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Why You Should Engage in Sustainability in College

As a sustainability studies major, I talk about climate change on an almost daily basis. I’ve worked together with my classmates to come up with solutions to reduce pollution on campus, volunteer in my campus’ greenhouse, and am constantly thinking of questions like ‘how could we make *insert anything* more sustainable?’

To me, environmental issues are a constant presence in everything I do, largely because I’ve been so exposed to sustainability education for the majority of my college career. Additionally, I understand how interconnected these issues are with social justice, economics, politics, and the human experience, which makes it impossible to separate these factors from each other. 

But outside of my major-specific classes, I realize that many people do not have the opportunity to learn or are not aware of the environmental and sustainability issues that we face today. Instead of being immersed in academic literature and learning from people who have extensive experience working in these fields, the average person will largely get their climate, sustainability, and environmental information from news and social media, and may not engage beyond these outlets. This is a cause for concern because of how politicized these topics (specifically the words themselves) have become, along with great polarization across media. 

This opens the door for educational institutions to take a greater stance in promoting and providing opportunities for environmental and sustainability learning and experiences to all. I came into college with a general interest in the environment, but it was here that I became aware of all of the new innovations, historical contexts of environmental justice, and the importance of community-based and led solutions. 

The beauty of college is that it presents the opportunity for students to get involved in so many things beyond their main areas of study. Because environmental sustainability is so dependent on collaboration, it doesn’t matter what you bring to the table as long as you come prepared to engage with others and bring your voice to the conversation. In college, students have the unique opportunity to really participate in creating a community with so many avenues of support and resources which can be difficult to find equally in the real world. 

As microcosms of our society at large, higher education institutions bring together groups of people into collaborative and innovative settings. And some may think, ‘well, how much is my university really contributing to the climate crisis?” And while individual and smaller-scale actions may not seem important in the face of larger contributors, it’s more about how we can start working as a collective towards a more sustainable future. Supporting a culture of sustainability and environmental justice can have a major impact on how students will go on to view these areas beyond their time in college. 

The majority of colleges and universities in the U.S. now have sustainability offices, programs, and plans that work to engage students in their work. George Mason University, for example, has extensive volunteer opportunities, support for research, and endless resources. Things such as green leaf courses which are any sustainability-focused or -related classes that engage in social, economic, and environmental sustainability dimensions are available across many departments. 

🌎 Related: A Look At Sustainability At Mason

My engagement in college sustainability has obviously been integral to my college experience. Beyond that I plan to work in this space, my experiences have taught me the value of community, that my own individual actions do matter, and that there are so many others who want to also make a difference.

I’m definitely not asking you to drop whatever you’re doing and become an environmental science or sustainability major. Because regardless of your background and expertise, there is so much space for everyone to get involved. What I am asking is that if there is an opportunity to take an elective or attend a free webinar, go for it! You may just discover a new passion while also making the world a better place. 

Olivia Garcia

George Mason University '22

Olivia is a senior studying Environmental and Sustainability studies with a concentration in Conservation and minors in anthropology and GIS. She is interested in environmental and conservation communication and education. Olivia enjoys writing about the environment, culture, and social justice issues, and the intersections between them. Aside from school, she enjoys reading, hanging out with friends, and exploring DC.
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