Sustainable Humans of Western
Sustainable Humans of Western shares the stories of everyday people taking on everyday challenges to create a more sustainable world,
one day and one action at a time.
Why stories? Storytelling has long been interwoven into the historical human experience and is an intrinsic part of understanding and sustaining our place in the world. Storytelling is where people are able to make connections, collaborate, and build community. It is where we engage our audience in what people are doing, and the impacts of those actions on our campuses, communities, and the world. Storytelling is how we inspire people, whether as an introduction to a topic not yet considered or an action not yet taken.
What’s your story? If you would like to share your story, or nominate someone to share their story, please email OSMedia@wwu.edu for more information.
“My name is Samara Almonte and I lived the past 11 years in Bothell, WA but originally my family is from Mexico in the state of Michoacán. I chose Western for their environmental department and the further I got into the environmental studies program, I realized I really enjoyed Urban Planning, specifically looking at planning through a social justice lens.
I think sustainability has to be intersectional. I think often when we talk about sustainability it often just applies to the environmental world, which can be good things because we tend to be very anthropocentric, but we can’t talk about sustainability if we don’t talk about sustainable humans and sustainable communities. I think at the beginning of my interest in the environmental program, I still had an idea that we had to go back to a non-urbanized form of living in order to be sustainable, but in reality cities have been existing for a long time and cities will continue to exist. I think that it’s not ideal to think that we should all go back to working the land and farming. I think that’s part of the process of healing the environment but I don’t think that’s necessarily ideal for everyone. I think now I see it as “we have cities, but where can we go from there”. A lot of where I come from and where I go back to is indigenous knowledge, not just indigenous groups to the US, but also indigenous groups in Latin America that have been resisting urbanization in its exploitative forms. They have redefining what a city is and can be. My biggest dream for sustainable development is how do you do sustainable development from a decolonization framework, which is anti-capitalist and anti-neoliberal. How can we re-imagine cities and space to be sustainable without borders?
My research interests revolve around education and spatial justice. I want to look at how we do education where environmental knowledge is part of everything. I think that’s a flaw of the education system because they don’t allow for multidisciplinary work that can show people connections between environmental degradation and human exploitation. Traditional forms of sustainable living haven’t always been accessible so my part in sustainable living has been in community engagement and activism. And I like to look at my own ancestry and at what people are doing outside the US so I make sure I don’t think the US is the epitome of sustainability. Because I think there’s a lot to learn from other people.”
Previous Sustainable Humans
"It was a pretty long journey to Huxley College of the Environment. I definitely wasn’t looking there when I came to Western, but climate change and all these environmental issues were becoming common knowledge, and the more time I spent at Western, the harder it got to ignore those issues. When I found urban planning it felt like the right balance of involvement with the environment, and it also had the blend of design and community engagement I was looking for. Sustainability, to me, requires structures and behaviors that don’t exploit certain people or things and that can be continued for generations to come. It’s important to further sustainability because now, as a super senior, I see these freshmen coming into college with the knowledge that has taken me five years to learn. I feel inspired and hopeful to see people already ahead of the curve. Personally, I want to see them continue the work I have to leave behind. It’s my goal to lay as good a groundwork as I can for them, so they can do what they want to do; things I didn’t get a chance to try. Right now, some people still deny that climate change and environmental injustice are real, but that may not be their fault. They may not have access to education that allows them to see those things. I hope marginalized communities will get the same access and opportunity as the rest of the population, and then everyone might understand each other more easily and we might get more work done. My biggest hope for the future is that everyone can and will participate in work that helps the environmental movement. Thinking back, a lot of the work I’ve done related to sustainability this past year has fallen more specifically under social equity. A big piece was helping to develop the Environmental Justice Minor. I learned there are a lot of stories about the relationship between nature and minority groups that aren’t widely taught or told, but their stories are just as important to the environmental movement and are as integral to it as anyone else’s. I’m also part of the Huxley Diversity and Community Affairs Committee, where we are working to support and advance the unique experiences of students, faculty, and staff. Both groups are trying to connect to more students, like me, who aren’t traditionally included in environmentalism. I’m also getting involved with Students Against Sexual Harassment & Assault (SASHA), which is looking at, among other things, university policy on alcohol and sexual misconduct, and how all that plays into the power dynamic between students and faculty and/or staff. It’s my hope that we can make some policy changes that will help victims and survivors get more closure when dealing with the university."
"Sustainability to many means taking care of the environment, but I think a common misconception is undervaluing the importance of the financial side of things. If environmental sustainability efforts are not financially sustainable as well, then they ultimately aren't going to be maintained for the long run. Considering these financial aspects of sustainability is an important part of my work as an energy and environmental economist. For example, increased energy efficiency means lowered energy costs to consumers and less use of fossil fuels, but this often comes with higher up-front costs. Understanding how consumers make these tradeoffs and can contribute to a better understanding of effective sustainability efforts in a system where energy use (and ultimately fossil fuel use) are determined by the cumulative decisions of millions of individuals. Something that would help future sustainability efforts would be if the costs of energy efficiency and green power technologies were driven down further, making them attractive investments to a wider audience purely on financial grounds."
"My definition of sustainability has been changing constantly since I moved to Bellingham, started my coursework in environmental science, and became involved with various groups on campus. I come from a small town that feels very close to nature, where sustainability isn’t something that’s talked about, and there’s this perception that the world is too big for humans to have lasting impacts on the earth. Growing up, sustainability sounded like a buzzword that people who were super passionate about recycling threw around. However, I’ve learned that there’s much more to it than that; there are important economic and social components as well. Now, I’ve come to think of sustainability as more of a descriptor for systems that are built to last, mutually beneficial for all involved, and don’t exploit natural and human resources beyond their capacity to give. When I was first interested in pursuing environmental science I had a lot of misplaced frustration toward individual consumer choices as the reasons behind environmental degradation. Today, I’m learning more and more about how people’s ways of life are determined by systems of power, individual limitations, and normal process. Some of this realization has come from schoolwork and independent learning, but it has also come from the Community Ambassadors for Sustainability program, in which I have been involved the last two years, as well as the opportunity to help with the development of the Environmental Justice Minor. Through the Sustainability Ambassadors program I’ve worked (to varying degrees of involvement) with the York Community Farm, North West Youth Services’ We Grow Garden, Sustainable Connections, East Whatcom Regional Resource Center, and the Whatcom Peace and Justice Center. I spent most of my time at the York Community Farm, where farm director Mary Loquvam applies a strong social justice lens to her work, employing primarily veterans, those who struggle with homelessness, or were recently incarcerated. She provides employment opportunities in a great work environment, teaching practical skills, and offering access to healthy farm-grown foods. I learned many practical skills and gained knowledge about organic urban agriculture at the York Farm, but I also developed a stronger sense of connection to Bellingham as my new home and learned the value of having a sense of community. This is another important aspect of the Sustainability Ambassadors program. Our interns this year continue to find ways to bring the WWU and broader Bellingham/Whatcom County communities together with meaningful, lasting partnerships. My experience with this program, starting out last year as one of two interns for the pilot and having the opportunity to be “program staff” this year, has inspired me to think differently about what to do with my science degree after graduation. I think I still enjoy the science side of things much more than education or policy etc., but now I intend to find ways to engage in work that has a strong social justice and community health lens."