Abby Waldorf C'12 & Ashima Sukhdev C'12
They might be too busy to think about it now, but as their senior year rolls along Abby and Ashima will eventually be able to look back and realize the profound impact they have had on the development of sustainability initiatives within the student body at Penn. Since serving as members on the RecycleMania planning committee as freshmen, they have helped connect students and administrators over the past four years as leaders of Penn's prominent student sustainability groups.
Ashima, an Economics Major with a minor in Sustainability and Environmental Management, is a Co-Director of the PennGreen freshman pre-orientation program, and last year as Co-Director of the Penn Environmental Group (PEG) she helped found the Green Campus Partnership Student Association, an umbrella organization for student sustainability groups at Penn.
Abby, an Environmental Studies Major with a concentration in Sustainability and Management and a minor in Economics, currently serves as Co-Director of PEG and Chair of the Green Campus Partnership Student Association.
Read on for our interview with Abby and Ashima...
On College Green: How did you first become interested in environmental issues?
Abby Waldorf: I really knew nothing about environmental issues until I took AP Environmental Studies in my senior year of high school. I loved the class and while many environmental issues are overwhelming to understand and solve, the class gave me something to strive for. The social impact aspect of environmental issues also got me hooked. Tackling environmental and social problems together makes sense and is an incredibly exciting aspect of the field. I am also a huge outdoors person. After spending many summers in beach lifeguarding programs in Los Angeles, I realized the importance of keeping a clean environment, otherwise we'll all be swimming in trash pretty soon--or are we already?
Ashima Sukhdev: My family had always instilled strong environmental values in me. With an appreciation for nature, at a young age I started to get really interested in recycling - going from implementing a strict recycling regime at home to leading the student environmental group in middle school. Everything made so much sense to me even then. How could we not take responsibility for protecting the environment we live in, and where was the sense behind wasting resources? Since then, I've made sure to remain involved with sustainability issues wherever I've been. My experiences at Penn have exponentially increased my interest in environmental issues.
OCG: What have you learned about Penn while participating in planning committees for sustainability events and initiatives?
AW: I think Ashima and I have learned a great deal about the feasibility of projects within a campus community like Penn. The most exciting thing I've personally seen is a 10% jump in recycling rates since the first year Ashima and I were on the RecycleMania committee. Its really fantastic to see tangible changes as a result of student, faculty, and administrative support for environmental initiatives. While many initiatives take perseverance and hard work, the support that we have received from faculty and staff has been invaluable. In terms of Penn students, I think we've learned that if we make living sustainably easy enough for students, we will see huge changes in the sustainability at Penn.
AS: You can always get something done as long as you're working with great people. None of the things the sustainability movement at Penn has achieved could have happened without the dedication of the staff, faculty, and students that have been involved in the last few years. Abby and I have had the opportunity to work with many of them through our work with RecycleMania, PEG etc. Beyond the people, it's amazing how many resources Penn has offered us too, even as young, slightly scattered freshmen.
OCG: What are some of your groups’ upcoming events or campaigns that the Penn community should keep an eye out for?
AS: I'll let Abby take this one...
AW: We have a bunch of upcoming events to look forward to! The Penn Environmental Group (PEG) will be hosting weekly documentary screenings on Thursdays in the Civic House. Our first screening will be this Thursday, October 13th. PEG will also be co-hosting a workshop on the Marcellus Shale and activism on November 9th. A few more of our projects include: shower timers in the Quad, Stouffer, and Gregory, energy-saving stickers in the High Rise Laundry Rooms, new recycling bins and bin placement in campus buildings, composting awareness campaigns, etc. With the Green Campus Partnership Student Association (GCPSA) we also have a number of exciting things to look forward to. GCPSA will be creating a listserv and calendar to consolidate all environmentally related events on campus for students. We will also be hosting a very exciting and world renown speaker whose name I cannot disclose quite yet. And lastly, we'll be hosting our annual Green Week April 2-6th.
OCG: How has student involvement in sustainability initiatives grown and evolved since you’ve been here at Penn?
AW: I think it has become extraordinarily apparent to Ashima and I that the sustainability movement at Penn has really taken off since our freshman year. Its pretty incredible. We now have 24 environmentally related student groups on campus. There couldn't have been more than five when Ashima and I were freshmen. Not only have students become more involved in sustainability initiatives, but faculty members have as well. Penn has done a fantastic job to foster sustainability initiatives through programs like Eco-Reps and the Green Fund.
AS: In our freshman year, there were really only one or two ways you could be involved with sustainability initiatives at Penn - we started with PEG. Last year, the number of student, staff and faculty sustainability initiatives had grown to be so large that we founded the Green Campus Partnership Student Association to increase collaboration and cohesion among all these initiatives. The University itself is more committed to the cause, the students are more aware, and it's really exciting that sustainability has become so engrained into what Penn is all about.
OCG: What’s one simple sustainable action you take in your daily lives that you could recommend to everyone in the Penn community?
AW: Turn off lights and appliances when you leave the room! People really forget how important it is to turn off lights, air conditioners, televisions, stereos, etc... Last week I learned that 50% of America's energy use comes from the operation and management of buildings, not including construction energy! Awareness is key with many of these issues.
AS: I've been a waste management junkie from the start so I'll always say recycling - it's the way I got involved with the movement and I think the most accessible action point. Generally, I think "watching your waste" is a pretty simple step people can take - using less to begin with, reusing more, and recycling everything you can. I got my roommates doing it, so it's definitely the easiest habit to change.
OCG: Are you fans of any green-themed books, movies or shows?
AW: I'm a big fan of Wall-e and the 11th Hour. TED Talks are also an absolute favorite! Some of my favorite "green" books include Fast Food Nation, The World is Flat, and Adam Werbach's Strategy for Sustainability.
AS: Captain Planet - my first favorite, and part of what got me into environmentalism! In the years after that, I would say I'm a huge fan of Cradle to Cradle (William McDonough & Michael Braungart), and the documentary No Impact Man.
OCG: Do you have any plans to pursue hobbies, volunteer opportunities, or careers related to sustainability after you graduate?
AW: Absolutely. I'm looking into environmental consulting careers right now. I'll hopefully find some sort of career down the line related to international sustainable development. I'm also a travel freak and jump on any opportunity to work in sustainability fields abroad--so I'm really trying to leave my options open!
AS: Sustainability definitely became a large part of my life here at Penn, and I plan on continuing that past graduation. While I'll be working in management consulting for the first few years after I graduate, I'll get the opportunity to work with the firm's Sustainability Consulting Practice, and of course will involve myself with their "Green Team" and so on! In the long run, I want to go into Environmental Enterprise/Management, so we'll see where that takes me!
Each issue, we recognize a member of the Penn community for his or her environmental sustainability efforts on campus. If you know someone at Penn who is "leading the green," let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org.