I graduate in a matter of days. Days. That’s all. I, officially, will become an educated, self-sufficient adult as of December 13, 2014. The end is near. I have been waiting for this for so long! To be honest I never really wanted to go to college. I did it because it’s just what you had to do after high school; I wasn’t really given an option. So I followed the course that was expected (with a few hiccups). I took the classes I was supposed to take in the general order I was to take them. I wrote the papers to satisfactory standards, I did well on tests, I spoke when called upon in classes, and I even volunteered a bit here and there so feel free to give me a gold star or the keys to the city. For the most part I was completely uniform in my ascension toward graduation. I’m not saying that it hasn’t been a challenge or that there has been a lacking in all-nighters and anxiety attacks but, generally speaking, it was expected, anticipated, average.
However, now I find myself in this paradigm shift. I’m looking for a job in a field that I have practically no experience and I feel that nothing is safe or expected. This class gave me a taste of what it was like to be outside of the expected.
Because I was so unexperienced in all matters of sustainability before embarking on this journey in this class I must say that I have learned quite a bit. I used to think that sustainability/going green was simply recycling and shopping with your own bags (neither of which I did before). I would hear of green products on Oprah or see a headline of some guy building a home out of tires and plastic bottles and think, “what a lunatic. I bet his mother never gave him McDonalds.” Now I have so much more knowledge and I find myself even more clueless than before. All of the things we have covered, from design probes to industrial ecology to empathic design to biomimicry and so much more, has really just opened my eyes to all that I DON’T know.
What is Sustainability??
That’s a loaded question. I don’t think I can sum it up in one sentence. Condensing it down to a paragraph is going to be difficult but here goes…
Sustainability, to me, is about doing the best you can with what you are given and try not to cause too much damage to your environment. Sustainability is about being more alert to the environmental conditions around you and how you impact those conditions. Sustainability is about challenging the “norm” and societal expectations about how one is to live. Sustainability is about creatively adjusting our routines and processes to cause less damage to the very thing that makes us comfortable. Sustainability is admittance that humans don’t have all the answers and allowing our ignorance and curiosity to fuel innovations.
There will never be a clear step by step path that will ensure a sustainable life. Sustainability is complex and difficult because most of what we do, how we live, and the products we create are unnatural. Our nature has become that of overconsumption, over production, over population, over… everything. We create this more is better lifestyle but our planet is constant and stable… well it used to be.
I will do my best to consume products that are as sustainable as possible. I will try to live in a manner that causes as little excess and unnecessary carbon output as possible. I will try to stay informed and updated on processes and conditions that impact the planet and my environment.
I will do the best I can with what I have to work with and I think at this point that isn’t too much to ask from all of us.
The times that caused me to stop and reluctantly ponder…
Throughout the duration of this class I have had so many moments that have caused me to pause/stop and contemplate a bigger picture or broader meaning, big and small and one that surprised me completely.
I had so many moments in the first half of the semester when we focused on design empathy that caused me to pause. It was more self-reflection and evaluation more than anything. I am a person of faith and it has always guided my responses to pretty much everything. It’s so cliché to say that WWJD is a mantra that constantly goes through my mind but it does. Now I don’t always follow the path I SHOULD but I still contemplate it and do my best. However I can’t remember the last time I was challenged on empathy than when we were talking about it.
How much could I alter my life if I knew what it would impact later down the road? Would I really be able to shift my expectations of normal? What would I be willing to sacrifice? Could I give more than I had to if it would have less of an impact? I try to be Christ-like but can I truly have enough empathy for my environment and the generations to come to be selfless and sacrificing??? I still haven’t been able to definitively answer these questions.
I have learned just how unsustainable our infrastructure is. When we took the quiz to see how many tons of carbon we emit I was floored. I’m still a bit surprised and a bit bitter. I thought it wouldn’t be as bad as it was. I felt so low afterwards. So destructive and so malicious just for living. But then we talked about how it was our systems that are most unsustainable. We can do the best we can to cause as little damage within the systems in place. Then it got me to worry about how much worse it will be when I graduate and move home. I will be driving much, MUCH more. I will be doing more traveling because I will have the funds to do so (or at least I hope I will.) It’s all going to change and I just wonder how my adjustments will register on the sustainability scale.
I was surprised and welcomed the revelation of how many products and organizations and businesses there are out there committed to doing their best to be sustainable. Within this abyss of unsustainability there are beacons of green light: clothing companies, political initiatives, construction material, interior goods, etc. There is a revolution on the rise to be more aware of the environment and tries to be less harmful. It gives me hope. I’m hopeful that we can be flexible and humble to admit that we don’t have the best processes.
My most shocking “ah-ha” moment came just a few weeks ago when I realized just how much this class has impacted (or should I say infected) pretty much every aspect of my life. I was touring a facility of a potential job opportunity and everywhere I was looking I found a process that could be improved upon theoretically. Then, THEN, the question ‘can I really work for a company that seems so unsustainable?’ popped into my head. Trust me that was unexpected. If you can imagine your angel and devil personas duking it out in a boxing ring or having a total bitch fight in the hallways of a high school, that’s what was happening through the duration of that tour. It took all I had not to grab my head and scream “SHUT UP! SHUT UP! SHUT UP!” It all hit me like a ton of bricks and I was caught completely off guard. I was having this inner conflict over matters that I wasn’t really sure had sunken in. Trust me, they have more than sunken! They are freaking concrete craters in the pit of my psyche and they glow in the dark and little children have written feel good dreams they have in colorful chalk to remind me that it’s not just me that I have to work for.
I think that what most has changed about me through this class, my biggest moment is the constant realization that it isn’t just about me. The decisions I make don’t just impact me and my life. It’s bigger than me. I have realized just how small I am but it indirectly correlates to how big of an impact I can make. It’s a bit trippy and I am still working it all out. I am a small part of a big whole. It’s humbling and challenging and contradictory to the vicious untruths I have been fed all my life. I have come to the conclusion that I was over loved and received way too much affirmation as a child.
Life beyond the required readings
I honestly didn’t really have any preconceived notions of what I would learn in this class. I was so uneducated in all matters of “sustainability” I had no reference to go on. So when you ask if I feel like there is more I should have learned I just want to give you the “… uuhhhhhhhhhh, no?” response. The exact response that one can expect from an almost college graduate. OSU must be so proud.
Now, I feel like I have more avenues to learn. It’s kind of like I read the spark notes version. I know the titles of the chapters and I have a synopsis of what the chapter covers but there are so many details that I don’t know. I feel so much more informed about what I need to learn. I have had this glorious opportunity to learn of innovations that I probably never would have known about otherwise.
It’s because of this class that I know about organizations back home that I plan on getting involved in to try to make a difference. It’s because of this class that I even care.
Thank you for sharing your ‘sustainability journey’ with us; it’s been a very interesting ride – and with regard to your imminent graduation, congratulations.