I would like to take a moment of your time to talk about the importance of sustainable communities. When I say this, I mean putting yourself in a situation or environment that emphasizes sustainable practices. This can be good for the environment, but it is also invaluable to the individual.
When I chose my college, I wasn’t thinking about sustainability. Although, looking back it was something I noticed. Gathering all the college pamphlets found around campus, I noticed that they used the same formula: bright photographs of happy people, sunshine, some form of art, a beautiful campus building and something about inclusiveness.
The college I wound up choosing — Western Washington University — added something else to that list: sustainability. I didn’t do much more than notice it at the time, but I am very thankful that I chose a school that values sustainability enough to break the mold.
It’s not as though I was environmentally insensitive before I moved. I recycled everything I could and turned off the lights. That’s what you’re supposed to do, right? Well, yes, but there is so much more, and living in a community that prioritizes sustainability makes it possible.
I had heard of composting before, but never really thought I had access to it, as I didn’t garden. Only gardeners had compost piles. That is my favorite part of living in a sustainable community; I don’t have to garden to compost!
My community made it easily accessible to me wherever I went. And I know what to look for to see if something is compostable. Yes, food is, but so are napkins and certain kinds of utensils. All you have to do is look for the symbol on the receptacle.
Now that I’m living off campus, technically out of my community, I still think about it and take strides to compost on my own. I was taught the value of it before I was told that I should, and it has affected me and everyone else I know who goes to my school.
My community has done wonders for my personal health, as well. For one thing, my school has a plastic bottle ban, which means that there is no bottled water sold on campus, forcing me to carry a reusable water bottle. This is good for eliminating waste, but I’ve also stayed far more hydrated. I can’t even really imagine going anywhere without my water bottle. I would just be too thirsty.
More importantly, however, has been the influence on my eating and exercise habits. It’s easy to grow up thinking that the eating habits that have developed are strong, but it’s something that people can’t judge objectively until they have experienced another way firsthand.
At least that’s what it took for me. I wasn’t eating fast food and chocolate all of the time, so I was healthy. No, no, no. It takes a bit more than that. There has to be vegetables in there.
This dietary change was influenced by my community because it gave me every opportunity and resources to successfully make that decision. From sustainable food clubs to vegetarian and vegan options in the dining halls, the environment was always encouraging. Above all else was my motivation to change my habits.
Also, sustainable communities just kind of force you to be more active. It would just be impractical not to, especially when it comes to transportation. My community highly encouraged walking and biking to your destination.
It helped that everything was within walking distance, but if walking didn’t sound like the best option, there was easily accessible public transportation that students are already equipped for. All they need is their student ID.
Often, when people talk about sustainability, they talk about how important it is to save it and all the good things you can do for it. That’s all important, but living in a sustainable world is good for the individual, as well.
It can improve someone’s overall quality of life. I think that’s important to consider as well, especially when talking to someone who is a little less receptive to the idea.
Thank you for your time.
-- Toria Van Horst
Toria is an avid walker. She loves to set aside a few hours to head out of her door to whatever adventure is waiting for her that day. Her favorite time for a stroll is right after sunset in the summer, when she can look up from under a tree and see the outline of leaves against the navy sky. She is very grateful that her sustainable community helped her to find this passion.