I started this “greener” journey years ago when I was still in elementary school after we had an assembly on reducing, reusing, and recycling. Admittedly, at the time the only part that stuck was recycling. After school that day, I immediately went home and insisted that our family start recycling and even decorated a blue bucket with crayons for the specific use of our “recycling” bucket.
My 6th grade science project also focused on the environment, specifically rainforest degradation. I remember learning about it and being so distraught that giant old trees were being slashed and burned without thought of the consequences. [Ferngully probably played a big part in my rainforest love. That giant smog/oil monster guy creeped me out big time as a kid!]
When I was in college, I focused pretty heavily on the environmental side of things but it wasn’t until my junior year that things started to click for me. I always liked nature, but hadn’t thought much about the environment as a whole – and my part in it – until then. I attribute part of this shift to the time I spent studying abroad in Scotland my junior year. One of the study abroad student requirement classes focused on the environment of Scotland and we went on hikes and learned about wind energy, among other things, in that class. The hikes especially spoke to me and made me want to explore the beautiful countryside that Scotland has to offer. I was also fascinated by alternative energy sources, and how these provided much cleaner forms of energy that what we currently use. Once I was back state-side, I signed up for an energy politics class and nabbed an internship my senior year at the US Department of Energy.
After graduation, I really started to think about what I could do to minimize my impact, but again didn’t think about much beyond recycling. (In my defense, climate change was just starting to become a big deal topic, and sustainability wasn’t a word I heard until years later.) I did try to cook my own food so it was healthier and reduced some packaging waste, maintained somewhat of a waste-not-want-not mentality, and used reusable bags at the grocery store – but that was about it. Certainly a good place to start, and it worked for me at the time, but I knew I could do more. Also around this time I read Ishmael by Daniel Quinn and was struck by the profoundness of the book. About how as a society we have broken away from living with nature and the consequences that brings.
When I started grad school (way back in 2012!) the very first class I took was Sustainability 101. My first assignment was to create an action list of things I wanted to do in my own life and a timeline of when I wanted to accomplish them by. This was like a lightening bolt. There were so many things I could do! This assignment is what really kicked me in gear and put me on the greener lifestyle path. It amazed me how much of a difference I could make with a few simple changes. I wasn’t able to accomplish everything in the timeline I provided in my assignment, and many of the things I’m still working on now, but it opened my eyes to sustainable living, not just recycling.
For anyone that is interested, my sustainability plan is below (with references). The main sources of inspiration for me were the US EPA, my local utility company’s website, and Crissy Trask’s book It’s Easy Being Green: A Handbook for Earth Friendly Living.