Urban Green Lab knows a little change goes a long way when it comes to living sustainably. To help Nashville make that little change, we’re helping everyone in the community find their lab.
Emily, where is your lab?
My lab goes with me everywhere I go. My journey with sustainability began at home but quickly spread to all areas of my life. One of the first things my husband and I did was cut out the use of all plastic bags (grocery, ziplock, etc). It was a small step but helped me get into a more sustainable mindset. After that, it became easier to change our habits. Within a few weeks, we were bringing containers to the grocery, buying in bulk, learning to make our own foods or products at home, and even composting. Each new habit we changed motivated us to find other areas in our life for sustainable improvement.
Although I feel accomplished and proud of the change I’ve made so far in my life, the biggest opportunity for sustainable change comes from sharing with others. I truly believe that our voice is our most powerful tool for change, and that’s why I share this passion often with my family, friends, and coworkers. It’s exciting to see my parents making efforts to use only reusable bags at the grocery, my friends learning to compost, and my coworkers being more cognizant of proper recycling. The changes I see in the people around me gives me hope that if we all keep talking about sustainability to those in our lives, we can be a domino effect of positive change.
What has been your biggest challenge or question?
Avoiding single used plastics, composting and recycling (properly), shopping locally, driving a low/no emission vehicle…the list goes on. Living a sustainable lifestyle today takes extra effort and is not always affordable. I spend a lot of time thinking about how to make sustainability attainable for everyone. Can it be made mainstream? In a perfect world, sustainability shouldn’t just be for the people who can afford it or have extra time for it. I think there are a lot of opportunities for improvement and innovation in this area.
How did you get interested in sustainable living?
My journey to sustainable living began in March 2019. I was on the internet and ran across an article addressing the plastic epidemic. It was a hard pill to swallow. Until that moment, it never clicked that I was a part of the problem. One plastic water bottle here, a few plastic bags there…it never seems like a big deal at the time until you realize that everyone in the world thinks the exact same way. However, I’d like to think that this means that change can also happen in the same way – one person at a time.
What keeps you motivated to make sustainable changes?
Growing up, my mom encouraged me to leave things better than when I found them – I think that the same responsibility falls on all of us during our time here. Making these changes in my life and encouraging those around me to do the same isn’t just for the now. It’s for the generations coming after us- our children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. I’m inspired to do all I can throughout my life to ensure that all living things coming after us can live a safe, healthy, and enjoyable life.
Describe a time when you inspired others to live more sustainably.
Last fall I found an opportunity to bring sustainability to my office. I started noticing a lot of my coworkers were throwing away bottles, cardboard, and papers that could easily be recycled. With the hope of reducing the amount of recyclable items that found themselves in the trash and bringing awareness to my team, I created a simple recycling center behind our desks. One bin for paper/cardboard, a bin for glass, one for plastic, and the last for metals. The response from everyone was positive and I was surprised to see how quickly the bins filled up. It takes a little extra effort to empty all the bins every other week, but completely rewarding to know that others are taking the time to have a more sustainable mindset at work.
What advice do you have for others to make sustainable changes?
Start small. It’s overwhelming to think of all the areas you can make a change and sometimes that can stop you from even beginning your sustainability journey. Begin by carrying a reusable water bottle. Refuse single-use plastics. Know where your recycling centers are (and what they accept). Support local farmers. Shop second-hand before buying new. Create a compost pile. There are endless ways to get started. Once you start, you’ll notice the things that once were tough, become habit. Over time, living sustainably is just part of your routine!
What sustainability-related organization do you wish more people knew about and why?
Tennessee Women in Green, or TWIG. This organization has been an incredible addition to my sustainability journey. Before attending, at times I felt frustrated and alone; that I was the only one in my city trying hard to make a difference. But after attending my first meeting, that feeling changed. I was surrounded by a group of people who all shared a passion for sustainability and empowered me to want to do more in my community. I leave each meeting feeling inspired. For anyone feeling alone in their journey, this is a community you want to be a part of!
What is your sustainable vision for the city of Nashville?
I hope for sustainability to be at the forefront of Nashville’s continued growth. As a city on the rise, I think Nashville has a unique opportunity to not only brand itself as Music City, but also a city that embraces and prioritizes sustainable practices, serving as a model for other cities all across the country. I hope to see more sustainable policies enacted in state/local government. Improvement in our waste management system. Increasing number of vehicle charging stations. Development of mass transit, more walkable neighborhoods, LEED buildings, and affordable housing. Growth in the number of buildings and homes powered by renewable energy. But most importantly, I hope for an increase of awareness and desire for sustainable education and practices by every citizen of Nashville.