Six Minutes in Seattle with Sustainability Manager Hannah Johnson
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1. Why is sustainability important to you?
a. There are many facets of sustainability, whether that be in conservation, reduction, re-design, or infrastructure improvement, as well as in various fields such as energy, water and waste. That being said, the area of sustainability that is most important to me, and that I believe has the greatest room for impact is in waste management. This particular field is one where sustainability in all forms is applicable. As consumers, we are inevitably going to have a bi-product of waste, and understanding how to handle waste more sustainably is key for us as communities on this earth. Waste is a universal issue, and tackling the topic with innovation and conscious decision making is very important. Sustainability in the form of waste management is important to me because it defines observing and understanding a topic from a holistic level, to foresee the true impact that change will serve. Individuals who are “sustainably” engaged in waste management practices can see that their individual decisions can create a greater collective impact.
2. What is Zero waste?
a. Zero waste is a movement that is about taking a holistic approach towards waste reduction that encompasses the larger picture of overall redesign and infrastructure change. Individuals have the power to come together over a theory such as zero waste which will ultimately value natural resources in a way that invests in better designed products that are high quality, durable, and useful. Changing the model of the current throwaway single use society that has been linked in causing catastrophic climate change is the ultimate goal of a Zero Waste ideology.
3. Why don’t we see more Zero waste campuses/facilities?
a. Zero Waste is a fairly new ideology that challenges people to think innovatively about material design and production. The concept of recycling has just begun to really make an appearance across the nation, and now this idea of having no waste is being brought into conversation. Many do not fully understand the basics of what is recyclable and what is not, let alone how to have a 90% diversion rate with all of these hard to recycle materials used in facilities. It takes a great deal of communication, and buy in from many different stakeholders of a business or campus to effect a Zero Waste movement. More often than not, buy in can be very difficult by all parties and there may be ideas that make it so far only to be shut down by the upper management.
b. Because of certification programs like the US Zero Waste Business Council, businesses are becoming more incentivized to partake in Zero Waste certification for many different reasons valuable to that company or campus. Not only does Zero Waste save businesses money, but it is a marketing tool that can set them apart as a leader in sustainability. I think that as sustainability in large corporations becomes more visible, more businesses will feel the pressure to engage in Zero Waste and to rethink the way they handle their waste.
4. How do you get to work?
a. Typically I will carpool into work with my bike and then ride on campus as I do my daily tasks. About twice a week I will make the 30 mile trek home by bike. If I don’t ride home then I will carpool home.
5. What do you think is going to be the biggest change in sustainability in the next 5 years?
a. In the next five years climate change predictions are going to be felt and seen even more as temperatures rise, and as natural disasters become even more powerful. People are going to have to come to the fact that the ways in which they are living are not sustainable, and that there is only so much on this earth that can support the population. In the years to come there is going to be a shift in consumption levels and a movement that causes people to go back to the land and to understand where everything that they use and need on a daily basis comes from. I think there will be a big draw in keeping communities localized, and encouraging the small scale production levels that take into account value and product quality. With this will come a drive for closed loop systems such as that of composting to be more highly used and integrated into communities. Internal infrastructures will need to be put into place to fully handle and redeliver products locally instead of the reliance on oversea markets which provide great uncertainty and fluctuate constantly.
6. What is the most satisfying aspect of your position as a sustainability manager?
a. The most satisfying aspect of my position as a sustainability manager is the fluidity of getting to take concepts that may seem abstract or difficult to many, and to frame them in relateable and manageable ways to the greater community. As a sustainability manager I feel an immense responsibility to find solutions that are both realistic and drastic in creating the type of change that needs to take place in order for communities to be self-sustained. It is extremely satisfying to engage those that are interested in the concepts of waste management and localized communities and to see them grow and blossom with intent and curiosity as they explore how they can engage sustainably with the planet and with others.
7. What is the hardest part about being a sustainability manager?
a. While education is the best part it is also the hardest part of being a sustainability manager. I can sign bins and preach how to recycle and compost until I am blue in the face. However until people can relate in a way that is intrinsically powered then they are never going to willingly change, or even stop to think for a moment about the bigger picture of why this all really matters and how important their role actually is. Changing the skeptics is an almost impossible task, so it is really a game of getting as many people on my team to work together and inspire change in others.
8. What book(s) are you reading this summer?
a. What book am I not reading? I’ve got Naomi Klein’s book “This Changes Everything; Capitalism vs. the Climate”, “The Upcycle; Beyond Sustainability Designing for Abundance” by Michael Braungart and William Mcdonough, “Fostering Sustainable Behavior” by Doug McKenzie- Mohr as well as “The Zero Waste Solution” by Paul Connett. All of which are about half way done, and have taken a year to read! There’s just a lot of good information to be found in these books that needs to be fully understood and carefully read!
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