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Redefining Sustainability

By Abby Iuorio

If I had a dime for every time that someone said the word “sustainability” during my college career, I’d probably have enough money to stop climate change. I came into college as an Engineering Undeclared major, eager to find my passion. I had always felt at home in nature and was drawn to the title of Environmental Engineering. In the spring of my freshman year on campus, I joined the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department. As I dove deeper into my coursework, I found myself overwhelmed by the amount of environmental harm being inflicted on the planet, especially by myself. I use too much plastic, emit too much carbon, and exercise too little concern for the Earth. Fast forward three years, and sustainability factors into every choice I make. I take public transit every chance I get to limit my carbon footprint. I buy the majority of my clothes from thrift stores to keep myself from supporting wasteful fast fashion brands. It makes me feel like I am making a difference, no matter how small.

According to the dictionary, sustainability is defined as the ability to be maintained at a certain rate or level. This term has evolved to be an environmental buzzword, but at its core, it signifies the ability of something to keep going. There are three aspects that are normally considered for something to be sustainable: people, planet, and profit. Many people focus on the planet aspect of this concept, but the other two are just as important. In order for a project to persist, it needs to be economically viable and socially beneficial. A sustainable initiative aims to leave the world better than it found it.

When I was accepted into the Hoeft Technology and Management Program just over two years ago, I was not aware of the complexities of this definition. As I have grown through the program, I have seen many of the lesser-known aspects of sustainability at work. After taking courses in both accounting and finance, I know a thing or two about profit. You want to get out more than you put in. Although I cannot speak to the finances of this program, I can attest that I personally have gotten much more out of this program than I put in. From a purely monetary standpoint, I can guarantee that my career prospects are much brighter because of my involvement in this program. I believe that anyone who has dedicated resources to this program has gotten a sizable return on their investment.

Much greater than any financial gain, this program certainly benefits its people. I am not the same insecure sophomore that refreshed her inbox all afternoon waiting for her T&M acceptance email. Two years later, I am more intelligent, more confident, more professional, and more prepared to embark on my career. More importantly, I am more empathetic, more passionate, and more empowered to make a difference. I am more comfortable with pushing myself outside of my comfort zone. The thought of international travel terrified me before college. Now, I have flown halfway across the world to China, and I loved every moment of it (besides the jet lag). My occasional anxieties have not entirely gone away, but I now have a stronger support system to help me through them. Two years ago, I walked into this program with classmates and colleagues, and most of them intimidated me. Now, I am walking out with lifelong friends and companions. I have learned that if I am the smartest in the room, I am in the wrong room. I can assure you I have never found myself in that room while in this program. My friends inspire me and challenge me. They make me laugh and they make me think. Most of all, they make me proud. I love them. We may all be spreading out across the world, but I will never forget the imprints they have made on my heart and on my life. Hurtling towards graduation in the midst of a pandemic has prompted a lot of reflection, and a lot of sadness. I keep reminding myself that the ending only hurts because it was worth it. Truly, I would not have traded it all for the world.

My experience in the Hoeft Technology and Management Program may not have been low carbon, plastic-free, or reusable, but it has taught me about the principles of sustainability. T&M has left me better than it found me, and I know this experience and this program will persist for years to come. To me, that is better than any stainless steel straw or organic produce that my money could buy.

Abby Iuorio

Abby is currently in T&M Class XXIV, a senior in Civil and Environmental Engineering, and has accepted a full-time position at Ernst and Young as a Climate Change and Sustainability Consultant.

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