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.
Gracelyn, where is your lab?
I am so incredibly fortunate to have many “labs” in my life. At home, I have a vegetable garden that is watered as much as possible with collected rainwater and fed with homemade compost. I’ve also recently ventured into the realm of chicken-parenting during the quarantine. Sharing fresh, organic eggs with friends and family and getting to know my new chicken friends has been such a bright spot during this strange time.
I am also so grateful for my place of work, Wilmot Inc. At Wilmot, we spend our days working towards a more sustainable planet through waste reduction, public transit, solar, and water efficiency projects that focus on the triple-bottom line (people, planet, profit).
Lastly, my time serving as the Membership and Website Coordinator of Tennessee Women in Green allows me to deeply connect with an abundance of passionate, selfless individuals that are devoted to changing the world. TWIG has been such a wonderful vessel for sharing our hopes for Middle Tennessee and beyond, and bolstering our members to make tangible change in our community.
How did you get interested in sustainable living?
I truly don’t know what came first – my love of Steve Irwin or my love of the environment, but both loves grew in my heart throughout childhood. Steve Irwin demonstrated the importance of environmental education. Beyond this, he instilled the necessity of treating every living being with kindness. Although I never felt called to wrangle alligators, I have always felt a pull to protect animals and the environments they live in through personal choices, education, and emphasizing sustainability wherever possible throughout my career.
What has been your biggest challenge as it relates to sustainability?
The biggest challenge that I’ve consistently faced is the politicization of sustainability. Logically, we all want clean air, clean water, and the preservation of green space. However, due to a web of interconnected issues that run deep in our political system, discussing means to achieve these goals has become an uncomfortable – even volatile – subject.
I believe that we can begin to overcome this challenge through patient, understanding conversations with loved ones. There is no one climate solution, and the convalescence of issues that need solving can become overwhelming. Despite this, it is absolutely vital to come together in an attempt to understand each other in order to achieve what is best for humanity.
What keeps you motivated to make sustainable changes?
I think something that is felt among sustainability professionals is the need to occasionally remind yourself that sustainability is a worldwide movement that is much bigger than your day job. Thankfully, refueling my sustainability megaphone is easy; inviting friends to the farmer’s market, going to plant swaps, thrifting, or networking with other sustainability professionals reliably lights my fire. Sustainable hobbies such as chicken-keeping and gardening can be so invigorating and remind me that everyone can express their green interests in unique, impactful, and fun ways!
What advice do you have for others to make sustainable changes?
Start small! No one can change the world on their own, and it’s impossible to get anything done at all when you hold yourself to that standard. Lean on and learn from one another. First observe, then act. Find the needs in yourself, then in your close community. Educate yourself and your loved ones. If that’s as far as you get in your lifetime, you’ve still done well.
Where is your favorite local spot to get in touch with nature?
Although I cherish public spaces like Percy Warner and Radnor, my absolute favorite place to observe and connect is my backyard. It’s easy to notice little changes that occur throughout the seasons when you make an effort to look, no matter where you live. Noticing the different plants that bloom, die, and regrow; the variety of birds and insects that visit as new flowers bloom; the slow progression of the sun rising and setting earlier, then later. The ebb and flows of nature is a beautiful thing to observe, dependably retelling the story of nature’s complex cycles.
Who is a sustainability champion that inspires you?
Aside from Steve Irwin, one of my greatest role models throughout college and today is Wendell Berry. He has a number of writings that have totally shaped my view of the sustainability movement: Bringing it to the Table, The Farm, It All Turns on Affection, The Peace of the Wild Things, among others. He emphasizes caring for the earth as we would one another, the interconnectedness of all living things, and the importance of the local. I highly recommend him to anyone.
What is your sustainable vision for the city of Nashville?
Overall, I’m in full support of measures that target equity and sustainability, such as more open/green space and trees in low-income areas. I also believe the creation of a group that models Roosevelt’s Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) would add incredible value to our area, especially one that focuses on providing marginalized groups with training and employment in green industries. I would be proud to see mass public transit, solar panels on every rooftop, and more affordable housing. Growing up in Nashville, I have seen the number of people that are passionate about a green, livable Nashville skyrocket. As we continue to grow, I am hopeful that Nashville may achieve this vision.