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COLUMN: Sustainability is something to embrace, not avoid

By Liz Winters
On April 9, 2014

Sticky summer days of my childhood spent frolicking on the pebbled beaches of Cape May Point, N.J. often rang with this lilting tune:

“Who’s afraid of the big, bad wave,
the big bad wave, the big bad wave?
Who’s afraid of the big bad wave?
Not me, not me, not me.”

As a 6-year-old the immensity of the ocean was incomprehensible, though the thrill of getting splashed by a low-tide wave was very tangible. My grandpa taught us the wave song, a line of my cousins and I chasing a receding wave, only to be chased right back by the next as we shrieked and giggled, “Not me.” It may have been a silly game, but we recognized the speed needed to dash away from the water as it hissed up the beach. When we tired of avoiding the water, we splashed in, feeling the tug of the current all around us.

With a few simple words, we had polarized the ocean, made it something to be avoided. Then, just like flipping a switch, the ocean became our refreshing friend once more. The power of words and mindset is undeniable, and perhaps one of the big reasons initiating sustainable practices is difficult in the United States. Is it because terms like “sustainability,” “green” and “eco-friendly” are somewhat polarizing? Are politics getting in the way? Is it a lack of understanding surrounding sustainability that causes some to shy away from it, the same way I once scampered from waves?

Be it a lack of education, political shenanigans or mundane laziness, sustainability — once considered an alternative lifestyle — is quickly becoming our only viable option for the future. Incorporating sustainable efforts into your life doesn’t necessarily mean making drastic changes to the way you live, although some do choose to take this route. Start with the little things: This school year, the Sustainability Club started up a plastic bag recycling program on campus, since the campus recycling system cannot process grocery bags. The program has been a pleasant success in terms of collecting plastic grocery bags. However, how many of these dutiful, bag-recycling students made the switch to reusable canvas grocery bags? Yes, recycling is a sustainable practice, but cutting off the plastic flow with canvas is the long-term sustainable solution.

Most people would come to the consensus that adopting alternative habits to lessen our environmental impact is a good and important thing to do. Logic will tell you everything you do has an environmental impact, and in today’s tumultuous world, these impacts cannot go ignored. Making this mistake of self-perpetuated ignorance is akin to running away from the big bad wave. Our planet is sick and our behaviors are the pathogen. If science fails to move you to take action, allow me to appeal to the religious majority here at USU: Are you not called to be stewards of the earth? Respect your planet, because she is finite. Dive into becoming part of the solution: Working with our planet reaps so many more mutual benefits than our current actions do.

The Sustainability Office on campus works to illuminate the little things you, even as a poor college student, can do to minimize your footprint. This week, Service Week and Earth Week are being held in tandem. Take some time to educate yourself about the many facets of sustainability, from growing your own vegetable garden to growing a strong community. Jump into the water. Don’t run away because of the stigma someone else placed on it.

Liz Winters is a member of the Sustainability Club, majoring in conservation and restoration ecology. Send any comments to

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