Meet sustainability alumnus Garrett Wong

Student wearing ASU shirt standing in front of cactiWith so many directions one can take in a sustainability career, Garrett Wong wasn’t sure where he would land. But after a series of experiences during his time as an Arizona State University School of Sustainability student, Wong realized he wanted to apply sustainability to the sports industry. As he said in his interview below, sports involves a wide variety of people from all walks of life: “What better way for sustainability practices to touch all of these individuals than in a space where leadership and teamwork both on and off the field are the driving message?” Wong, who graduated in spring 2016, now works as the member services manager for the Green Sports Alliance. Read his interview to learn more about how he got into this field and advice he has for current sustainability students. Question: What was your “aha” moment when you realized you wanted to study sustainability? Answer: Growing up in the heart of the Bay Area, I was able to witness firsthand the positive impact that sustainable action can have on a community from a very young age. But the moment I knew this was more than a passion but a serious career choice was my last year of high school. I had a hand in passing a city-wide ban on Styrofoam containers within restaurants through our high school AP Environmental Science class. After numerous presentations to the City Council, the unanimous decision was made the first semester while I was in Tempe. Now when we have a family meal out on the town, our to-go options don’t involve expanded polystyrene — a small yet impactful legacy that I’m grateful to have been a part of. Q: Can you tell us about your current position at the Green Sports Alliance? A: As the Member Services Manager, I have an opportunity to work alongside sports teams, universities and leagues across the globe in creating and bolstering their sustainability initiatives, goals and programs. In sharing best practices and pathways for growth directly with our members, I have a crucial role in driving the organization's mission to leverage the cultural and market influence of sports in order to promote healthy, sustainable communities where we live and play. Q: How did you become interested in applying sustainability to sports? A: For most of my time at the School of Sustainability, I was always questioning where my sustainability career would eventually take me. After a multitude of events — meeting with [School of Sustainability Instructor] Colin Tetreault, talking with league and team representatives, and doing my own research on the work taking place on the global level — I saw the pathway for sports to drive sustainable change in our communities. As corporate businesses operating in the entertainment industry in a literal sense, these brands are some of the most identifiable pieces of our communities. This camaraderie that comes with these teams are unparalleled in our society; every age, every race, every socio-economic group finds themselves identifying as followers, contributors and fans of these organizations. What better way for sustainability practices to touch all of these individuals than in a space where leadership and teamwork both on and off the field are the driving message? These entities have an opportunity to exemplify sustainability leadership in their communities while engaging their fan bases to take this mentality and practice it back in their homes. Upon enrolling in Professor Tetreault’s Sports and Sustainability capstone course (SOS 498/594) the Fall semester of my senior year, our group primarily focused on the 2017 NCAA Men’s Final Four that would be hosted in Phoenix. I was appointed the Chief of Staff as the Sustainability Committee came to fruition and administered several groups of local sustainability professionals to create a lasting sustainability legacy and impactful behavioral change for the sports leaders, fans and the local community. The experience to work alongside the city, local nonprofits and corporate sponsors all within the scope of putting on a sustainable keystone event opened my eyes to the possibilities this unique industry could present. Now that I had identified the industry I wanted to contribute towards, it came time to finding the right opportunity. In working alongside the Green Sports Alliance on the Sustainability Committee, that opportunity came across my desk with an opening on the team. As a membership trade association that convenes organizations within the sports greening movement, it was the perfect opportunity to hear what innovative projects were occurring across the board and encouraging others to do the same. Q: What does sustainability mean to you? A: Sustainability is everything, ultimately finding that balance where our society, economy, and environment can all thrive with both subtle and drastic changes to the systems we interact with on a daily basis. And its applications in our ever-changing global communities are endless: public policy, corporate business, supply chain management… Sustainability provides us the tools which open the door for a more fruitful future for all. Q: Is there anything you’d like to add? A: A piece of advice for current School of Sustainability students: Follow up with the sustainability manager you had coffee with, check in with your previous supervisor, and truly listen and learn from your colleagues. It’s not about having that “500+ connections” line under your LinkedIn profile, but having a wealth of knowledge of what’s going on in the industry through other professionals. Don’t just network, create meaningful relationships!