Sunday, July 20, 2014

Sustainable Careers, Economies, and Lives.

Whether you are a first year college student, or someone seeking a career change, you might consider the concepts and practices of sustainability as you pursue your college degree.
The Environmental Protection Agency defines sustainability as "policies and strategies that meet society’s present needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs."

There are three spheres of sustainability: environmental, economic and social.  Proponents advise the three must work in collaboration to create an effective sustainable system.

Some may regard sustainability as the millennial generation's extension of Rachel Carson's 1962 book, Silent Spring, a book that detailed the effects of pesticides on humans, animals and plants. This is because the term sustainability is often used in tandem with advice for organic, chemical-free farming and health philosophies. However, sustainability also is proving to be an efficient, cost-reducing practice for businesses.

In St. Louis, we have the Consortium for Sustainability in Higher Education which brings together representatives from St. Louis Community College, Washington University, St. Louis University, St. Charles Community College, The Missouri Botanical Garden, and The St. Louis Regional Chamber and Growth Association, along with other local institutions, to discuss goals for sustainability in education and business in the St. Louis region.

These institutions are working together to develop the infrastructure of a sustainable "Green" economy for the St. Louis region. Why is this important to you? Because a workforce and economy that is informed on sustainability practices is attractive to national and international businesses that want to relocate to our region.

What I learned at at one General Assembly meeting is that sustainability practices can lead to big cost savings for employers large and small. Reducing energy use through changes to waste management, energy use and building practices can help businesses do more with less in this challenging economy. Therefore, our region needs specialists skilled in sustainable industrial practices, such as energy conservation and generation, changes from fossil fuels to other energy sources and development of energy efficient architectural design and building materials. 

However, we also need professionals with knowledge of sustainable practices in all areas of the economy, such as retail, finance, medicine and technology.  These professionals would have knowledge of the available resources and practices that can help their institutions develop safer, healthier and more cost-efficient environments. 

Before I worked at  St. Louis Community College, I was interested in the concept of sustainability but had not seen it in practice.  My concept of what is possible in terms of energy reduction and quality of life has been impacted due to my time spent in the LEED-certified building on the Wildwood campus and now at William J. Harrison Education Center, another LEED-certified building owned by STLCC.

I often rely on reduced indoor lighting while in my LEED-certified classrooms, due to the design of windows that invite, bright natural light into the room. The continuously refreshed air, coming from the intentional design of the ceiling and use of fans and carbon dioxide sensors, provides a fresh, healthy work environment. The rain collectors on the roof provide water for the landscaping that surrounds the building.  

When I am at a public event now, and I can't find a recycling bin for my tableware, I feel guilty if I have to throw my recyclable waste into a waste receptacle bound for a landfill. I think of my red plastic plate sitting idle for the next millennium in the local landfill, nicknamed 'trash mountain' because of the smooth, sloping hill that hides the trash from view. I feel this way because time spent at my workplace has made me more aware of how easy it is to get into the habit of conserving, recycling and caring for the quality of my community. 

Sustainability is not just about creating an energy efficient system; it is a philosophy that inspires innovation, critical thinking, collaboration and healthy living. We, in our homes, offices and schools, can operate within our environment, not against it or in spite of it.  This is so future generations will have an equal or better quality of life.


Attribution: Previously published as a blog in Patch.