Sustainability 101: A Novice Perspective

Let me create a scenario for you. You’re standing in a group at a casual dinner party, drink in hand, the rhythmic drone of music and conversation in the background. You hit all the traditional conversational topics– how’s your semester going, what are your plans, how’s your significant other, your family, etc.– and then the topic drops. The one topic that’s timely, important, a consistent fixture in the current news cycle. The one that brings out that nervous sweat on the back of your neck, that makes you smile politely as your eyes glaze over and think, “Maybe if I just throw in a slight, robotic nod every few minutes, they’ll just stop talking.” The one topic that you just can’t seem to connect with, no matter how many step-by-step YouTube tutorials you view or National Geographic miniseries you watch.

For many people, that topic is sustainability. It’s easy to let the extent of your sustainability savvy be restricted to the “reduce, reuse, recycle” jingle you learned in elementary school. But why is that? Why are so many people still uninterested in learning more about the environment and sustainability?  

Maybe it has to do with stereotypes. Some people still think being environmentally conscious means tying yourself to a tree to prevent its destruction, eating an extreme amount of granola, and busting your entire paycheck at Whole Foods. Or maybe it has to do with the way in which “going green” is typically presented. “101 Ways To...” social media articles and eco-documentaries that insist we’ve doomed the Earth can both be overwhelming and foster a sense of hopelessness. 

I think it has to do with a subtle sense of fear of change, a hesitancy to see just how much everyday behavior contributes to the deeply destructive depletion of natural resources. Ignorance is bliss and that’s the route that many people choose to follow. Sustainability is a completely new world for me, but that’s what makes it intriguing. Sometimes, all it takes to understand sustainability is the shared experiences of someone who is just as new and fearful of change as you are.

The Bottom Line

In the coming weeks, I’ll be doing my own deep dive into the realm of sustainability by highlighting specific topics and people that strike a chord with me along the way. I’m going to cover communications strategies, green marketing, consumer behavior/consumption, disaster risk reduction, post-consumer recycling, environmental tourism, and urban development. Hopefully, I can provide an accessible, alternative perspective that helps makes things a little clearer, so that at your next dinner party, if sustainability becomes the topic, you’ll be good to go.


Author Bio: Trent Esker is a journalism major currently attending the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He joined the ISTC team in June as a communications intern for the Great Lakes Regional Pollution Prevention Roundtable. Trent is new to sustainability, but is looking forward to furthering his knowledge of the topic through blogging, social media, and closed captioning transcription for GLRPPR. He begins his senior year in the fall.