and signs from previous events to fit the expected waste contents of Sync Cancer. For example, all of the icons on our zero waste posters or bins are usually stadium food like pizza, popcorn and nachos but for Sync Cancer they cater breakfast items so I had to work with creative services to create entirely new icons.


Why are you passionate about sustainability?

Ever since I was young, I have always been in awe of how incredibly beautiful and intricate the natural world is and I feel responsible for helping protect it. I want everyone to be able to appreciate our natural world for years to come but in order for that to happen, changes need to occur within our current world system. Sustainability is a team effort and I want to be a team member helping the effort. Maybe that’s why I love competing in a team sport with synchro because I love working and collaborating with others to achieve a shared goal. I want to share my passion for sustainability and use any influence or knowledge that I have to help others live or conduct business in a more environmentally-friendly manner.


What do you do to live sustainably?

It’s the small things that matter! Being on a college student budget, making small changes in my lifestyle have actually saved me money and helped reduce my carbon footprint! It’s a win-win! I take leadership in recycling when it comes to monitoring my team’s Zero Waste events. Since there is a waste station within our locker room, I am the go-to person when my teammates have a question about what they can and can’t recycle regarding waste that is somewhat unique to our sport like bobby pins and packets of gelatin. I try to buy most of my wardrobe from secondhand or thrift stores. The fast fashion industry is very unsustainable currently so I try to do my part by giving clothes a second life before they end up in a landfill. Thrifting is a lot cheaper than wholesale clothes too so I’m saving money! On campus, I try to ride my bike everywhere I can to avoid using a car. To class, swim practice, meetings, food or home; it saves me gas money and reduces my carbon footprint from car emissions. Back home in Cincinnati, I also started a pollinator garden, which I love maintaining and watching grow! I originally started the garden as part of a project I was working on in high school and it is harder to keep up now that I live in Columbus but I always check on it whenever I come home.

Ohio State Buckeyes

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

I hope to see more widespread efforts across all university departments. I especially want to see the athletics department take more of a leadership role. I hope that Zero Waste sport events will spread to all 36 athletic teams and student-athletes will start taking more responsibility to move sustainability efforts forward. During my time here, I have been working towards creating a sustainability committee within SAAC to get student-athletes’ perspectives of what they want to see within the athletics department and individual teams to be more sustainable. I want to hear student-athletes’ opinions on what they want and how we can get athletics to be more environmentally friendly here at Ohio State. In larger terms, I hope we can keep increasing Ohio State’s annual waste diversion rate. For being such a large school with many resources, we can incorporate more intensive waste diversion efforts everywhere on campus.


What do you plan to do after graduation?

Right now, I’m very interested in two career paths and I plan on completing various internships before graduation which will help me decide which one I want to pursue. I plan on attending graduate school to study either a business-related field or city and urban planning. Within the sphere of corporate sustainability, I aspire to be either a manager, director or sustainability operations within a larger firm or university. If I were to pursue the urban planning track, I would be working alongside regional planners to create solutions and implement policies to help communities manage their resources, lower their consumption of natural resources and reduce their overall impact on the environment. Ultimately, I want to either make individual businesses or design cities to be more environmentally friendly!


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

My experience working within the sustainability office and alongside the athletics department has been amazing and really eye-opening. It takes a lot of creativity and coordination across many different departments to keep a university of this size sustainable. I would love to continue fostering my passion for athletics and sustainability by sharing it with others in my future career. There is a lot to be done to make athletics more sustainable and I would love to be a part of that change!