Greening the Community – On Being the Sustainability Person

Cyndel Brunell

I love being the “Sustainability Person.” You know, the person you turn to after you finish your Starbucks drink and ask, “Can this be recycled?” To which I will give an elaborate response that you never asked for, but you’ll listen because you can see the joy it brings me to share my knowledge with you.

Yeah, that’s me!

Being called the Sustainability Person is the greatest honor. I go to great lengths to live the most sustainable lifestyle I can. On the average day, you might catch me riding my bike to work, sipping from my reusable tumbler, rocking a metal straw, eating vegan, turning the lights off behind everyone, and rambling on about how recycling is the systemic band-aid of sustainability.

Shopping locally for sustainably sourced food

Shew! So, it is no wonder why I am seen as being the Sustainability Person. As the Program Coordinator for Florida State University’s Sustainable Campus Program, I live, breathe, and work in sustainability. When I am called the Sustainability Person it means that I am living in congruence with my work and beliefs, which is really important to me; congruence and authenticity are my things! So, being called the Sustainability Person is one of the greatest compliments you could ever pay me.

Then, in an odd turn of events, the part of myself that I love the most, is also the most vulnerable part of my identity. I am constantly terrified someone will “catch” me doing something seen as unsustainable. For example, I had a student surprise me with my favorite Starbucks’ drink at our one-on-one meeting. I was so incredibly happy – it literally made my day! After our meeting, I returned to my office with the drink in hand, only to be greeted by a colleague walking by saying, “Is that plastic?”

Was. Caught. So many thoughts and feelings followed this statement. Frustration – why did they have to point this out? Guilt – they are right, plastic is plastic. Panic- my credibility feels compromised. Humiliation – I hope no one else heard this. And what could I say without explaining my life but, “Yeah, it is.”

I am 150% human. Sometimes I forget my reusable shopping bags when I go to the store, sometimes I buy things I did not realize had plastic, or would come with a straw, or have an ungodly amount of packaging. In this Sustainability Person gig, it sometimes feels like there is only room for perfection. I extend an infinite amount of love and grace to others on their sustainability journey, but I am not necessarily granted the same on mine.

I don’t know. We can call it an occupational hazard or something, because at the end of the day, there is no one else I would rather be than the Sustainability Person. I love living this radical life of compassion for the people and environment around me.

Today, I am leaving you with a challenge (especially for the Sustainability People out there)! If you see your local Sustainability Person doing something that seems unsustainable, suspend judgement and be sure to tell them to have a nice day. They probably already know anything you might say and are doing their best to be a perfect human, just like you.

With love, love, love, Cyndel