Thrower Sadey Rodriguez (Laredo, Texas) is using her platform as a UVA student-athlete to make a positive impact on the world around her. With the support of her track and field teammates and coaches, she is working to make the Virginia athletics department more sustainable.
Q: What sparked your interest and made you so active in sustainability?
Rodriguez: I was always interested in environmentalism when I was young, but it wasn’t until college when I began to fully understand what sustainability really meant. There are a lot of parts to sustainability such as being conscious of resource use, waste production and greenhouse gas emissions, but there are also larger socioeconomic implications and responsibilities to keep in mind. This has been my more recent focus in thinking about how to shape sustainability in sports when we have such a large platform as athletes to advocate for values we believe are important.
Q: Are your younger brother and your parents involved as well?
Rodriguez: My mom was definitely the first person to bring environmental awareness into my life. As a teacher, at any school she has worked for, she started a recycling club where she would collect old workbooks, cardboard boxes and miscellaneous papers to either donate them to schools in Mexico or take them to the local recycling center. I grew up noticing the changes she was making within the community, so her impact has largely been involved in a lot of my inspiration for taking sustainability initiatives on Grounds.
Q: What efforts have you initiated with the track and field team to move them to more sustainable initiatives?
Rodriguez: A big success this past year was hosting our first zero-waste team dinner where almost all the waste was either composted or recycled. This was really exciting, and I’ve been working with operations to hopefully make this a normal occurrence with our team. There are more sustainable initiatives I am working on with the Green Athletics group, such as our Green Team Certification program which rewards teams for sustainable actions, and my hopes are that the track and field team can lead the way for other teams to follow environmental consciousness in day-to-day operations.
Q: What was the response from your teammates and coaches to these changes?
Rodriguez: My coaching staff was extremely supportive of this and I really don’t think they knew how easy the shift would be to make an event zero waste on Grounds. Our amazing recycling team at the Office for Sustainability supports any on Grounds events that host up to 100 people by providing compost and recycling materials. This means there was no extra work on our operation side other than staying in contact with our recycling team to drop off and pick up materials. Also, every time we have a meeting Coach (Mario) Wilson, the jumps coach, will always make sure to let me know we’ll be recycling any left over agendas, which honestly touches my heart as silly as it sounds.
Q: Are you involved an any sustainability efforts on Grounds?
Rodriguez: I’m currently interning with the Office for Sustainability as the Green Athletics intern, and through there I have really focused on bringing sustainability into our athletics department. As I mentioned before as athletes, we have an opportunity to use our platform to promote values that are extremely important to us. For myself and a lot of other athletes, we’ve begun to see a need for sustainable action in the sports industry and operations side of athletics. This past year, I’ve worked closely with Zoe Morse, who just recently graduated and played on the women’s soccer team, and Savana Avilla, who is on the softball team, to grow this platform as a group (that) we call Green Athletics. Some of our accomplishments this past year include putting up new compost and recycling signage in the JPJ dining hall, collaborating with Chris Long’s organization Waterboys at Lighting of the Lawn, hosting a Green Weekend with zero-waste games for several women’s sports and launching our Green Team Certification program. More recently I am part of the ACC Sports Sustainability Conference Content Committee to plan our first student-athlete panel on sports sustainability leadership.
Q: How have you been able to adapt your lifestyle at home to make yourself more sustainable? What are some of the changes you have made to your life to help reduce your carbon footprint?
Rodriguez: There is a lot I’ve changed in my day-to-day routine to help reduce my carbon footprint such as turning off lights when they are unnecessary, taking public transportation or walking to classes when possible, and using heated water sparingly, but the biggest issues I’ve tried to combat is reducing my waste. I’ve avoided buying single use plastics as much as possible, and I’ve began to buy in bulk when I can to reduce unnecessary packaging of food.
Q: Has the quarantine affected what you are able to do at home with some of your sustainable efforts?
Rodriguez: The quarantine impeded a lot of the efforts that Zoe, Savana and I were collaborating on such as making Hoos Choice Awards a zero-waste event and hosting another Green Weekend with baseball and softball, but it also presented a unique opportunity to connect with other athletes in a way that was not available before. Our ACC Sports Sustainability Conference has now shifted into a virtual symposium, so now we can include student-athletes and other athletic operations staff that were not previously able to attend an in-person conference. Out of this virtual symposium the plan is to create a conference wide coalition of student-athletes for sustainable sport with the support of our athletic leadership!
Q: Has this affected what you would like to major in or future career?
Rodriguez: What I’ve learned in just the past few months alone has really shaped what I want to do with my career in the future. From day one, I knew I wanted to be an environmental science major, but I had no idea that I could intertwine both my passion for sports AND academics into a potential future career! I’m striving to continue working with sports teams and athletic leadership to take steps forward in sustainable change that can shape the future of our planet. I’m also so incredibly blessed to have been able to work with the Office for Sustainability so closely. My manager Nina (Morris) has helped me grow and expand on my passions, and every time I talk to her I am inspired by her own work ethic and dedication to sustainability!
Q: As you were transitioning to a more sustainable lifestyle, what was one of the hardest habits to break or modify?
Rodriguez: The hardest habit to break was cutting down on single use plastics because most of the time I wasn’t even conscious I was creating so much waste! When I would buy groceries sometimes, I would buy snacks that came in small packages until I started to realize I was creating unnecessary waste because most of the things I was eating can be bought in larger packages. Also, as I started to look at everything I owned, I realized most of it was plastic. Now when I buy anything I like to think – how long will I use this for and what will happen to it when it no longer serves me? This helps me make purchases that are more sustainable for myself and the planet.
Q: What are some easy things people can do during this time to help with these efforts?
Rodriguez: I just had a conversation with some of the ACC Sports Sustainability Student-Athlete panelists about this exact topic. We all came to the consensus that at this time learning more about sustainability is a top priority. Not all people are in the same situation, but through educating yourself on the main purpose of sustainability, you can make more sustainable choices that fit into your own unique lifestyle. A few changes a lot of people can make are eating more plant-based meals, taking shorter showers, growing your own produce, buying local, recycling plastic packaging, starting your own compost bin or supporting brands that also have sustainable initiatives. There is no perfect way to completely cut out anything from any of our lives, but taking small steps to reach a larger goal can play a role in the social change our nation needs to live more sustainably.