Most people think of environmentalists when they hear the term “sustainability” and for a long time, so did I. Growing up in China, I was taught under the guiding principle of sustainable development promoted by Chinese government. However, the idea of sustainability was defined as fully environmentally focused, which I did not see as related to my life at all. Alarming news stories about global warming are not going to promote people to adopt more sustainable behaviors because not many people perceive the environment as a priority in their lives. This is due to the fact that the average person does not understand how topics considered as purely environmental in nature impact both our society and economy.
It was not until my first semester at Connecticut College when Josh Stoffel (the College’s Sustainability Officer) was invited to give a lecture about sustainability to my First-Year Seminar course that I changed my attitude towards this idea. I totally fell in love with sustainability, which is no longer just an environmental term for me. The true definition of sustainability appeals to me as a holistic word that integrates social, economic and environmental concerns and values when developing sustainable societal solutions to existing challenges. What matters to me is not just a sustainable living environment, but instead, a sustainable lifestyle, which infiltrates into every aspect of our daily lives. “Think in a sustainable way” is the most valuable idea I learned from Josh’s lecture and it was also the way that I found out to get involved with the Office of Sustainability.
After serving on the Office of Sustainability’s communications team for a semester, I was hired as the Senior Fellows for Communications. Though I still have little knowledge about waste minimization, social justice, economic development or other sustainability projects, it does not reduce my passion to communicate the idea of holistic sustainability, as defined by the College and the Office of Sustainability. I have found that my sociology major actually helps me advance the understanding of what holistic sustainability is among members of the campus community. Serving as the Senior Fellow for Communications, I see effective communications as one of the most important sustainability projects on campus. Before I started as a communications fellow in the office, I was surprised by how little communication existed to advertise the efforts of the Office of Sustainability and the College. It was my strong desire to help people live, work, and think in a sustainable way that led me to become involved with the office, even though I was not coming from a place of environmental interest.
I really appreciate this opportunity to work within the Office of Sustainability in such an important position, which has helped me realize my interest in communications and marketing. And through working with other fellows on different projects, I have started to develop a deeper understanding of holistic sustainability in general. For instance, this summer I worked with Melanie Mason ’16 to roll out the Mini Bin program to all offices on campus, which turned out to be a successful action. The development of this program followed a social theory called Community-Based Social Marketing, which has proved to be effective in supporting people to change their behaviors. According to this approach, we replaced the original desk side trash can with a smaller-sized bin that hangs off of their desk side recycling bin. The visual reminder created by the mini bins supports people to consider whether the waste they are disposing of can be recycled or not. The Mini Bin Program works off of the knowledge that the waste generated by people in office settings in often comprised of over 75% recyclable materials.
People often question what kind of job or profession a Sociology major like me can be prepared for after graduating. Working with the Office of Sustainability has helped me see a great many opportunities and possibilities for my future career.
“Think and live in a sustainable way”, by balancing the needs and values of social equity, economic well being and environmental stewardship should be promoted all around the world, as it is a mantra that not only pays attention to present challenges, but also looks to foster long-lasting solutions. I am glad that I found my passion here at Connecticut College and I am glad to be working with the Office of Sustainability.