I have recently been thinking a lot about what sustainability means to me, and what experiences have shaped my definition of this term. As an environmental studies major, we use terms such as sustainability, ecocitzen, and going green on a regular basis. However, these phrases are broad and in many ways difficult to define. In addition, working in the environmental field and the path towards becoming more sustainable can seem like a no-win fight at times. There is so much focus on the negative impact that humans have, and these issues can seem too big for one person to have an impact. To me, sustainability is creating solutions that benefit both human societies and the environment in the long run. These sustainable solutions begin by the little things that each individual can do on a day to day basis.
My view of the environment and human relationship with it has been largely shaped by my childhood, and most recent experience living in Copenhagen, Denmark. I have always had a very close connection with the outdoors since I grew up on a twenty-acre farm in the hills of Salinas, California. I spent all of my free time exploring the hills and ravines around my house. I have vivid memories of playing hide and go seek, climbing trees, and catching any animals that we could get our hands on.
These early experiences in nature built the foundation for my respect and passion for the environment. As I entered Santa Clara University as a freshman, I decided to take a few environmental science classes to see if I would find them interesting. These introductory classes helped me realize the importance of this field and led me to adding environmental studies as a major.
Last fall I studied abroad for four months in Copenhagen, Denmark. I chose this abroad program because it offered a range of environmental and communications classes. In addition, after researching more about Copenhagen, I was excited to live in a city that is very environmentally focused. I was enrolled in two communications courses and two courses that were focused on environmental issues and solutions, particularly in Europe but also on a global scale.
Having never lived in a city it took me a few weeks to adjust; however, Copenhagen is a very easy city to get around because of the accessible public transportation and infrastructure for biking. I had been told about the huge number of Danes who commute by bike, but I was still shocked by the amount of bikers each day. Currently more than fifty percent of the city commutes by bike, and they hope to continue to increase this number.
Biking to class each morning provided both some of my favorite and scariest memories from abroad. The main bike lanes are bustling with people on their way to and from work. Stepping out into the bike lane was intimidating to say the least, but after a couple of near falls I got the hang of it.
The city of Copenhagen plans to increase the number of those biking or taking public transportation to work to seventy percent, with the ambitious goal of being carbon neutral by 2025. They have many innovative projects underway to reach this goal with a large emphasis on transportation, recycling, and renewable energy solutions. Although Copenhagen has many ambitious plans towards becoming a more sustainable city, learning about these goals was not what I took away from this experience most. After living among the Danes for four months, I realized that sustainability does not always have to be about grand innovative solutions. It starts with small things like riding a bike to work, starting a garden, recycling, or other small daily tasks. In order for a city to become more sustainable, the people must have a positive mindset and realize that there are things they can do that will make a difference.