Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Learning to live more sustainably

Lara Applegate attends the Aloha+ Challenge Legislation and Policy Retreat at the Hawaii State Capitol, in November 2015.

When Lara Applegate began graduate studies at Hawai'i Pacific University in 2014, she already had some global perspective on sustainability and climate change. A Global Leadership and Sustainable Development student, Applegate is originally from South Africa. She grew up in Missouri, where she earned a B.S. in Biology.

Following her undergraduate work, Applegate went on an internship to Zambia.

"My time in Zambia sparked my interest in climate change," Applegate said.

Applegate spent several months talking to local residents, learning how climate change was affecting people's health and the environment.

"Their responses were amazing," she said. "There were respiratory problems because of dust and dirt in the air. When it floods, there is more water-based diseases."

"When I studied biology, my intent was conservation biology. It promotes conversation at a species level," she said. "Zambia changed my world view. If I'm going to make an impact in the world, sustainability is where it's at."

Her growing interest in sustainability led Applegate to attend the Warsaw Climate Change Conference in 2013.

"That was amazing. I saw other people passionate about sustainability and pushing for change," Applegate said.

Inspired by the experience, Applegate knew she wanted to pursue a graduate degree to prepare for a career in sustainability. When looking at different schools, she said, "Something about HPU's (Global Leadership and Sustainable Development) program stood out and was unique."

Applegate was intrigued by the class offerings and the accomplishments of its alumni. Applegate contacted Associate Professor of Environmental Science Regina Ostergaard-Klem, Ph.D., who answered questions about the program and HPU.

"She was really helpful," said Applegate, who counts Ostergaard-Klem among her most inspiring teachers.

Also on that list is retiring Professor of Management and Sustainable Development Art A. Whatley, Ph.D.

"I'm so lucky to have had Professor Whatley before he retired," Applegate said. "Because he came from a business program, he knows the business perspectives on sustainability."

"At HPU, I can go to my professors anytime. Their actual experiences help. They are not only knowledgeable in theories, but actually have real life experience in the business and practices of sustainability."

At HPU, Applegate also serves as president of Leaders for a Sustainable Future (LSF), a club that strives to encourage sustainable practices, on campus and throughout the local community. As part of HPU's Green Office Program, she works to promote energy efficiency and conservation on campus.

Outside of HPU, Applegate works at Hawaii Green Growth, a group that fosters an integrated approach to sustainability, among local stakeholders. Applegate is the organization's Measures Fellow, working on the Aloha+ Challenge Dashboard. The dashboard tracks Hawaii's sustainability progress, as the state heads to a clean energy goal for the year 2030.

"This work gives me real world experience to discuss in class," Applegate said. "My studies in class prepare me for discussion on issues of sustainability in a professional environment."

Applegate graduates in May and her dream job is to one day be a sustainability coordinator for a city or county. However, she likes to remind people that they can still make a difference for the environment, even without a sustainability degree or job.

"Little things you do every day can make a lasting impact," Applegate said. "Shorter showers, buying locally produced food, eating less meat. You don't have to go vegetarian, just eat less."

Another way to help is to avoid constantly buying new merchandise, like clothing. Instead of buying new, people can acquire used clothing. On Thursday, April 21, as part of HPU's Earth Week, a clothes swap is planned at Fort Street Mall.

"Clothes get to be recycled and reused. People don't realize the impact of new clothes, how many resources go into making them," Applegate said. "Whatever isn't picked up will go to charity."

These little changes in behavior can add up over time, but it will be challenging.

“It's hard because we're a consumption-driven society," Applegate said. “Going to Africa, they wore the same clothes every day, yet they had smiles on their faces.”

"Obviously, it's not consumption that makes us happy. Otherwise, we'd all be happy but we're not,” Applegate said. “We need to shift our paradigm in the U.S.”

Learn more about Earth Week events and activities at HPU at www.hpu.edu/sustainability.

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