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.

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