PAC Spotlights Practical Steps toward Sustainability
For more than six decades now, the College’s annual, student-run Public Affairs Conference (PAC) has tackled tough, unwieldy topics. This year was no exception. As its title, “Sustainability: Not a Fad, but a Future,” suggests, the conference (held March 27–29) confronted head-on the impact of today’s decisions on tomorrow’s quality of life. Instead of the gloom and doom sometimes associated with this topic, however, practical tips and inspiration prevailed—with a focus on the difference each individual can make.
Strategies shared for living sustainably ranged from the familiar, like eating locally, to the less well known (in the West, at least). T.H. Culhane, founder of the nongovernmental organization Solar C.I.T.I.E.S., championed the latter in his keynote address (and hands-on workshop pictured above), “Biogas from Borneo to Baghdad: How Kitchen and Toilet Waste Can Save the World.” Thanks, in part, to his engaging manner, Culhane made generating energy from organic waste sound almost elegant in its simplicity. And simplicity matters if sustainability is to move from theory to practice.
At its heart, this year’s PAC was about action, about the difference one person can make both solo and working with others. Friday morning’s presentation “Sustainability 101: Your Efforts MATTER!” by Jean Ponzi, a well-known St. Louis-area environmental educator, emphasized the importance of each individual’s choices. Later that afternoon, Catherine Werner, the Sustainability Director for the City of St. Louis, extended that point in her talk, “Sustainability: We’re All in This Together.” Using the folk tale “Stone Soup” as an analogy, she illustrated the snowball effect of seemingly insignificant, individual contributions to the communal “pot.”
As senior Shelby Tisinai, the conference’s Executive Director, explained, one of the goals of the conference was to “encourage delegates to look at what they could change in their lifestyle to make it more sustainable.” Setting an example in this regard, all the PAC board members pledged publicly on the conference website to live more sustainably in at least one specific way—forsaking disposable water bottles, for instance.
Along with other obvious-impact strategies like conserving water and reducing waste, purchasing sustainably produced goods received considerable attention at the conference as well. As author Kelsey Timmerman pointed out, the environmental impact of the clothes we purchase can feel distant and hard to relate to, but that’s all the more reason to be informed about it. To help with that, Timmerman has written “Where Am I Wearing?” and “Where Am I Eating?,” which detail his journeys to discover the sources, methods, people, and factories that produce the food and clothes many consumers take for granted.
Vincent Stanley, a longtime executive at Patagonia, spoke on this topic as well, describing his efforts to make the company more sustainable. Of broadest benefit, perhaps, is the record of results, both good and bad, Stanley has kept over the years so that others can learn from his experiences.
Taking action individually, working with and learning from others, making informed choices—these are doable steps anyone can take toward living sustainably. Or as junior Becky Skala, Director of Speakers, put it, “No matter what your everyday experience is, [sustainability] can be integrated into your everyday life. It’s so universal, and it is literally the future!”
Anna Tarnow, staff writer for the Principia Pilot, contributed to this story.
Note: Several talks from this year’s PAC are available on Principia Internet Radio (scroll to the end of the list of downloadable College programs).