What is Sustain Champlain?

Sustain Champlain is a campus-wide initiative strives to infuse sustainability concepts and practices across Champlain College by coordinating and promoting best practices within four areas: our institution, academics, operations, and culture.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Reflections from my new perch

This past week I received an email from Champlain student, Rachel Salois, who is currently studying abroad in Ireland. She is thinking about her Professional Writing Senior Capstone project and had a few questions for me. I thought I'd share her questions and my responses. Also, be sure to check out Rachel's blog.

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Greetings from across the pond. Indeed, the snow is piling up so high, it is getting hard to see over the snowbanks (and this is from a woman who is six feet tall). Your questions are great prompts, and it is times like these that I really appreciate the moment to sit back, think a bit, and reflect on why I do what I do. So, forgive me if I ramble a bit, but I will get to your questions.

My husband and I have had several discussions lately about work vs. job. For me, my life work is about creating and living a sustainable lifestyle for me, my family, my community. That takes up all of my day. My job (currently at Champlain) is a piece of that life work -- trying to encourage others to take steps in that direction, if not live it fully. I recently read a fantastic book called Radical Homemakers -- which reminds me; the author will be speaking in Burlington at the upcoming NOFA conference. Anyway, one of Shannon's main points is that what is important in life boils down to four things: family, community, ecological integrity, and social justice. I am trying to make that the motto for my life. And so, I'll delve into your questions.

*First of all, how do you personally incorporate sustainability into your lifestyle? When oftentimes its less complicated/expensive to be wasteful, how do you keep up your sustainable habits?*

Man, can that one be tough. This morning my babysitter overslept, I missed the bus and I walked (trudged is more like it) the 30 minutes to my office from my house in the Old North End. As I saw cars cruising by with warm passengers rocking to the car stereo I thought to myself, "why is it again that I won't drive to work?" Oh yea, a million reasons. But now as someone with a young baby and a full time job, I start to understand why those extra 25 minutes x2 might be why more people drive even short distances. But for me, it has always been critical that I model the behavior I wish others to participate in. And so, I walk. Or, the other day, I skied.

Another example. It is winter in Vermont and we do our best to eat locally. That means a lot of root vegetables, cabbage, meat, cheese, etc. We were graced with a small bag of spinach from our farmshare the other day and it was the best tasting salad I've had in a long time. Sure, I could be eating green salads all winter long, but none of them would taste that good.

In our house we cook, we wash dishes by hand, we hang cloth diapers to dry by the woodstove, we walk/bike/bus. This all takes time and sometime even I have to be reminded that it is worth it. I believe it is. And as my husband is always trying to remind me, I have to learn to have fun with it. (I'm still learning).

*Secondly, what are the most successful ways that you see students (or anyone) get motivated to go green?*

You know how some people have quotes attached to their email signatures? One caught my eye the other day, enough so that I copied & pasted, and then printed it out and taped it to my computer. It says, “If you want to build a ship, don't drum up people together to collect wood and don't assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.” From Antoine de Saint-Exupery, French Pilot, Writer and Author of 'The Little Prince', 1900-1944.

This quote reminded me that one way to get people to care about the environment is to get them out to experience and enjoy it so much so that they want to protect it and help it heal and help those who are affected by a degenerating planet. That is certainly a critical part of my ecological identity. And so, to that effect I am planning on getting students to join me on the lovely groomed ski trails down in the Intervale this winter and is also the premise behind a new course I hope to teach next fall -- The Foundations of Ecology. In that course I plan on doing as much field time as possible, in various Vermont ecosystems.

*What type of information regarding lifestyle/sustainability/activism do you think most college students are lacking?*

This is a toughy. I feel like there is no shortage of information out there. In fact, I feel it is much the opposite. We are so overloaded with information, with really heart-shattering stories from across the globe, that sometimes it is hard not to feel paralyzed by this (something that happens to me at times). I think some folks would rather live with the 'ignorance-is-bliss' motto and just shut out the tough stuff and go on living like what they do doesn't matter to others or the planet.

Although, I also have to remember that when I was a first-year college student, I didn't know about ANY of this stuff. I do think that students today are more saavy about this, and have had more exposure to environmental issues in their high schools and through current events, but perhaps that is not the case. Perhaps no one has brought this up before. And so, that's part of my work. How to make information and opportunities to positively participate apparent, to make them meaningful, to simplify (but not over-simplify), and to connect to what matters to an individual. No short order.

Well, that's probably enough rambling for now. Thank you for the opportunity to reflect. I hope your time in Ireland is full of adventures. I can't wait to hear more.


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