What started as a simple four-unit class turned into so much more.
Annie Goransson was posed the hypothetical question of “How can we make the campus more sustainable?” in a landscape architecture class last year. Then, the senior on the Cal women’s tennis found her passion.
As Goransson continued to learn about the ongoing environmental issues occurring today, she became interested in environmental issues and environmental politics.
“I felt upset when I learned about all these issues,” Goransson says. “I decided that if it’s something I’m interested in, than it should be something that I should continue with.”
All her life in Sweden, Goransson has had close encounters with nature. She hails from Höllviken, a small resort town on the Swedish coast nearby neighboring Denmark.
Growing up, her family regularly traveled around the world. Back in Hollviken, the Goranssons would go on hikes and ski trips.
“I’ve always loved going on hikes and being out in nature,” Goransson says. “I think that comes from my family.”
Her upbringing was not only instrumental in environmentalism but also in tennis. Goransson’s entire family has played tennis, with her parents and brothers playing as high as the collegiate and professional levels.
Goransson’s decision to play collegiately in the United States was an easy one for her despite the rigours of being a student-athlete at Cal. In fact, it was exactly what Goransson signed up for.
“It might have been easier to just play tennis.” Goransson says. “But having multiple things in your life that are important to you is nice.”
Upon deciding to attend Cal, she initially didn’t know what she wanted to study. She eventually settled on society and the environment with a focus on global environmental politics as her area of concentration.
Very quickly, it became clear tennis wasn’t the only area in which she had an emotional investment.
“She’s one of the team members that have taken advantage of all the opportunities at Cal,” head coach Amanda Augustus says. “She’s following her passion, but also finding ways to learn and grow everyday.”
And once environmentalism took a hold of her, the floodgates opened.
Goransson had found a way to make an environmental impact in her own backyard: the tennis courts.
Goransson sought a way to provide Cal tennis courts with recycling bins. She began drafting a research proposal and sent it to the Green Initiative Fund. After multiple drafts and rewrites, Goransson was awarded a grant by the Green Initiative Fund for her proposal of making Cal tennis more environmentally friendly.
The grant will provide 20 recycling bins to be placed on every other court at the Hellman Tennis Complex, Hearst Tennis Courts and Channing Tennis courts.
“You feel good when you’re helping the environment,” said Goransson. “Even when it’s something little like this.”
This was only the beginning, though. While still in the midst of project development, Goransson is currently working on a research project that has the potential to make a global impact on tennis.
The goal: make tennis balls a zero-waste product, something that can reused and recycled.
Currently, 300 million tennis balls are produced every year. Of those 300 million, 125 million are used in the U.S. alone.
There’s a hitch. As of now, after a tennis ball loses its bounce they are disposed of and eventually end up in landfills. There are some programs that re-use balls and transform them into toys for dogs or cushions on chair legs. Yet even those balls eventually end up in landfills.
“I’m looking to see if there is a more sustainable way to play tennis,” Goransson says. “What’s the environmental impact (of tennis balls)? Is there a better way?
“It’s crucial; to live in a sustainable way for future generations. My goal is to hopefully do something in the future to make an impact.”
It may have started off small, but she has made an impact on her team. Augustus says the team is more aware about the ongoing issues and definitely recycles a whole lot more.
Using her role as a team leader, Goransson places a premium on educating her teammates on the environment issues she is passionate about in order to one-day impact the entire tennis community.
Through her hard work both on and off the court, Goransson has earned the respect of all of her teammates. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that she has amassed a 67-25 singles record and a 58-29 doubles record in her collegiate career.
“Annie has always been a leader for us,” Augustus said. “She sets an example for the younger players. Once she graduates, that’ll be a huge hole to fill.”
Competitiveness isn’t always confined to a court though.
For Goransson, her competitive nature and focus is what can make her so successful in her future endeavours, even outside the realm of tennis.
“I’m pretty competitive in everything I do,” Goransson said. “On the court, I’m really focused on what I’m doing and I don’t let anything get in my way. I think that relates to off the court. I’m always focused on one thing at a time.”
As graduation nears for Goransson, she will need to find another outlet for that competitiveness.
After the spring season and graduation, Goransson plans to go back home to Sweden before applying to graduate schools throughout Europe. Back home waits her family that has played a significant role in not only her tennis, but also her interests in saving the planet.
Goransson’s plans after graduate school aren’t clear. She doesn’t know whether she will play tennis professionally. One thing’s for certain, though: she knows she wants to get involved with politics and environmental issues.
Goransson isn’t sure how she’ll go about that process, but she understands that environmental issues aren’t going to be solved on their own.
She knows it’s going to take a real leader to make an impact.
“The environment needs somebody to take a step and really do something,” Goransson said.
Annie Goransson might just be that somebody.
Sean Wagner-McGough covers women’s tennis. Contact him at [email protected]