Student-led activism: A deliberate approach to sustainability

Elizabeth Nesbitt

When she was growing up, Elizabeth Nesbitt‘s parents would cut up old T-shirts into rags, reuse food containers to store leftovers, unplug electronics and take other actions motivated more by economics than environmentalism.

“I think that these simple actions represent how earlier generations were accidentally eco-friendly, as those efforts helped save money but also minimized waste and electricity usage,” says Nesbitt, a junior at Western Carolina University and president of the school’s Student Environmental Health Association.

In contrast, she says, members of Generation Z  tend to take a more deliberate approach to sustainability by using metal straws, reusable totes and other products designed to make a positive impact toward combating climate change.

Below, Xpress speaks with Nesbitt about reducing waste, encouraging others to take concrete actions to help the environment and setting personal priorities.

The interview has been condensed and lightly edited.  

What environmental or sustainability efforts on your campus are you most proud of?

Dining services on campus have become much more focused on reducing their environmental impact. If you wanted to get food to go from the dining halls a couple of years ago, students had to use disposable containers and utensils. Now, there are reusable takeout containers. Also, discounts are offered to students who use their own reusable mugs at the coffee shops.

How do you keep yourself motivated in light of the lack of meaningful efforts to combat climate change?

By focusing on the changes I can make and by inspiring others to make similar changes. I pay attention to what I end up throwing out or recycling and try to see if I can find a reusable or sustainable alternative. One change I made is switching from buying shampoo that comes in bulky plastic bottles to using locally made solid shampoo bars. When I make a successful change, I encourage my friends and family to do the same. Being more aware of how the choices you make impact the environment and inspiring others to make more environmentally friendly choices are important steps in combating climate change.

What’s one thing you would like to see Xpress readers do to promote sustainability in WNC?

Everyone knows about the three R’s — reduce, reuse, recycle — but many don’t know that they are ordered in terms of priority. You should focus on reducing your consumption the most, then think of how you can reuse what you already have and finally recycle what you cannot reuse. I think many people use recycling as a crutch to feel they are living sustainably, but the unfortunate reality is most items you put in your recycling bin don’t actually end up being recycled. I would encourage readers to be more cognizant of what they choose to purchase and how they use those items before they toss them.


Thanks for reading through to the end…

We share your inclination to get the whole story. For the past 25 years, Xpress has been committed to in-depth, balanced reporting about the greater Asheville area. We want everyone to have access to our stories. That’s a big part of why we've never charged for the paper or put up a paywall.

We’re pretty sure that you know journalism faces big challenges these days. Advertising no longer pays the whole cost. Media outlets around the country are asking their readers to chip in. Xpress needs help, too. We hope you’ll consider signing up to be a member of Xpress. For as little as $5 a month — the cost of a craft beer or kombucha — you can help keep local journalism strong. It only takes a moment.

About Justin McGuire
Justin McGuire is a UNC Chapel Hill graduate with more than 30 years of experience as a writer and editor. His work has appeared in The Sporting News, the (Rock Hill, SC) Herald and various other publications. Follow me @jmcguireMLB

Before you comment

The comments section is here to provide a platform for civil dialogue on the issues we face together as a local community. Xpress is committed to offering this platform for all voices, but when the tone of the discussion gets nasty or strays off topic, we believe many people choose not to participate. Xpress editors are determined to moderate comments to ensure a constructive interchange is maintained. All comments judged not to be in keeping with the spirit of civil discourse will be removed and repeat violators will be banned. See here for our terms of service. Thank you for being part of this effort to promote respectful discussion.

Leave a Reply

To leave a reply you may Login with your Mountain Xpress account, connect socially or enter your name and e-mail. Your e-mail address will not be published. All fields are required.