On a Roll with “SustainableJoes”

By Kelly Witter

EPA's Kelley Witter talks sustainability inside an ELF.

EPA’s Kelly Witter talks sustainability from an ELF.

One of the many reasons I love working at EPA is that I enjoy being around people who share my passion for the environment. But when your day job is devoted to environmental protection it’s easy to be complacent about becoming more sustainable. After all, feeling guilty about the occasional slip up, such as not being able to compost my banana peel at lunch, is not enough.

Then, last week, Stephen Szucs of SustainableJoes.com rolled into Durham on a solar- and pedal-powered trike called an ELF. In an instant, he inspired me and many of my colleagues to “rethink” with our actions, not just our words. Stephen is traveling from Canada to Key West, essentially couch surfing the continent, on a “Rethink” tour to expand the conversation on sustainability and to help drive behavior change.

Stephen aims to create the world’s largest sustainability network and make sustainability EASY. He is spontaneous – always looking for an opportunity to engage the public in conversation about his sustainable journey and how little things can make a difference if a lot of people do them. Each person Stephen meets is asked to make a personal sustainability pledge, and he has collected nearly 2000 pledges thus far in in his 5,000 km journey.

He strives to share his message with everyone—especially students. As the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) outreach coordinator for EPA’s laboratory campus in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina, I had the opportunity to have Stephen join me at a Durham middle school to evaluate student proposals on world peace. He was all in. And there we were, listening to proposals and sharing sustainability with a real judge, a school board member, and a sheriff.

Next stop was the Food Truck Rodeo at Research Triangle Park. To get there, a group of seven of us traveled from EPA—by bike and ELF. We definitely generated some sustainability conversation when our pedal/solar powered posse rolled in. The “Rethink” tour truly embodies the Gandhi quote, “Be the change that you wish to see in the world.”

OK, so was I inspired to action by SustainableJoes rolling into my life for three days? Did I rethink anything? I did. Nothing huge (yet), but I did rethink and redo a few things this weekend: 1) I used a solar clothes dryer (hung my laundry out on the lawn furniture); 2) My kids and I used rakes to clean up the leaves from our yard; and 3) I joined Durham’s new, soon-to-be food co-op.

Would I have done any of these things otherwise? Probably not, because it is easier to keep doing the same things in the same way, and that is what SustainableJoes is challenging us to rethink.

My take home messages are that we need to start from where we are, rethinking and moving forward and that, it doesn’t matter what we call it as long as we are doing the right thing.

About the Author: EPA environmental engineer Kelly Witter is the Director of STEM Outreach for the Agency’s laboratory campus in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina.

Editor’s Note: Today (November 6, 2014), Kelly welcomes students from Wake, NC State University STEM Early College High School who will be shadowing her at EPA as part of “Learning about careers is STEMtastic!”—stay tuned for a blog about that in the near future.

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