What is Sustainability and What Does it Look Like at Fordham University

By Arielle Brender (FCRH’18), VP of Sustainability on the executive board of Fordham’s United Student Government.


What is sustainability? The answer to such a question is variable, depending on scope and context.

In short, sustainability often encompasses the ability to engage in a given activity in perpetuity. This means that resources are not consumed faster than they’re generated, that an action or system will be able to last in a particular ecosystem, and that, perhaps, there is a net benefit resulting from the action that creates more resources for future actions. Sustainability does not only apply to the natural environment, but to all other systems and actions as well, including those that are social and economical. However, sustainability is most often associated with the natural environment because we, as a species, are reaching some extraordinarily harrowing tipping points. To put it simply, our actions and systems can no longer be sustained. Therefore, we are swiftly approaching the point at which this planet will be unable to sustain us.

As Vice President of Sustainability on the executive board of Fordham’s United Student Government, I have the pleasure of leading the Sustainability Committee, Fordham’s student-run, initiatives-focused change-making body that works to make campus more sustainable. Made up of just under thirty highly-committed members from all academic backgrounds, the Sustainability Committee meets weekly to gain peer guidance and offer updates on up to twenty initiatives at any given time. Some of those initiatives include: significant increases in the number and quality of recycling bins on campus, recycling education, the display of sustainable art, banning the free distribution plastic bags on campus, making on-campus landscaping more sustainable, making composting more accessible for students, exploring the future of a solar-run campus, and pursuing conversations around University divestment from fossil fuels. These are just some of the top-down approaches taken by the Sustainability Committee as a government body. However, as it true with any legislation, this is only part of the solution.

Without a culture of environmental compassion at Rose Hill, without environmental literacy, these actions will never enforce authentic sustainability. This is where the Students for Environmental Awareness and Justice (SEAJ) comes in. As a grassroots education, outreach, and activism club, SEAJ works to foster a community of those who care deeply for this planet and its inhabitants. As an events body, SEAJ works to disseminating information and passion about and for the Earth. It is my personal belief that without a culture of environmental compassion, without communities of people who care enough to integrate such compassion into their daily habits of consumption, we will never, as a species, attain a sustainable relationship with this beautiful flying rock in the sky.

Our planet is begging for a revolution. It is begging to be replenished, protected, and appreciated. But this doesn’t just happen by recycling plastic bottles and driving electric cars. This planet can only be replenished, protected, and appreciated if we are to replenish, protect, and appreciate underserved human communities. There can be no sustainability without intersectionality. This is due to the fact that, as is true in ecological ecosystems, sociological ecosystems are complexly interconnected an interdependent, and they depend on their ecological counterparts. We cannot discuss urban green space without talking about racist practices of red-lining. We cannot discuss food security without discussing food justice. We cannot discuss the inherent value of land without discussing indigenous philosophies and rights. We cannot discuss Western overconsumption without discussing the impact it has on those who produce and deal with the waste of those material products.

Angela Davis writes, in her Lectures of Liberation: “The road towards freedom, the path of liberation is marked by resistance at every crossroad: mental resistance, physical resistance, resistance directed to the concerted attempt to obstruct that path” (13). It is the responsibility of our generation to engage in that mental and physical resistance. It is the responsibility of our generation to determine if our children will have a world into which they can bare children. It is our responsibility to determine the future of the human race. It is our responsibility, as those who dream daringly and care deeply, to embody the values we desire in society at large. Sustainability can no longer afford to be a fringe school of thought. The clock is ticking much faster than you’ve been told.

If you’re interested in making change on campus through the Sustainability Committee and/or Students for Environmental Awareness and Justice, or if you have any questions about sustainability, please email me at abrender@fordham.edu. The earth and all its inhabitants need you to foster your curiosity, and they need you to do it right now. I urge you to do so, and I offer myself as a resource for you in that pursuit. You might just discover the inalienable truth that has sucked me into this world: #SustainabilityIsSexy.