Sustainability Champion Fall 2016 - Sondra Teske
What is your role on campus?
I work in student housing and residential life, and I’m the coordinator for leadership programs assessment and training.
How long have you been on campus? I’ve been working here for a little bit over 5 years. Prior to this role I was the community director for Area 1 for four years. What does sustainability mean to you? When I think of sustainability I break down the word- so the ability to sustain what we have into the future. I think sustainability is really about being mindful of the choices we’re making today and how they’re going to impact the future.
When we’re talking about impacting the future the choices could be tomorrow- how our choices are impacting people in the environment or 100 years from now. It’s really all about being mindful in our choices. Not being wasteful and just doing something because it’s the easiest thing to do, but thinking “okay, it’s easy now but what are we sacrificing for that convenience.”
How did you get into sustainability?
That’s an interesting question. I think I’ve always been attuned to sustainability. I think back to growing up, and I think that my parents instilled it a little bit without really even knowing. I think part of it was just because we didn’t have a lot of money and so we were doing sustainable things because we couldn’t be wasteful.
As I have gotten older, and sustainability has gotten more mainstream I realize, “oh my gosh, we were doing those things back in the day.” My mom would say ‘we’re using re-usable bottles, we’re not buying all these plastic bottles. Or you’re going to take your lunch in these reusable containers and not in plastic.” I remember my dad talking about the evils of plastic when I was in middle school when there were all these adds on TV for the “Plastics Make It Possible Campaign”.’ I’ve always been really passionate about nature. For example, deforestation was something I did projects in school on.
My interest for sustainability has continued, however my practice has ebbed and flowed. It can be hard to keep up with what everything happening on campus. I was telling one of my best friends I don’t feel like I do enough to be the person who is being featured, and he was reminding me of all the stuff that I do. This is a good time to come back to that part of yourself and I feel really honored to be recognized as a sustainability champion.
What are some challenges you face incorporating sustainability into your work?
The sustainable choice is not always the easiest or cheapest choice. I think that is a challenge, but it is something you need to prioritize if you want it to be widespread. That’s why it was so important to reach out to the Sustainability Office to do a sustainable practices training with the Resident Advisors. I mean, that’s a huge group of students that we can start sharing ideas with and bringing this to the forefront of their mind, and showing that our department thinks this is priority.
It’s just a mindset change and a priority shift.
What are your biggest successes regarding sustainability?
Here on campus I’m really proud of just making the effort to reaching out to all of you in the Sustainability Office to start seeing how we can … at least with the largest events on campus ...how we can make them closer to zero waste events. We are adding a sustainability component to our current RA facilities committee.
It makes me really proud that my best friend can point out things that I was doing in middle school-high school, and things that he can see I’m still doing, like when he comes to visit, or when I go to see him in Florida. I’m really proud that people notice, and are inspired by my actions.
I need to continue to challenge myself to do more. But, at the same time, don’t forget that other people… their baseline might be somewhere else and so still educate on those pieces. Also, understanding that not everybody is in the same place, or has the same experiences, or understands sustainability in the same way.
How can your students get involved with sustainability?
I would advise students to contact the residential housing association, which is a student organization for students living on campus if they want to see more sustainability in the halls. Come to an RHA general assembly meeting they’re every Monday at 7pm in the student center. Talk to their RA’s about what they want to see so that we can get it back to that sustainability committee.
Be vocal, reach out to the leaders that we have in our department so that we can work together with students who are interested and do the things that they want to see.
What power do students have over sustainability on campus? I think the student voice is really powerful, just speak about the things that they see and the things they want to see change. Not being afraid. I know it’s easy to think you can only control a small part of your life, which, I think there’s some truth to that. There’s things that are in your control. Every student can make a choice.