Zero Hour Story
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Zero Hour Story: Vicki, Community-Driven Enthusiast

Photo of Vicki, Community-Driven Enthusiast

Vicki is a 25-year-old female living in Issaquah, Washington. She is a manager-in-training for the Golden Corral franchise and was formerly involved with many environmental non-profits in the Seattle area such as Washington Environmental Council, CarbonWA, and Fund for the Public Interest. In her spare time, Vicki enjoys attending concerts, cooking, and consuming lots of boba milk tea.

What does ‘sustainability’ mean to you?
Sustainability is doing what I can to not harm the environment or deplete its natural resources. We may not be here when the environment will be at its worst, but our children might and I want to make sure they have a good life. It’s so important to do our part to help sustain this life for everyone after us.

Why is it important for you to live a sustainable lifestyle?
I’m constantly asking myself “what can I do now to help future generations?”. If we don’t take care of the planet, there isn’t going to be a world for anyone to live in. There are some people who don’t think it’s a big deal to drive their cars every day or not recycle, but just because we don’t see the effects, doesn’t mean the negative impact isn’t there.

How did you become interested in caring for the environment?
I became more accustomed to a sustainable lifestyle during my undergrad at the University of Washington (UW). At UW, there were many opportunities to learn about living “green.” The campus is very forward thinking with many student organizations promoting sustainable awareness and expressing environmental dedication. We were exposed to green practices too. Each of our classrooms had separate bins for trash, recyclables, and compostables; and our dining halls had posters with examples to show which items belong to which category. There were also tons of student-led sustainability projects throughout campus aimed at reducing the university’s environmental impact.

Is that a reason why you decided to major in Environmental Studies at UW?
In my second year of college, my counselor recommended an introductory Environmental Studies course and I quickly fell in love with the subject. I enjoyed the program because it’s broad and interdisciplinary, allowing me to take classes from different departments; such as wildlife, global health, and food studies. We learned to listen to different perspectives and collaborated on issues such as climate change, water, energy, policy, and education. It was also very hands on; we got to work in small groups as well as work closely with our professors. The best part was getting to visit all of the stunning natural and urban landscapes Washington has to offer.

“I’ve learned the importance of reaching out to communities and educating legislators because that’s how you get the ball rolling and how bills are passed.”

What’s something you learned from your courses that you think is important for everyone to know?
I’m big on recycling and recycling properly. When we recycle improperly, we risk the cause of contamination and whole batches of recyclables may need to be thrown out. It also creates chaos for those whose job is to separate the recyclables. Did you know when recycling plastic water bottles, we need to remove the bottle cap? Additionally, we need to make sure the bottles are washed and clear of previous residue.

How have you incorporated sustainable practices into your everyday life?
I try not to drive my car as much and take public transit when I can. Luckily, it’s really convenient and efficient in Seattle. I’m conscious of my diet and try limit my weekly intake of meat. I also carry a reusable water bottle and use reusable bags for grocery shopping. That’s all I can think of for now, but I do want to find more ways to be sustainable.

How has living in an eco-friendly city like Seattle helped shape your views on sustainability?
It has greatly impacted me in a positive way. I learned a lot through my classes and the people I meet. When I see locals ride bikes, wear fair trade clothing, and canvass on the streets for environmental justice, I’m inspired to do more. I’ve learned the importance of reaching out to communities and educating legislators because that’s how you get the ball rolling and how bills are passed. There’s a lot of environmental awareness in Seattle, and I definitely believe that kind of exposure pushes me to do more. If I still lived in the Los Angeles area, I wouldn’t be as sustainable as I am today.

What do you find challenging in trying to live a more sustainable lifestyle?
It takes a lot of time and effort to make a conscious change. I wish I’d stayed involved in environmental causes after college, but sometimes I am too lazy. It makes me feel guilty. It’s an internal struggle I go through. However, I try to remind myself that small changes can have a huge positive impact and that makes all the difference.

“If you really believe in something, you can do it. The power of a community runs deep.”

Being more mindful is a constant learning process. Are there things you do to motivate yourself or others to continue the fight for a more sustainable world?
I’m very aware about sustainable practices, mostly because it has become a habit for me. So it’ll bug me when I see someone throw a plastic bottle in the trash and not the recycling bin. I think it’s important to speak up and say, “Hey, you know you could buy a reusable water bottle, right? It’s easier.” At one of my previous jobs, we didn’t even have a recycling bin. I asked if we could get one and the company said they would try in a couple months. There was no sense of urgency and it makes me wonder why it’s so difficult to make changes? When I worked in retail, our products were packaged with ridiculous amounts of paper, plastic, and cardboard. It’s just so unnecessary and wasteful. Now that I’m in the service industry, I hope to actually implement sustainable practices (limiting food waste and proper recycling for example) into the workplace!

Any last words?
I’ll end with a story: I joined an environmental grassroots organization called Carbon Washington back in 2014. It was founded by a former UW professor/stand up economist who wanted to implement carbon pricing through a revenue-neutral tax shift similar to the carbon tax in British Columbia. There were only a few of us in the beginning and we would meet in classrooms on campus to discuss our plans. Within a year, we evolved, and created a huge movement. Then, in 2016, we created a statewide campaign to pass Initiative 732. We spent countless hours getting word out during events, building partnerships and coalitions, and gathering signatures. Our initiative was endorsed by social and business leaders, scientists, public officials, etc. and although the measure didn’t pass, it inspired the state government to design carbon-reduction policies. Even today, CarbonWA is still focused on making an impact. I was lucky to be a part of it; it was a huge deal! Being able to do something that big was amazing and it just started with a small group of people who wanted to make their world more sustainable. My take-home message is if you really believe in something, you can do it. The power of a community runs deep.

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*This interview was modified for the purpose of the series.

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