Matt Morgan is head of Operations for the Penn State IFC/Panhellenic Dance Marathon. Net Impact had the pleasure of conducting an interview with him regarding THON’s efforts toward sustainability.
Net Impact: What is your position in relation to sustainability within THON?
Matt Morgan: The goal of the OPPerations committee is to ensure that each THON event, including the THON 5K, the Family Carnival, and THON Weekend, runs smoothly, efficiently and safely. This includes removing any and all waste created from the event. Over the last few years, but particularly this year, OPPerations Captains and Committee Members have actively measured the weight of each full bag of waste to later determine our waste diversion rate for each event. I oversee the waste diversion practices and work to educate all THON volunteers and spectators on proper recycling and waste management practices.
NI: When did THON start its sustainable practices, or have these practices been in place since the beginning?
MM: THON has always taken care of its own waste and has provided opportunities to recycle, but the OPPerations committee took a more active approach when we partnered with the Sustainability Institute in 2016. This led to tracking our diversion rates at each event that year, implementing better established waste stations, and educating the OPP committee in 2017. This year it has led to committee-wide recycling education and the beginning of sustainability initiatives in other committees such as Hospitality and Supply Logistics.
NI: What has THON done in recent years to increase its sustainability?
MM: As mentioned, THON started to take sustainability more seriously in 2016 when we partnered with SI. That year, we laid the groundwork of tracking diversion rates and beginning to make waste stations, rather than having loose waste bins throughout the dance floor. In 2017, OPP Captains and Committee Members were educated on proper recycling methods and actively managed waste stations at the 5K, Family Carnival and THON Weekend. This past year, the SI has helped to further our efforts by creating promotional materials and Public Relations has helped by making a sustainability page on the FAQ section of THON.org. Also, in addition to education within OPP, we have focused on increasing volunteer-wide education so those attending events know how to manage their waste in advance. Finally, we have worked on establishing sustainability initiatives in other committees.
NI: Do you feel that THON’s sustainability programs make corporate donors more willing to donate?
MM: That’s the goal. We are aiming to reach zero-waste status and hope that will open up new opportunities for involvement from corporate donors who may not have been involved before.
NI: What does sustainability have to do with THON’s mission?
MM: At its core, THON’s mission is to provide emotional and financial support for all Four Diamonds children and families. With this in mind, our sustainability initiative was founded on the idea that once we help these children beat childhood cancer, we want them to grow up to be healthy on a healthy planet. This initiative is an investment in the future of the Four Diamonds’ children and a promise that we will always support them and the world around them.
NI: Has THON become a zero-waste organization?
MM: We are in the process of becoming a zero-waste organization. After conversing with the Sustainability Institute, the threshold we aim to reach is an 80% diversion rate or better for each of our events to be considered zero-waste. So far, the THON 5K and Family Carnival surpassed that threshold with 82.92% and 82.44% diversion rates respectively. Our hope is to have similar success with THON Weekend and be able to say all of our major events were zero-waste this year.
NI: What initiatives does THON take in their effort to be sustainable?
MM: As mentioned before, our initiatives mostly lie within diversion rates and properly managing waste at major events. We have focused on growing the THON Recycling and Environmental Effort (TREE) and engaging more volunteers and organizations in this recycling-fundraising campaign. This year, we took a step forward to develop initiatives in committees outside of OPP. Supply Logistics has been working to cut down order quantities so we are only ordering amounts we truly need as well as collaborating with donors to procure more eco-friendly supplies. Hospitality worked with Pepsi to obtain reusable water bottles for all dancers to use during THON Weekend, and with Athletics to have refillable stations throughout the event floor. There has also been a combined effort to teach all Captains and Committee Members within THON about the basics of sustainability and how their committees can assist our efforts.
NI: What does THON plan for the future in regards to sustainability?
MM: Our goal is to achieve zero-waste status, if not this year, within the next two years. In addition, we aim to establish more sustainability initiatives in other committees. Currently, OPP has been the driving force behind these initiatives, but we would like to see all committees get involved.
NI: What is THON’s ultimate goal for their sustainable practices?
MM: Ultimately, our aim is to become the world’s largest student-run, zero-waste philanthropy. We want to inspire our volunteers, spectators and Four Diamonds children to treat the world around them with care. We hope new corporate donors become involved once we achieve zero-waste status and help us launch new initiatives for other committees. Overall, we want to create a healthier planet for the kids to grow up in.
Thank you to Matt for conducting the interview and thank you to all the THON volunteers who strive year-round to provide support for children affected with pediatric cancer.