By Kenzley Defler, VISTA Leader 2020-2021
When hearing the word sustainability, many people think of recycling, not using plastic straws, and renewable energy. For a long time those “green” and “environmental” images were all that came to my mind as well. I’ve learned however, that sustainability is about so much more than throwing your single-use plastic bottle in a recycling bin.
I now think of sustainability as a compass, where north is nature, east is the economy, south is society, and west is personal well-being. This simple visual represents a bigger picture of sustainability, one with many more implications and areas for improvement. When considering all points of the sustainability compass, the interconnectedness of the natural world and built environment starts to take hold.
Although they may not represent it with a compass, many international leaders within the environmental field recognize the interconnected framework. In 2015, the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs drafted 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to guide member states in directly working towards, “peace and prosperity for people and the planet, now and into the future.” As you’ll see, these SDGs cover everything from conserving water to expanding access to renewable energy to improving gender equality to promoting economic growth.
Another environmental leader who demonstrates a big-picture sustainability mindset is Project Drawdown as they describe a future where anthropogenically caused climate change is reversed and the catastrophic effects are averted. One of the 3 main solutions suggested by Project Drawdown, solutions aimed to decrease greenhouse gas emissions, is to, “Improve Society,” by “fostering equality for all.”
In order to achieve the future so many of us hope to see, we need to balance a regenerative and clean environment with a just society and an equitable economy, all while supporting and engaging all people. This is what sustainability means to me.
The SDGs illustrate that the work being done by AmeriCorps VISTA is indeed working towards sustainability. In fact, the #1 SDG is to, “End poverty in all its forms everywhere,” directly mirroring AmeriCorps’ anti-poverty focus. Some of our VISTA organizations such as the Fairbanks Soil and Water Conservation District focus on the environmental and food security side of poverty reduction. Others such as the Fairbanks Reentry Coalition and Northern Hope Center focus on supporting people and developing just and equitable services for all. An economic focus is seen within United Way of the Tanana Valley which connects its local partner agencies to the necessary funding to achieve their goals. Through these and other organizations, our Fairbanks VISTAs approach their fight against poverty from all sides of the sustainability compass.
While the path towards long-term change often seems daunting, I like to fall back on the compass for both direction and reassurance. When I remember how many opportunities there are to engage with the planet and people around me, I’m filled with hope and motivation to continue working towards a more sustainable future.