Sustainability is often equated to just being mindful of recycling where possible or choosing to use solar technology instead of electricity. However, it’s much more complex than that, especially considering the 17 sustainable development goals (SDGs) championed by the United Nations. These goals focus on a wide array of opportunities to strengthen communities worldwide, from improving education access to providing clean water, aiming to improve every person’s quality of life, and leveling the playing field.
Over the last several years, it’s apparent that promoting these goals is important when considering the steps many organizations are taking globally to shift their operations or invest in opportunities to support efforts relating to these goals. Although these steps are encouraging, it’s becoming increasingly clear that meeting the United Nations’ plan of achieving tangible solutions in each of these goals by 2030 will not be met unless drastic changes begin now, and that takes collective involvement from everyone. For example, earlier this month, according to the University of Maine’s Climate Reanalyzer Tool, we witnessed the hottest day on record. Although it’s partly due to a unique weather pattern with El Nino, it’s also because of human actions relating to the continued consumption of fossil fuels. Additionally, according to the National Oceanographic Atmospheric Association, Antarctic sea ice coverage is reaching a record low, substantially impacting the polar climate system.
As a business student at the University of South Florida, being conscious of my carbon footprint was not something that crossed my mind until a few years ago while participating in a beach cleanup on Clearwater Beach. What I expected would be a quick walk along the beach to pick up a few water bottles and soda cans quickly turned into a prolonged effort to collect all kinds of waste, and at the end of the cleanup, it looked like I hadn’t even made a dent in the large amount of waste that was present. Following the cleanup, many thoughts crossed my mind, the most pressing being what I could do to try and create solutions. With this in mind, I embarked on pursuing a new effort to compel my student peers to focus on ways to reduce the usage of single-use plastics in their own lives.
Specifically, as a fellow in the Millennium Fellowship organization, I worked to create sustainable toolkits for students, containing school supplies they needed but made of non-plastic materials so they could be reused. Although this was a small project, I focused on empowering students to become more cognizant of making small changes to prevent single-use plastics and reuse items where possible. Although this was a very small project, my story has provided me with incredible opportunities to share the power of what small change can mean for a community when it’s practiced by many. Earlier this year, I was honored to discuss this project at the 2023 United Nations Economic and Social Council Forum in New York City and the 2023 World Bank Youth Summit in Washington, DC.
While at both of these forms, I had the opportunity to hear from global youth leaders on the work they’ve done in their community to create positive change while attempting to create solutions for the SDGs. It was inspiring to hear so many projects focused on supporting local community efforts through activities like promoting learning opportunities for youth on environmental challenges, creating mobilization training for youth to organize their peers to take action and lobbying efforts for youth to understand how to approach elected officials in compelling them to take additional steps to protect the environment.
I share my experience as an example of how small efforts that begin in one local community can quickly grow and serve as a model for what’s possible to be replicated in other areas related to SDGs. It’s easy to think that every small change will make no difference, but with these challenges being more significant than ever, sentiments must translate to action. Every community is different, including its current challenges, but speaking with members of your community can help shed light on the biggest challenges being faced in the place you call home. Change doesn’t have to begin with some massive effort all at once, as it’s been proven time and time again that incremental steps can make a significant difference with time when there is collective engagement. Years from now, will you look back as a champion to protect our environment or a contributor to its decline?
Sean Schrader is entering his final year pursuing a master’s degree in business administration from the University of South Florida. Throughout his life, Sean has been fortunate to call the Tampa Bay area home, being involved in many local, state, and federal government activities. Through his involvement, Sean has emphasized the message of the collective impact small steps can have on the success of any community and how that impact can expand over time. Following his MBA, Sean would like to pursue a law degree with an ultimate goal of public service in some capacity.