Sustainability - Green Notes

What Does Sustainability Mean?

chart of what sustainability meansSimply put, sustainability is defined by living within the Earth’s means. By living a sustainable life, that means that Earth’s natural resources are not being depleted and an ecological balance is created. Obviously, by living, we as humans must use some natural resources such as water, oil, coal, etc. However, there is a fine line between using these resources to live and using these resources to live… and then some. Think of going to a birthday party. There is a cake that feeds twenty people; however, there are twenty-five people at the party. In order for everyone to get a piece of cake, the guests must take a smaller portion of cake. They cannot be greedy, for if they are, the cake will run out and some guests will be left with no cake. Sustainability works the same way. If all of us use more natural resources than we absolutely need on a day-to-day basis, we will subsequently run out and die off—the Earth included. We must think about our future generations as well as the environment. There is a way for us to meet our current needs without risking the needs of future generations. 

So what are some ways to practice sustainability without getting completely overwhelmed? Let’s start with a concept we all learned about at a young age—reduce, reuse, and recycle. This is a simple way to get your foot in the door of sustainability. Create a bin in your house dedicated for recycling, and make a conscious effort to separate your trash before disposing of it. I know first hand that sometimes it is much easier to throw things in the trash and go on about your day. However that plastic bag you used to carry your groceries in will take 10-20 years to decompose in the landfill. What about that aluminum can of soda? 80-200 years. So, if you take ten seconds now to put your trash in the appropriate recycling receptacle you can avoid the years of guilt you will feel upon reading that trash never really disappears. Even fruit and vegetable scraps take a long time to decompose in the landfill due to a lack of oxygen. While you are creating your recycling bins, go ahead and make a composting one as well! Other easy things you can do would be to turn off the lights when you leave a room, turn off the faucet when brushing your teeth, or even unplug electronics when they are not in use. If we all make a small commitment to sustainability, big, positive environmental changes will occur. 

If you read our student worker interview page, you would have seen that a lot of us really love to thrift shop. Thrift shopping perfectly adopts the “three R’s” concept. Donating your old clothes can be a form of reduction as you are making your closet smaller. However, it can also be seen as recycling since you are giving your old clothing a new potential to be something else. Finally, thrift shopping is a great way to reuse clothing instead of sending it to the landfill. Based on the material, clothing takes approximately 5-80 years to decompose in the landfill. Now, we all have that raggedy t-shirt complete with holes and year old stains that nobody would dream of purchasing at a thrift store. What can you do with that? There is a great website called Re-Spun that accepts t-shirts of any condition to “re-spin” into a brand new shirt. They will break down your old shirt into small fibers and add a recycled plastic (for durability) to create yarn used to make a new shirt! Plus, you get a $5 credit for each t-shirt you donate!

Here at Tennessee Tech, we do many things to promote a more sustainable campus. In every building, you can find recycling stations. Daily, we have student workers gather the recycling and properly dispose of it. We also keep track of our recycling tonnage to compare yearly how much more trash is being recycled on campus. My personal favorite is our hydration stations. Here, you simply bring a reusable water bottle to one of our many re-fill stations, and fill it up! No need for plastic water bottles here! In addition, we also have a Sustainable Campus Committee that meets monthly to discuss how our Green Fee (a fee that is included in tuition and is dedicated to making campus more eco-friendly) will be spent. Also, October is Sustainability Month, and we try to plan plenty of eco-friendly events and activities for students and staff to participate in. However, due to COVID-19 restrictions, Sustainability Month will be looking a bit different than it has in the past. With that being said, you can still look forward to fun events such as a socially distanced costume Bike Trail Cleanup!

Overall, there is no right or wrong way to be sustainable. As long as your end goal is to protect the planet, you are doing the right thing. It can be overwhelming and oftentimes you can feel like you are not doing enough. However, sustainability is a journey and we can all only do so much. Go easy on yourself and know that there will be a day when all of this will become second nature to you. 

Lydia Young
Tennessee Tech University
English Literature

Sustainable Projects