Sustainability is primarily associated with environmentalism, but it encompasses so much more. Any institution, be it collegiate or otherwise, needs to keep a balanced focus on all three pillars of sustainability: environmental, yes, but also social and economic. Reed’s sustainability coordinator (yes, it’s an actual position at Reed!), Bellamy Brownwood, along with environmental groups on campus and around the Pacific Northwest, spent a weekend working together at a conference of the Climate Cascade Network to attempt to tackle problems of environmentalism and activism.
The position of Sustainability Coordinator is a little obscure here at Reed. Bella shed some light upon her role, telling us that she is “a connection for students who have thoughts or ideas about sustainable projects, or desires for the school.” Bella is also on the Sustainability Committee with faculty and staff, and is working to make changes within the school toward the goal of increasing environmental sustainability.
“I have a deep love for nature,” Bella says, which is why she became interested in sustainability in the first place. “As I have become more dedicated to protecting the beautiful places that are special to me, I have realized that preserving the natural environment for pure enjoyment is just the surface level of environmentalism.” Destruction of the natural world is one side effect of human actions, but there are other, less often discussed repercussions that can have very negative effects on human health.
Safe and healthy environments aren’t just seen in massive trees or majestic landscapes; every time a person walks outside they are entering an environment over which they often have little control. Bella tells us that unsafe environments definitely “affect some people or groups of people more.” Environmental racism has existed since both of those those terms came into being: waste facilities are more often than not placed in neighborhoods of color, environmental degradation and climate change are predicted to affect poor people the most. When we talk about justice, the environments where people work, play, and learn are key components.
In her role as sustainability coordinator, Bella has organized Reed’s attendance at two conferences for the Climate Cascade Network. Last year’s conference was held on Reed’s campus. This is a network designed to serve as a support system for environmental groups at different college campuses as they work to make their campuses more environmentally sustainable. These groups meet in order to update and educate each other, and also to collaborate on projects or share ideas.
This year, the theme of the conference was environmental activism. Students went to a Standing Rock solidarity march in downtown Tacoma, and participated in a workshop led by an activist native American named Sweetwater. Sweetwater led a workshop about institutional racism towards native peoples, how to be a good white ally, and about the history of trauma and healing for her people. She stressed the importance of knowing the history of the land you inhabit, and of the people who occupied those areas before you. “Let native people speak,” she said. Avoid tokenism. According to Bella, meeting Sweetwater was one of the highlights of the weekend.
Looking ahead, Bella says that “ultimately the goal of CCN is to gain enough momentum and support to be able to make significant changes within the colleges so that the institutions can be more environmentally sustainable.” Here at Reed, that starts with small things. Simply turning off your lights when you leave the room makes a huge difference in energy use (maybe be sneaky and turn off that bathroom light in the library that’s always on too). Don’t use paper cups, and think about all the paper towels you’re using. We’re all busy with schoolwork, and when trying to inspire positive change, it’s sometimes hard to remember that adjusting our habits can create some really helpful changes themselves. Sustainability starts with small actions, with caring for the environment and each other.