What Sustainability means to Gen Z in Philly
A local high school student shares her sustainability journey
Sustainability was a term introduced to me at the end of my sophomore year at Penn Charter. As a huge fan of pretty trees and clear, blue skies, my sustainability journey started with recognizing that nature, the environment, and our world are so intrinsically intertwined that everything I do (even typing on my computer at this very moment) has an environmental impact. And of course, that’s a terrifying thought; as I started to contemplate every flight I’ve taken, every article of clothing I owned, and even how much time I spend in the shower weekly.
The truth is that sustainability was scary, uncharted waters that I did not feel capable of mapping, especially when my only education was coming from newspaper articles that had advanced words I did not understand.
Living in urban Philadelphia, environmentalism is not a topic that occupies the everyday conversations of my neighbors, much less the people in the communities surrounding mine. The thing about the environment in Philly is that it is way easier to learn about sustainability in suburban communities than it is in urban communities. Even though both communities are greatly affected by the environmental happenings in and around Philadelphia.
What I’ve learned about sustainability
Sustainability is the easiest to learn about at my private school, which treats it as a focal point in maintaining the beauty of our community. Located a small drive from the Schuylkill and surrounded by several community gardens and parks, it seems impossible for my school to ignore it. Living in Cheltenham, the scenic trees and gardens you can find in Manayunk are replaced by Chick-Fil-A’s and shopping outlets. Albeit beautiful, the lack of nature and the abundance of concrete allow an absence of sustainability in my community and those surrounding ones.
The most important lesson I’ve learned in my pursuit of living a sustainable lifestyle is that it’s possible. It’s the small things that set apart a sustainable lifestyle and an unsustainable one. Whether it be driving instead of flying or walking instead of driving, there are many things you can do to minimize your carbon footprint.
Even though it’s extremely tempting to sing an entire album in the shower, it’s much more productive to try to limit your showers to 10 minutes instead of 30. Now that summer’s here, consider your energy use. Instead of leaving your air conditioner on during a weekend trip to the beach, only use it when you’re home. My personal favorite tip is simply donating items I don’t need to people who want them– like my prom dresses, school books, and old electronics which have all gone into the hands of friends and family.
When I realized that sustainability wasn’t as extreme as stopping climate change with just one tweet, I was able to better adapt and find ways to show my sustainability, and help family members make sustainable changes, too.
My knowledge of sustainability, which still has a long way to go, did not just happen from scrolling Instagram and seeing a post about a garden community service. It took extensive research to learn about sustainability and the environment. I left my urban neighborhood to learn.
But that should not be the case. The topic of sustainability, nature, and environmentalism should be extended to everyone equally. The ever-changing state of our environment is something that affects every community, not just the communities that have an abundance of gardens, parks, and natural resources. From sources like Green Philly as well as an environmental curriculum placed in schools, there is a lot of room for Philly to give everyone the opportunity to get involved with the environment.