Road to a More Sustainable You!
What do you guys think about when the phrase ‘being more sustainable‘ is brought up? For me, the phrase was very daunting. 6 months ago, I was faced with an important question that started my sustainability journey. My university professor asked the class, ‘Do you think you are a sustainable person?” My answer? No. At the time, I didn’t even know what being sustainable truly meant. The first things that came across my mind was stopping global warming, reverting climate change and saving animals from going extinct – the work of heroes! Not things a simple university student like me could achieve. So, at that time I was pretty dismissive of the topic – I thought I could never compare myself to people like Greta Thunberg, Paul Hawken and even David Attenborough. I was definitely not on the list of the top sustainable humans, and my relationship with sustainability seemed distant and very unlikely.
Photo of Greta Thunberg judging me for not understanding what being sustainable means.
But, I soon came to realise that sustainability is more than what I thought it was about. Sustainability is much more subtle than what many people may think (including me). It’s more about self-awareness and improving yourself – kind of like going to the gym! Okay, hear me out here – Similar to starting gym, the first few weeks will be more tough, not because being sustainable is hard, but because your mind isn’t quite used to this new way of thinking just yet and is still adjusting. But, after you get over the first hurdle, everything after becomes a breeze! In fact, within the first few days of starting you’ll probably find out that you’re already a lot more sustainable than you think.
So, back to what I said before – the answer to becoming more sustainable comes down to developing a mindset and being self-aware. This here, is the magical answer I discovered to becoming a more sustainable person (Yay! Go earth!). It can start with the simplest things such as, remembering to turn the light off every time you leave the room, choosing to go plant-based every Monday or opting to carpool with your family instead of driving 4 separate cars each. Sustainability really starts with yourself first! You are not trying to solve global warming. Instead, you are taking little steps in your own life to be greener with these little steps adding up to become something impactful!
Let me tell you a bit about my own journey and how I came to this conclusion. For one of my uni courses this semester, we were tasked with an assignment that encouraged us to create Facebook posts about things we do ourselves or observations from other people that is ‘sustainable’. To be honest, I struggled with this task in the beginning. I know I am no sustainability expert so, I resigned to researching things other people have done to help the earth. To my disappointment, I stumbled on articles of people diving in oceans to clean up waste, people hosting 0 waste running events to help awareness and a startup that makes straws from natural ingredients to replace plastic straws. More dark clouds formed in my head as I started to reflect on what a terrible person I am and how sorry I am to mother earth.
But soon, my entire mindset changed when I stumbled on an artwork by Sandra Howgate called the Sustainability Wall. The wall features an overarching topic – packaging – and encouraged a debate on how the issue can develop and escalate if not addressed – what problems can stem from plastic packaging? And the small steps everyone can take to help reduce this issue. The idea of the wall is so creative and effective, yet, simple (I’ve attached a photo of the wall below for you to see!). The wall encouraged a debate and brought attention to the important issue of plastic waste. I especially loved the small stories people added to the sustainability wall on their findings, thoughts and pledges of how they want to improve in the future (One person said they pledge to always check if the plastic packaging has the recycle sign on it before purchasing it. It’s really that simple!)
The Sustainability Wall in Birmingham by Sandra Howgate.
This helped me reflect back to the Facebook page we have to do for our assessment. In a way, the Facebook page we have created -iSustain- is like a digital version of Howgate’s Sustainability Wall. The content of what simple things each student is doing to be more sustainable is so encouraging and inspiring! After reading some other students’ post, I started to reflect on the things I already do (things that I never thought much about.) I come from an asian family and for me, some things seemed like it’s just natural acts (like my second nature) that I never realised was part of being sustainable! For example, my mum reuses every single plastic bag (she will wash and reuse them) until they are completely torn and beyond repair. We would repurpose all of the jars and use them for homemade sauces or use as a flower vase and another classic one is where my dad would usually yell at us if any light, aircon or fan is turned on in a room or area that no one is in. These small acts may seem so futile but are all the little efforts towards that can make a huge impact.
Image from the internet. Original caption: My dad’s checklist for the family to determine if the heater should be on or not.
This is what I mean by being more self-aware! I’m sure most of you are already sustainable, you just haven’t realised how much yet! And, with a little bit more encouragement and guidance, it won’t be long until you all become sustainable experts!! I loved the work our cohort did with the Facebook posts. I was so inspired by everyone’s actions and have learned so much about myself. Because of this, I created a Padlet UQ Sustainability Wall that is a fusion of Howgate’s Sustainability wall and our Facebook page, iSustain.
I’ve started one right here! Now, go take a look at the UQ Sustainability Wall Padlet, get some inspiration and get your sustainability journey started today!