Beginning a Lifelong Sustainable Journey

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When first entering this class, I honestly didn’t expect it to impact me that much. Not only was I unsure about what the class was about, but I just thought I would learn and move on like I do in all my other classes. I soon learned this class taps into not only your knowledge, but your sympathy and concern for your own self. I always knew climate change was an issue, but I feel I’ve grown in knowledge of knowing the facts of how we are all affected by climate change and unsustainable practices. Knowing that climate change experts are predicting we will hurt our planet beyond repair within the next few years, and the consequences will we face such as lack of resources, extreme weather, loss of biodiversity, rising ocean levels, disease and more. With this, it affects the mind portion of understanding a wicked problem. Our emotional understanding was talked about more after the completion of our first blog post. During my infographic project, I saw statistics that children as young as five are working in sweatshops in foreign countries and people working at sweatshops here in the United States are making as little as $2 a day. This breaks my heart and hurts social sustainability since these people are working not only under unlivable conditions, but are often stuff in this industry and can find no other work but jobs that pay as little as these. Knowing what people go through to make a shirt I buy for cheap makes me rethink purchasing from companies who outsource their production and have their own factories where workers are treated this badly. The emotional guilt behind this pushes me to think harder about my own overconsumption and places I choose to shop. I think about bodily understanding comes in the details I’ve learned about what is put into the air, water, and ground, and how it eventually enters my own body and affects my health. I’ve been vegetarian for two years, partially because I learned about feeding practices and what goes into animals that we end up eating. Plastics and pollution end up in the pig who we eat, and it can seriously hurt our health. Such health issues can also come from pollution put into the air and water from chemicals being released. From a bodily health perspective, I care too much about my health to let unsustainable practices take its toll on me and those I love. My new practice of mindfulness has helped me understand wicked problems in all three of these areas. Though I’ll admit I find meditation and mindfulness practice difficult while in class with so many distractions around me, when I’m by myself I feel like it’s really made a difference in my personal life, mental wellbeing, and sustainability journey. Not only do I feel like my stress from school and life has become more manageable since practicing mindfulness, but it’s allowed me to clear excessive thoughts. With these extra thoughts gone, I have the mind space and energy to think more deeply about sustainability in relation to my personal lifestyle. I’ve thought through the emotional impact I feel in hearing about everyone working in the supply chain, the impact on my health from pollution, and what all I’ve learned for me to have all the new knowledge I do now. With all of these factors weighing in, it’s easy to get overwhelmed and scared because at the end of the day, it really is a scary problem. Mindfulness practice helps me keep myself calm and evaluate the situation clearly, without getting too scared or negative. Sitting with yourself without the stress and worry of everyday life and viewing things simply lets me see sustainability as a complex issue, but a manageable one. 

Now that I’ve all but finished this class, I believe I have seen and understood the different sides of sustainability and everyone’s role in it. My feelings of understanding towards anyone at any point in their personal sustainability journey has only grown. Since, we’ve talked more about debates over different effects on sustainability, poverty being one. It made me think more about different walks of life and how some people didn’t even ask to end up there, and sometimes that place in life isn’t the most sustainable one. Some people are rightfully only worried about putting food on the table or putting a roof over their head and have no extra resources to contribute to sustainable efforts. I believe part of having “humble and compassionate responses” to wicked problems though is putting compassion first. Sustainability is a matter of the utmost urgency, yes; but I believe still we need to put people first and be sympathetic to their situations. Putting people first, being sympathetic and being sustainable really goes hand in hand. Taking care of those who can’t yet be very sustainable because of their low resources is extremely important to remaining human, but by being sustainable we’re taking care of anyone who lives on our planet or ever will. By simply being kind, encouraging, and doing our part in sustainable efforts when we’re able to, we’re showing compassion to those in the past, present and future. We’re showing compassion to people we’ll never meet or know, and being compassionate to ourselves and those we love. 

Most of my teenage years, I’ve tried my best to be environmentally conscious with the little knowledge I had. I tried to use reusable straws and water bottles to make an impact, as that’s all I knew to do. While any contribution helps, I now know that making a sustainable effort goes deeper than just avoiding single use plastic items. It’s about not overconsuming products like clothing or home items that have a short life before being thrown into a landfill where it won’t decompose in our lifetime. Since learning about overconsumption and reflecting on my own life, I’ve made a conscious effort to buy only what clothing I need, and not buying cheap items that will only last me a year of wear. It’s about being curious about where your material goods come from, who makes them, and where the resources are sourced from. I’ve downloaded an app on my phone to scan my hygiene, beauty, and food products to tell me if they’re ethically made, in support of social sustainability. I’ve investigated some of my most used companies to see how their workers are treated through the supply chain to ensure I’m supporting a brand that treats people fairly and is at least trying to implement sustainable practices. I’ve begun purchasing home good items solely through a company called Public Goods now, as I trust their company and their ideals. The company was founded for the purpose of creating completely sustainable goods and lists their factories, sourcing of resources, what their employees are paid, where the resources come from, and where your items will go once they are discarded. Through this, I’ve not only realized more ways that my previous lifestyle was unsustainable, but that there is hope for a better, more sustainable future. Companies are beginning to take sustainable initiatives and if someone like me can make changes, anyone can. 

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