Environmentally minded students identified activity burnout and lack of structure as primary issues within Cornell’s sustainability community during an annual summit on Saturday.
The Cornell Environmental Collaborative hosted the summit to discuss leadership and ways to improve environmental organizations in the Cornell community. ECO is an umbrella organization that represents more than 40 sustainability organizations.
The summit included both a panel and a follow-up discussion in small groups. Martha Williams ’20, ECO’s vice president of events and the facilitator for the panel, said the purpose of the summit was to identify problems that environmental organizations want to solve and discuss “how to look at things differently.”
The panel included five students and one faculty member. Each shared their experience as leaders within the Cornell community and the challenges they face.
Lauren Yeaman ’19, who works with Nature Rx, highlighted her concerns about “continuity” and “burnout” within clubs at Cornell.
“It’s very hard to establish continuity or sense of structure,” she said. “Leadership is constantly changing. It’s hard to retain people.”
Yeaman also discussed how including all members in a club’s efforts is imperative.
“I think it’s important to be able to involve everyone, to let people know that it’s okay to contribute whatever you can contribute,” she said. “You can be honest with whatever time you have, whatever emotional reserve you have.”
Emelia Black ’18, co-director of programming for the Cornell Thrift Initiative, also noted a “lack of student involvement.”
Members of the panel also addressed dispelling sustainability misconceptions. Khansa Mahum ’19, public relations manager for Anabel’s Grocery, argued against the idea that environmentalism is inherently expensive.
“People [have] a perception that being environmentally sustainable is expensive,” Mahum said. “That I believe we can very easily address. As someone who does a lot of [public relations] work, I love coming up with new ideas to target communities that are resistant towards change.”
Devon Rosen ’19, director of store communications for Anabel’s grocery, also noted that there was a “misconception” that Anabel’s Grocery solely caters to food-insecure students.
“We are [trying to] increase the accessibility to healthy food,” Rosen said. “If you don’t have a car, it’s very hard to get to Wegman’s, especially with the snow.” Cynthia Chu ’20 expressed her concern with the varying access to sustainable infrastructure.
“We do not [always] have access to composting,” Chu said. “It’s different all across campus. There are not always signs.”
While there are still problems to address, Kimberly Anderson ’06, sustainability engagement manager for Cornell’s campus sustainability office, applauded the progress the Cornell community has made since she was a student.
“We were not having these kinds of conversations about sustainability and climate change when I was a student here,” Anderson said. “The evolution and progression of these conversations is really remarkable.”