Credit: JD Hancock's photostream

This is an excerpt of a bio of sorts that I wrote up for my place of employment’s sustainability newsletter. I was asked whether I would be willing to be featured, given my involvement in sustainability and social justice, and I agreed. I was given a few questions to answer, and they ended up quoting parts of what I wrote for the final article. Below is more or less what I submitted to them, with personal identifying information removed. The picture above has nothing to do with anything, I just think it’s really cool 🙂

How do you integrate sustainability into your life?

Sustainability is essentially the intelligent and equitable use of resources. A system that is truly sustainable is closed loop: in nature, everything is useful to somebody or something, and there’s no such thing as “waste”. Unfortunately, I don’t live in a culture that promotes or acknowledges the possibility of zero-waste: The popular notion of “going green” is producing and consuming more stuff—stuff that might have less of a carbon footprint, contain less poison, or destroy fewer environments and livelihoods than conventional products.

In spite of that challenge, I do what little I can to integrate sustainability in my own consumption. I don’t own a car, so I either bike, carpool, or use public transit when I go out. I suppose it’s hipster-ish, but I’m glad it’s now cool to use old glass jars for drinking, which I reuse along with other durable goods and recycle everything else that is eligible. I always try to purchase thrift items instead of using more resources to buy new—I’m sure people who see me would be surprised to know that my wardrobe comes mostly from Goodwill and Savers. On the subject of clothes, I have a blog where I write about engaging in sustainable fashion in ways that are fun, easy, and visually exciting, and other sustainable issues.

I was inspired by the “Zero-Waste Watermelon” chapter in the cookbook, Vegan Soul Kitchen to make use of all parts of the produce I eat. I’ve since found creative ways of using broccoli stalks and other typically-discarded food parts and don’t have “waste” when I cook now except for fruit pits and truly rotten parts, which I compost in my worm bins. I buy organic when available for my health and the health of farm workers and the environment. I also don’t eat other animals or animal products, so that makes for a lower carbon footprint and a number of other social and environmental benefits.

Lastly, I seek out ethical goods—that is, edible and non-edible goods that are produced without coercion, violence, exploitation, or slavery. Admittedly, these are incredibly difficult to determine in our global economy, and more often than not at least one of these is a factor in how something gets made. But I’m doing my research and supporting companies and organizations that make ethical choices and agitate for positive change.

Every time I buy something, I am saying that I support that product, that company, its principles, and how that product was created, whether I know the details behind it or not. Right now, I don’t think I can say that confidently for everything I consume—I don’t think most people can. However, one day I want to be able to say that I’ve achieved 100% sustainability: I produce zero-waste and nothing that I consume or financially support contributes to the degradation of another person’s life.

How did you become involved in sustainability/social justice issues?

I suppose I was born into it. My dad was interested in conservation and environmental issues, though he probably sees it as being “thrifty”. By necessity, he was also very interested in civil rights from the ’60s onward. I remember him taking me as a child to see the newly-freed Nelson Mandela at a rally. Given my race, ethnicity, and gender, it was impossible for me growing up not to notice how so many issues—whether economic, social, political, or environmental—have intersecting causes and effects. I also went to a hippie elementary school that fostered civic engagement, environmental stewardship, and intercultural dialogue, so I was set on the right path from the beginning. In college, I supported various rallies and programs related to workers’ rights, equity, and social justice, but it wasn’t yet in the scale of committed activism.

That sparked around Halloween in 2009 when I first learned about Reverse Trick-or-Treating and fair trade chocolate. Starting with myself, I looked at my pantry and tried to figure out what was in it that was made in a way that supported my values. It was an overwhelming feeling finding out that I knew basically nothing about the history of what I ate every day, and vowed to educate myself. Being a chocoholic, I was glad to find ethical sources of cocoa that I could buy, and then did the same for tea and other luxury items. I later did the same thing to everything else I consume—food, drinks, clothing, books, etc.

Since it was around Halloween time with plenty of chocolate everywhere, the knowledge that millions of wealthy children and their parents in the West were unwittingly enjoying that candy that poorer kids literally slaved away to make drove me to do more. I got involved with some fair trade and labor rights organizations, in particular International Labor Rights Forum, and started taking part in their campaigns.

What was your role in the Solar Decathlon?

[Note: The Department of Energy’s Solar Decathlon is a bi-annual competition of 20 teams to design, build, and operate 100% solar powered homes in a showcase at Washington D.C.] I wanted to help however I was needed without taking away from the student-driven spirit of the project. I started out as a regular member of the Lighting Team to design the lighting for the house we were going to build; however, when the leader stepped down, I was asked to take on that role, and ended up helping our team place among the top in the Lighting competition. Mind you, I have zero background in lighting design, so there was a sharp learning curve. But I worked very closely with the architects and engineers on the team to integrate our lighting system into our smart grid and overall vision of the house, and consulted with professional lighting experts to achieve what we accomplished.

Anything else you would like to add?
I take pride in the fact that [this workplace] takes a holistic approach to sustainability that doesn’t overlook the people and economic systems involved. I’m also very happy that [our CEO] fully supports this vision and that it’s generally supported across [the workplace]. I’ve been fortunate to have a great supervisor who allows me to explore my interests as they relate to sustainability and I’ve been involved as much as I can. I appreciate that being “eco-friendly” is popular because it makes it easier for anyone, not just hippies, to incorporate sustainable practices into their lives. I hope what we’re seeing now is not a trend but a revolution, a fundamental, progressive change in how we view and engage with the world and beings around us.