The first week of my programme, Industrial Ecology, I was embarrassed that my lunch had meat in it. In class, we jumped right in by learning about how human use of land for agriculture, mainly to feed animals, has caused large losses in stored carbon in plants. I was impressed with the questions that my classmates asked, for example about the amount of carbon stored in oceans and land, or the use of forests in Sweden. They were well-informed and clearly had previous knowledge about these subjects. I had taken one class in my bachelor that was environmental engineering-related, but this was mostly focused on water treatment. I felt a bit intimidated by my lack of previous experience, but I soon learned that my classmates were from diverse backgrounds, and we would be able to teach each other and learn together.
Since starting my programme, I have been exposed to many new ideas on sustainability that I wasn’t familiar with before. For example, I learned about saving cans and plastic bottles for panta, where you can get a discount for returning them to the grocery store. I also found out that it is possible to pay to offset the carbon emissions of taking a plane or bus ride in some cases. Coming from the US, sustainable development isn’t as strongly promoted as I have seen it done here in Sweden. I recycled, brought my own bags to ALDI, and didn’t eat a lot of meat, but this was generally the extent of my environmental contributions. I knew that I could do more, but it felt like a lot of work and I wasn’t sure where to start.
There is a definition that has come up in every class I’ve taken so far, which is the Bruntland definition on sustainable development, “Sustainable development is a development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”. This thread has been woven throughout my lectures because it relates to most of the topics and tools we’ve learned about. Many of the topics have to do with assessing how to make changes so that the impacts of a product or process are minimized.
Ideas like this have crept into my everyday thinking. I bring my own bags with me no matter what store I’m going to, and I haven’t gotten any new plastic bags for months. I eat almost entirely vegetarian, both because of what I’ve learned in class and because it is admittedly easier in Gothenburg than it was where I lived in the US. When I go shopping, whether it is for clothes or home things, my first stop is to the thrift stores, where I usually find something great. I also prefer products with little or no packaging, preventing me from having to throw it away. I know now that my classmates wouldn’t judge me for eating meat, and they also have a wide range of diets and lifestyles. Through our classes and conversations, I’ve realized it is much easier to make these changes than I thought.
It is my intention to keep these habits up, whether I’m living in Gothenburg or anywhere else. I hope I can show others who feel like I did when I first started the programme, that everyone is learning and growing, and these lifestyle changes are much easier than it seems at first!