At eight years old, I sat in school learning about sustainability. They didn’t really have big words for it back then. Back then it was just a group called Kids For Saving Earth. I was totally captivated. I went home after school that day and started turning off the water when I brushed my teeth and turning out the lights around the house… unless there were monsters around, then I’d leave the lights on.
I didn’t pursue it back then. It honestly didn’t occur to me that I could. I was not an inventor, I was not a Nobel-winning laureate, I was just one nerdy little kid, trying to fit in at school (and mostly failing). But it lit a spark in me that would slowly burn throughout my life.
Fast forward to my first job out of grad school where I went around collecting soda cans and plastic bottles from people’s garbage cans and bringing trash home to be recycled (not to be outdone by the compost bin I had outside my office seven years later). My ideas always seemed small, but I was hoping that I could be an example, and that people would want to follow. Some did. Most did not.
We recycle at home, I buy from bulk bins as much as possible to minimize packaging, I try to buy local and organic (which can get ridiculously expensive), we compost, I have reusable plasticware and metal straws in my purse, I try to upcycle, I make my own face soap and air freshner and yet, there is always more to be done! People see what I do, yet I am still not an example. Mostly people think I’m a bit of a fanatic. My dad still doesn’t understand how to sort recycling from trash, my friends still offer me plastic water bottles when I come over, and my coworkers joke about my Mary Poppins purse of treasures. What I can never wrap my head around is why everyone else doesn’t prioritize these things too! Why?!
That is exactly what I asked someone very close to me recently, “Why?” Except I phrased it more like “Why do you hate sustainability?” (I know, perhaps I should’ve phrased it differently.) The answer? “Because it’s just a buzzword right now.” So like any slap in the face, I defended my sustainability buzzword and climbed high up on my soapbox of climate change, clean energy, healthy foods, rising oceans, recycling, consumerism, etc etc etc. Then dinner ended and we left. But the response stuck.
Is sustainability the new buzzword? Is it the empty promises of corporations and the latest political topic full of words but no substance? Now that sustainability finally made it into mainstream media, is it being overplayed? How do we shift it from a hipster, organic, tree-hugging, democratic word into a fundamental lifestyle change that’s feasible for the average joe? These are the questions plaguing my life lately. So I ponder…
1. Awareness. The definition of awareness is the ability to directly know and perceive, to feel, or to be cognizant of events. More broadly, it is the state of being conscious of something. I would venture to say that most people are honestly not aware of the problem or not sure how it applies to them. Much like an overplayed song on the radio, many people have started changing the station to something more palatable, while some people never liked that song in the first place and haven’t even heard the tune. Somehow we need to make everyone aware of the issues and how it actually applies to their lives.
2. Teach. We need to start by teaching people about each area individually. “Sustainability” is too broad, “climate change” is too broad, “organic” is too broad. We need to teach people about one small thing at a time and build up, just like we teach kids at school. That’s what this little site is for, to teach key concepts and ways to incorporate small changes into our lives.
3. Make it easy. Speaking of small changes… Remember all those New Year’s Resolutions that you made and never actually followed through on? Why? Because it was too hard to make the change. Most of the time we start too big and we can’t live up to our own expectations. That’s why January at the gym is filled with expensive new workout clothes and shiny new sneakers with no room on the treadmills and not an open bench in sight over by the free weights, but by February most of the shiny shoes have gone home and the racks open back up. It’s too much. We can’t commit to the new four-day-a-week gym schedule so we give up altogether. But what if you added in a walk or a bike ride every two weeks or so? Or one more fruit or vegetable in your diet every day? More manageable? Yes! So perhaps sustainability needs to start out the same, by adding or changing one small thing at a time.
4. Make it affordable. I think that price is a huge deterrent for the sustainable mindset, don’t you? Did you actually physically nod when you read that? I did too. Buying all of your groceries at Whole Foods is just not a sustainable lifestyle for most of us. We can’t spend three times as much on all of our commodities and expect it to be a reasonable change. Unfortunately, many of the more eco-friendly and organic products are still much more expensive than their conventional counterparts. But not all! So that’s another thing to hash out.
We have a lot to explore, don’t we? But before we get into those questions, it’s important to start with the why. I was recently asked, “Krina, why sustainability?” I had to pause. I hadn’t before put it into simple words, it had been woven into my being for so long that I didn’t think it needed to be questioned, and I certainly thought it had an obvious answer. Why is this your passion? Because the earth! Ok, clearly the answer needed better words. So, why sustainability?
I believe in a cleaner earth, a healthier body, a brighter future, a better world. I believe that we can reduce our waste and reuse materials in a cost-effective and innovative manner. I believe that we can grow healthier and more nutritious foods organically in high yields while minimizing our reliance on pesticides and water. I believe that we can curb our reliance on fossil fuels and drive our industries and homes using clean energy. I believe that we are the change.
How can we do this? By building awareness. Teaching people. Making alternative options easy and affordable. Investing in technology. Creating solutions. It’s not someone else’s problem, it’s my problem, it’s our problem. We can make a difference.
That pretty much sums it up, doesn’t it? That’s what we’re doing here. We’re building on this key “Why?” One step at a time.