Written by Hayley Wood.

Shades of pretentiousness, urgency and obscurity tint the topic of sustainability. As a pillar of science, the amount of available data can be overwhelming. As a pillar of morality, it can seem too rooted in hippy-dippy secularism. As a pillar of human existence, it can be seen as either too intimidating or not important at all.

Thankfully, UT has introduced its own take on this issue with its Zero-Waste initiative and by advertising more campaigns like Campus Sustainability Week.

By August 31, 2020, UT Austin will divert 90% of the total waste stream from landfill using a variety of methods including reuse and recycling. This will reduce the UT Austin carbon footprint by 600 metric tons of CO2 equivalent and save at least $5,000 annually.

These actions are a great step to changing our waste habits, but they perform little to no change in the way we think about it as an issue. In the next ten years the demand for sustainability-geared minds will increase. 2016 was the first year UT introduced the Sustainability Studies major that includes classes ranging from anthropology and sociology to management and public affairs.

College is a great way to enact change, but it becomes harder beyond the institution.

It’s difficult to rally change on such a pressing issue without the authority or a larger community pushing for conservation. Below are a few great introductory resources that create a diverse dialogue about problems facing our environment.

Society and the Environment by Michael Carolan outlines the biggest problems challenging our quality of life and provides solutions to each one. Incorporating questions of morality, Carolan presents sustainability as a multifaceted issue that everyone can find a way to contribute to.

150 Best sustainable House Ideas by Fancesc Zamora. This photo book captures homes around the word that have made use of renewable material or fully sustainable living, showing the aesthetic side of environmentally-conscious living. This is a great visual aid and will peak the interest of those interested in interior design or architecture.

The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History by Elizabeth Kolbert takes a more dramatic look at our environmental impact through an examination of animal species through the ages. Her theory is contingent on the self-perpetuated extinction of humans. This is not as uplifting as Carolan and shows the consequences of our habits: we could be the last few generations to see biodiversity and the environment as we know it.

The material world of economics and business are commonly perceived as separate from important environmental issues. Institutions and governments rarely implement policies or actions that shape our lives around living sustainably.

We can’t wait for institutional structures to tell us how to change.

Little acts like recycling can go a long way, but direct change can easily go beyond the bin.

We need minds who can think tactically about taking on climate change as an issue. One small step into one of the many directions of sustainability could lead to a pathway of awareness, compassion and effective change.


Featured image: Reduce Reuse Recycle © Steve Snodgrass. Used under a Creative Commons (CC-BY-2.0) license.

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