Updated: Nov 15, 2018
Last week, Marcus and I had a chance to meet with Carly and Erin, the co-directors of Evolve. Evolve is a club at the University of Michigan dedicated to exploring what sustainability means across multiple industries. Club members work to portray sustainability-based issues in a more positive light to mitigate the feeling of hopelessness that surrounds topics like climate change. In Carly’s words, “If we want to make any change, we need to inspire grassroots efforts, students on campus, and people who are living in our country and our state...In order for corporations to make a change, they have to see people making a change.”
Evolve hosted their first ever summit last spring. It highlighted local initiatives across multiple industries, emphasizing the fact that there is no one way to define sustainability: It’s meaning morphs across pockets of people. The summit–hosting keynote speakers, as well as workshops and more intimate discussions–is also a way for people to network and, most importantly, a means of facilitating sustainability-driven collaboration between businesses, students, and campus administration.
I asked Carly and Erin what they considered to be high priority green initiatives on campus. Together, they cited zero waste events (which are free for students to host and made possible by the Student Sustainability Initiative), a three-course program through the School of Engineering (which concludes in your receiving a certificate of sustainable engineering), and composting on campus. They also mentioned the merit in all students taking a class or two about sustainability, regardless of their discipline. Unfortunately, a typical curriculum doesn’t cover this topic. We spoke in depth (rather excitedly) about the possibility of adding a sustainability course to the list of student core requirements.
Before wrapping up our meeting to scurry off to our respective classes, Marcus asked Carly and Erin a final question: “What motivates you, personally, to contribute to sustainability on campus?” After a brief pause and a smile in recognition of this question’s difficult nature, Carly began her answer: “In a very obvious, generic way, I want to be able to have children, and I want them to be able to have children if they want to...I want them to not have to be suffering or going through these global crises or experiencing a world where biodiversity is not a thing.” Essentially, she feels that we have taken our resources for granted for generations, but this does not necessitate hopelessness. Instead, we must begin acting to prolong our species’ comfortable existence–we must pay it forward.
Carly cited an article she read about the top ten things one can do to be more sustainable. Number three on the list was to educate all the women in the world. This makes sense–isn’t the first step in problem-solving gaining awareness of the issue at hand?
She also cited steps that can be taken at the local level. For instance, there is a particular substance that’s been found in our water supply. Its name is PFAS (short for perfluorooctanesulfonic acid) and it’s found in many water resistant materials. Carly fervently testified, “It’s in the Huron River, it’s in our ecosystems, and it’s probably in all of us. It’s this huge environmental disaster that we’re just beginning to do something about.” This was an issue that I had no previous knowledge of; gaining awareness is the first step in problem-solving, indeed.
Erin’s answer to the aforementioned question was equally as wonderful: “I’m involved in this more for the equity side of it...in the US, we’re not the people that are going to be first affected by climate change...but we’re also the ones causing most of the problems.” Erin cited her grandmother–who works in environmental policy–as an inspiration for her becoming involved in sustainability initiatives. Like her grandmother, Carly is pained by the fact that, “A lot of places are doing nothing to cause [environmental] problems, but they’re already starting to feel the effect.” With her privilege as a US citizen, Erin hopes to tackle this issue head on.
Both Carly and Erin were inspiring to watch and to listen to as they discussed sustainability on and beyond the University of Michigan. I only hope that they can serve as part of an inspirational force that drives more people on campus to take part in the budding and existing initiatives right in front of us. If the first step in problem-solving is gaining awareness, then let’s check off that box together.
Interested in learning more about Evolve? Check out their website.