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Sphera Sustainability Day 2019: Looking After the Lakefront and Working Toward a Wonderful World

August 30th, 2019
James Tehrani
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CHICAGO, ILLINOIS

Did you ever see a team walking … to clean up a beach and park? Well, I did.

For Sphera’s third-annual Sustainability Day, Spherions in the Chicago office ventured to the nearby Ohio Street beach to grab the garbage from the ground and beach and dispose of it properly. The cleanup was part of an Alliance for the Great Lakes effort to keep our lakes and beaches especially tidy for everybody to enjoy.

The beach, which is located in Chicago’s Streeterville neighborhood, is tucked away in a small area in the shadows of Navy Pier and its famous Ferris wheel. I’ve lived in Chicago my whole life, and I never visited this location. To get there, you have to take a somewhat-off-the-beaten path route—but it’s definitely worth the endeavor. With its beautiful views of the architecture that winds its way along and near Lake Shore Drive, including the building formerly known as the John Hancock, the area is definitely a hidden gem. Keeping this “gem” free from litter is really important, but so are efforts to clean up the rest of the world’s beaches and parks.

The Ohio Street Beach is also unique for another reason: It faces north rather than easterly as most Chicago beaches do. As the Chicago Park District explains, “Due to its unusual orientation, Ohio Street Beach serves as an ideal training site for open water swimming. One can swim north 0.5 miles (800 m) to the Oak Street curve without ever being more than a few feet from the seawall and shallow water.”

The fact that Chicago’s beaches can be enjoyed by anyone and that they add such a unique element of beauty to the city can be traced to the Plan of Chicago, which was released in 1909 by architect Daniel Burnham and his co-author Edward Bennett. Burnham, of course, played a key role in designing the World’s Columbia Exposition, which took place in Chicago in 1893 and wheeled out the world’s first Ferris wheel. Burnham’s plan included using landfill to widen certain beaches, so parts of today’s Chicago shoreline are as much as a half-mile wider than they were when the settlers reached the city generations ago.

Overall, the area we visited was in pretty good shape; there are many beaches around the world that could use much more TLC for sure. I did, however, pick up several cigarette butts (not too surprising since an estimated 4.5 trillion remnants of people’s smokes are littered every year around the world); a wooden spoon; pistachio shells; a Starbucks coffee container hidden in the bushes long enough where the label with the customer’s name had faded completely; a piece of an obituary from a newspaper; and a wrapper for Mango Balls, which apparently are a popular snack from the Philippines. Of course, that was just my findings for the day. The dozens of Chicago Spherions who participated found other discarded items throughout the area (see below).

The amount of trash I collected didn’t seem like much at first, but when you combine my findings with that of all the Spherions who participated, the amount of trash adds up quickly. If not gathered by us and other litter collectors, it could wind up polluting the lake.

Proper disposal of items is a problem worldwide. In the Philippines for instance, where the aforementioned mango delights come from, a 2017 report in the Manilla Times found that 45% of waste in the metro area was not disposed of properly. Of course, the United States produces more waste than any other country—some 230 million tons per year. “Less than 25 percent of that waste is recycled and the rest ends up in landfills, incinerated or in ditches and roadsides,” according to Sciencing.com, a resource website for students. On top of that, an article on National Geographic’s website from last year cited research that found that 91% of plastic never gets recycled, and an estimated 8 million tons of plastic end up in the oceans every year. We’re literally drowning in a sea of litter.

The beach cleanup was an interesting and fun experience, and it certainly made me look closer at the grounds around me. After the event, while walking my dog, I saw a small bottle on the ground near my house. Instead of walking by it, I stopped to pick it up and threw it in a recycling bin. It made me think: What if we all took the time to pick up just one piece of litter a day? Imagine how much cleaner the world could be and how that might contribute to a much more sustainable future. Just imagine.

Other Chicago Spherions’ Sustainability Day Experiences

“It felt great knowing we were making a positive impact on the environment and preserving nature’s beauty,” said Reid Liegeois, Sphera’s financial analyst, who found an empty bottle of cognac among other things. “I hope that we inspired other beach goers to think about the environmental impact of littering and to make small steps into living more sustainably.”


“This was my first beach cleanup,” said Anna Perrecone, Sphera’s human resources associate. “It inspired me to be more mindful about littering and keeping our parks clean. All of the little pieces of trash that was collected really adds up and affects how clean our city is. The most interesting item that I found was a swimming cap and lots of straws and popsicle sticks. Afterwards I bought a portable reusable straw.”


“It was my first cleanup,” said Max Redpath, senior strategic operations analyst, who also found some cigarette butts and Q-tips near the chess table. “We had a nice older gentleman with a dog stop a few of us and thank us for what we were doing. He mentioned how he lives in the area and volunteers and picks up litter at a couple of different places around Chicago, e.g., the Lincoln Park Zoo, and that seeing other people clean up like he does validated his efforts and gave him more energy to continue doing that in the future.”


“I’ve done cleanups with past companies/groups here in Chicago or back in Michigan,” said Ben Worrel, Sphera’s senior UX designer, who found a large cork and half of a pencil along with a bunch of plastic bits. “It’s a good way to spend an afternoon, but it does make you wish people were a bit more conscientious about maintaining shared public spaces. It’d be a lot easier to just not make a mess in the first place. We did get several positive comments from folks passing by who appreciated what we were doing, which was nice.”

Sphera Sustainability Day Around the Globe

The following are recaps of other Sustainability Day initiatives from Sphera’s other offices.


ABERDEEN, SCOTLAND, U.K.

Aberdeen Spherions visited the Dee View Court Neurological Care Centre, which offers palliative, neurological and bereavement support, and they planted a beautiful garden for the residents. As you can see, they felt like they were ready to fly from the goodwill blooming from the rewarding experience. In a LinkedIn post from Sue Ryder, the center’s capital appeal manager, she wrote: “As the building works continue for our 20-bed expansion, we’ve had some gardening angels sprucing up the outdoor spaces, including the lovely lot from Sphera. Led by (now gardener extraordinaire) Steve Cannon, the team put in a beautiful splash of colour along our front garden, giving residents an ambient view to enjoy from their bedrooms or to sit outside with a coffee or tea and enjoy in the summer months.”


BANGALORE, INDIA

As a part of Sphera’s Sustainability Day activity, Bangalore, India, Spherions volunteered at the Sri Rakum School for the Blind.

There were a series of events planned that day, including:

So how’d they do? Excellent, we’d say!

The Spherions:


DENVER, COLORADO

Denver Spherions volunteered at The Action Center for the third time. They sorted and unpacked donated food, stocked the shelves in the food pantry, and helped to sort and fold donated clothing. The Action Center has provided 545,295 meals through the 100,875 hours people volunteer there every year. Those efforts help more than 20,000 people every year. They say the third time’s the charm, but we think the first and second visit were just as charming in this case. Go for four next year?


HOUSTON, TEXAS

Houston Spherions returned to the Houston Food Bank and volunteered their time to help provide more than 10,000 meals. The food bank delivers 104 million meals feeding 800,000 people per year. Sustainability and food are a match made in hard work and volunteering, especially in Houston.


NASHVILLE, TENNESSEE

When Nashville Spherions aren’t making cool interactive photos, you just might find them collecting supplies for a local school with students in need.

The Spherions used some of their culture budget to purchase backpacks and more school supplies on top of the money raised. On the morning of our Sustainability Day, a few people brought everything to the school for teachers and in-need students. 

That’s partially how they spent their Sphera Sustainability Day this year. They also met at a local park for a field day-style team-building activity that included picking up trash throughout the park. Education and sustainability go hand-in-hand—as they should.


SALT LAKE CITY

The Salt Lake City Spherions went on a waste management training and tour of Salt Lake County Landfill. Did you know the county landfill’s staff cover garbage every night with six inches of dirt to snub out the smells, and, since decomposing garbage release several gases, the landfill captures it and pipes it over to an energy facility to be burned off and converted to energy? That’s land-tastic!


TORONTO, CANADA

For this year’s Sphera Sustainability Day, Toronto Spherions rolled up their sleeves and dug in. Literally. They planted trees and flowers for the third time at a local park to help the city create and preserve natural areas.

The city of Markham, located about 20 miles northeast of downtown Toronto, has said that the incubation work we did the past couple of years on the new forest areas has been very successful, and those areas are now primed to grow into new forests. As such, they asked Spherions to help establish a number of new trees and wildflowers in the park this year. According to the town of Markham, there are a number of trees that are in pots that will be better off planted in late summer (vs. September), and the team can help with that. They also asked if we could plant a few additional wildflowers in an area for pollination purposes. Some native wildflower species are known to be good sources of nectar and pollen for a wide range of pollinator species. Way to create a buzz, gang!

***

We hope our efforts have inspired you and your organizations, too, to take up sustainability projects of your own. And there’s no need to wait until next year; we can create a sustainable future together today and every day.


Spherions Steve Cannon, Sharon Davis, Philippe Guillard, Joni McHugh. James Naron, Anna Perrecone, Lokesh Subramani and Neeraj Verma contributed to this post.

James Tehrani

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