Stephanie is currently a software engineer at Nuna Health in San Francisco, where she is working to improve the American healthcare system. Outside of her career, she spends her time writing, reading, caring for her dog, trying to make her parents proud (viva Mexico!), and worrying about whether she’s having a positive impact on the world around her.
What does ‘sustainability’ mean to you?
Sustainability to me means thinking about the future. How can I help to ensure that this planet and all the creatures on it have one? It’s about considering others before yourself in every aspect of life. We don’t live in bubbles, so every decision we make ultimately affects those around us. I think sustainability means making choices that are hard but will benefit everything and everyone in the long run. (Not that I always do, but I’m consistently learning to be better.)
When did you become aware of your impact and how have you acted upon it?
I don’t really recall an exact moment. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been conscious of our collective damage to the planet. When I was a kid, my access to knowledge and ability to really do anything was limited, but I did bother my parents about the importance of recycling until it became second nature for them. These days I still nudge those around me, but I focus primarily on myself. As I mentioned, it’s a process, but I constantly try to learn more. I try to hold myself to a high standard in my day-to-day actions. And, of course, there’s the political aspect of it; I may not be in a position to make policy decisions directly, but I like to believe that we can still have some influence, so I do my best to attend rallies, sign petitions, and donate to various organizations.
How do you incorporate sustainable practices in your everyday life?
Currently, it means riding public transportation, bringing Tupperware to restaurants for leftovers, carrying a reusable coffee cup everywhere I go, buying vegan household products, and trying to make my devices (phones, laptop, etc) last as long as possible before replacing them, among other things. There are so many things to think about when buying something or going somewhere, and I try to consider it all — when I’m buying clothes (do you really need this? how was it made?), when I’m going to take a trip (what can I do to reduce my impact during travel? once I’m there how can I be a responsible and respectful tourist), etc. These thoughts are constantly going through my head, and it can be overwhelming, but ultimately it’s worth the effort.
“There are so many things to think about when buying something or going somewhere, and I try to consider it all – when I’m buying clothes (do you really need this? how was it made?), when I’m going to take a trip (what can I do to reduce my impact during travel? once I’m there (how can I be a responsible and respectful tourist), etc. These thoughts are constantly going through my head, and it can be overwhelming, but ultimately it’s worth the effort.”
You’ve visited a number of countries in your life. How has traveling abroad shaped your views on sustainability?
More than anything, seeing the diversity of life and beauty on this planet has only instilled in me a greater desire to preserve it. I’ve had the privilege of experiencing a lot of natural wonder in my life, and the thought of having it vanish, having it no longer be available for those after me, inspires me to make sure that doesn’t happen. We create borders and divisions among ourselves, but at the end of the day, we’re all dependent on this planet, and it’s been amazing to see that people everywhere share my desire to keep Mother Earth safe.
Do you think social media plays a part in sustainability and the number of people that travel today? If so, how do you think that affects the preservation of our natural places?
This is a question for which I don’t quite have an answer. Social media is a great tool for getting information to the masses, with both good and bad consequences. I’ve discovered new places through these channels, and I see people (like Tinycaravan) who are providing us with important knowledge to which people may not otherwise have access. Unfortunately, not everyone is going to be as mindful as we’d hope them to be. We’re seeing these surges in visits to places like Zion National Park, for instance, and I’m ecstatic that people are finding joy in the wilderness, but it seems not all those people understand how to take care of these areas. I hate to be the sort of person who complains about technology/social media, but sometimes I wonder if certain people travel for the sake of taking a picture, or because they truly appreciate the experience. Whatever the answer, I just wish people would be more mindful of their impact on the world, and understand they have a responsibility to preserve the beauty of these destinations for future generations.
How has living in San Francisco (SF), one of the few eco-friendly cities in California helped with living a sustainable lifestyle? What are some of the challenges you still encounter?
SF makes it pretty easy to be sustainable. There are recycling AND compost bins everywhere, and so many small stores dedicated to selling sustainable merchandise. It’s a dream come true, but the hardest part has been the inequality in this city. Silicon Valley is famously known for its wealth gap (and I say this knowing that I, as a software engineer, am part of the problem), and that means that not all communities have access to the same healthy food options or natural products that I do.
“We create borders and divisions among ourselves, but at the end of the day we’re all dependent on this planet.”
Are you hopeful about the future of our environment?
I’m not sure. It’s promising to see so many nations rise up to the challenge and try to combat all the damage we’ve done, but sometimes I fear it’s just not enough. Still, I keep pushing forward.
What would you tell someone who isn’t hopeful?
I get that it’s hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel, but maybe that’s not what we need to worry about. At the end of the day, we as individuals have to keep living as though we were overflowing with hope. Fake it till you make it. We simply can’t give up on doing our part.
Any last words?
I’ll leave you with this quote from my childhood hero, John Muir, to remind us we are all connected and all rely on each other. Be kind to all life. ‘When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.’
Read more about our Zero Hour Story: What’s It All About series.
*This interview was modified for the purpose of the series.