When you think of the future, what world do you see? Do you see a world surrounded with green technology that works to meet the needs of an ever growing population while ensuring the vitality of the world around us? Or, do you see a world surrounded by smog and polluted water, with no trees in sight? What world do you want? What is stopping us from reaching a sustainable future?
We are the Co-Chairs of the College of Liberal Arts Student Government’s Sustainability Committee on campus. Through our efforts within this organization, we have created a sustainability workshop to educate the Drew community about sustainability initiatives on campus and proper recycling habits. These initiatives included looking into student concerns surrounding chemical waste, setting up a speaker series of environmental speakers to educate students about current issues and working to reinstate Drew it in the Dark, an energy saving competition in which Drew students compete to reduce the electrical usage of the residence halls. While working towards the completion of our sustainability goals and projects on campus, we have encountered various challenges with engaging the Drew Community in performing sustainable practices.
A main problem that we have identified as Co-Chairs of the Sustainability Committee is that time is often the largest concern in terms of student engagement. Many Drew students have intense work loads and schedules, and many often stick with select extracurriculars chosen in their first year for their entire time at Drew. Because of this, it is difficult to engage students and draw them into leadership roles on the Committee. First-years are desperately needed to keep clubs and student organizations going, especially in regards to clubs such as the Drew Environmental Action League. Student retention due to time constraints is a massive concern that we continually wrestle with.
Although students are under constant time constraints, some refuse to engage with sustainability work and practices despite their access to so many resources. There are numerous campus organizations that students can be involved in that would enable them to interact with their environmental responsibility, such as the Sustainability Committee and the Drew Environmental Action League. As Co-Chairs of the Sustainability Committee and members of the environmental club, we have witnessed low student involvement in these organizations. Also, some students refuse to educate themselves about proper recycling habits or composting practices that could benefit their local environment. Oftentimes, people feel as though their individual actions will not make a difference; however, this unanimous sentiment is what is impeding our movement towards a greener future.
Student leaders run into many issues externally, but there are also many internal issues. Burnout and mental health struggles are all too common for student leaders, especially when environmental activism is concerned. Eco-anxiety is inevitable; the environmental challenges we face seem insurmountable, and the solutions we engage in seem so insignificant. As Co-Chairs of the Sustainability Committee it has always been important to keep pushing and do what we can despite how hopeless we may feel at times.
There are also problems with pushing, though—we often feel like we can never take a break. It is difficult to “turn off” and relax. Feeling overburdened and overwhelmed is always a threat and can often lead to burnout. As student leaders, these struggles feel inevitable. It is difficult to feel completely supported in what we do, even though we have an excellent support system. Sometimes, we feel alone and like our work may never pay off.
Although these obstacles may seem immutable, change is possible as long as individual mindsets are altered. Through engagement with environmental responsibility, it is possible to understand what needs to be done and what needs to change. However, if you remain dissociated from organizations and sustainable practices, you will never fully comprehend how your individual actions impact the planet and how the actions of others affect the world around us.
If you want to get involved with the Sustainability Committee or the Drew Environmental Action League, the environmental club meets next on Dec. 7 at 5:30 p.m. in the EC Lounge. Both student organizations have so much in the works currently, and any input or assistance is incredibly helpful.
Featured image courtesy of creativemarket.com
Jaden Mena is a sophomore double majoring in biology and environmental studies and sustainability. Elisabeth Saureman is a junior majoring in public health and minoring in anthropology and environmental justice.