Before going to college, I didn’t think that living a sustainable life was very accessible. Not many people I grew up with were making active decisions based around sustainability, so I didn’t really know where to begin. I have always cared about the environment (ex. this extremely accurate self-portrait that I drew in 2001), which guided my decision to major in environmental engineering, but I was not sure how to turn that passion into attainable, everyday actions. My peers at Tufts inspired me to be more aware of my lifestyle and the choices I make, and how they can easily be adjusted to be more sustainable, whether that be limiting meat consumption, buying locally and second hand, or taking public transportation instead of driving. It’s an ongoing learning process, but listening to people who know more than me and doing my own research continues to motivate me to make more sustainable choices all the time.
There are a lot of ways to be more sustainable that can benefit a busy lifestyle and be achieved with very little effort. I have made it a priority this year to focus on sustainability through food. This can be as easy as substituting some parts of your diet with more sustainable options (like choosing plant-based milk instead of dairy, and opting out of eating meat, especially red meat). I spend a few minutes each week meal-prepping. Packing lunches saves time during the week, reduces the waste produced from eating out, and gives you the opportunity to be mindful about the food that you are eating. I have also been making an effort to take public transportation or walk whenever possible. A lot of the time, taking public transportation is almost as fast driving, especially with city traffic (and it’s a lot cheaper than taking an Uber). Walking or biking is a great way to disconnect and take a minute for yourself, and still gets you to where you need to go. No one’s perfect, but if it’s always in the back of your mind, it doesn’t have to be difficult to make more sustainable choices.
As an engineer, I have the unique ability to actually make a difference in the way the world around us is designed. That’s a huge responsibility, and yet, I was not required to take a single ethics course throughout my entire engineering education. An overarching goal for my career is to be able to see the human implications of the things I design. Working as a water resources engineer for the past year, it has become very clear to me that some communities are not always granted the same access to basic resources as others. It is very easy to see how, as engineers, we can lose sight of the big picture and unintentionally cause harm. It should always be a priority to take into account not only the environmental, but also the human impacts of any sort of design.
Just a handful of companies are responsible for an overwhelming majority of carbon emissions in the world. There is huge power in the policies that regulate emissions. And therefore, there is huge power in the way that we vote and are politically active. Right now, companies like Viv that are committed to being sustainable are (unfortunately) not the norm. Being sustainable is not economically beneficial to these huge companies, and therefore, their emissions will not be reduced without extreme policy change. Personal changes, though they do make a difference, must go hand-in-hand with advocating for change on a larger scale. It’s always a good idea to research current and potential policies and how they relate to climate science. I am always looking for ways to learn more and be the most informed voter that I can be.
Your ideas are valuable
You don’t have to do everything on your own
Don’t be so hard on yourself
There is always room to learn more
One of my favorite things to do is set goals and achieve them. I tend to make very detailed to-do lists just to be able to cross things off and feel like I accomplished something. The thing about those lists, is that even if each step is very small, once they’re all checked off I’ve often actually accomplished a lot. That’s how I look at my personal sustainability journey. It’s not about changing my entire lifestyle all at once, it’s about setting small goals and conquering them one at a time. My lifestyle is completely different than it was 5 years ago, and that has been achieved through setting realistic goals and working on them over time. “Conquering more,” to me, means always striving to learn more, discover new goals, and add them to the list.