Updated: Dec 23, 2020
How making small gradual changes can lead to adapting a sustainable lifestyle
“On a sustainable journey.” That is how I usually describe my approach to everyday life, but what does this mean? The dictionary defines sustainable as the ability to be maintained at a constant level. When I consider environmental sustainability, I endeavour to live in a way that does not cause ecological damage or depletion of natural resources. Adopting a sustainable lifestyle requires time, contemplation, and organization, which when executed diligently actually improve not only one’s quality of life, but also benefits the community. Therefore, a sustainable lifestyle is one that causes the least amount of harm to the Earth and its resources, from an economic, social and environmental perspective.
I became interested in environmental sustainability four years ago, after leaving my parents’ house to move closer the University of Padova where I had just been accepted into the BA in Language, Literature and Cultural Communication. The city, which differed from my small town of Ceggia, introduced me to a multi-cultural and stimulating environment in which I could cultivate and develop new values and best practices. At first, I felt unwelcome and out of control in Padova. There were (and still are) a lot of traffic jams when people commute to work or return home, usually with one individual per car. Trash and recycling bins were overflowing. There were cigarette butts all over the ground. Supermarkets threw away a tonne of viable food. But worst of all was the fact that people, including my classmates, seemed unbothered by these norms. Since I was a child, I have always been quite sensitive, not necessarily about the environment, but generally about moral duty, and I tend to feel the moral obligation to act accordingly. My undergraduate education helped me consider the perspectives of others by viewing the world through different languages and cultures. Transitioning into the HRG program was a natural step that would further develop my empathy for others.
The shift towards a sustainable lifestyle began by altering my daily habits and mindset from a micro level, to analysing the impact of my actions on the community. I acquired relevant knowledge by watching documentaries and reading research articles about pollution, the negative impacts of fast-fashion, and large-scale agricultural activities. One of my favourite documentaries is “Before the Flood”, by director Fisher Stevens, shows the actor Leonardo DiCaprio visiting different regions of the planet to highlight the impact of global warming. The documentary was particularly shocking as it uncovers the most grotesque outcomes of climate change, using references to works such as The Garden of Earthly Delights as metaphors for the current human condition. For several months, I continued to modify my habits, and noticed the pieces of the lifestyle puzzle begin to fit – quality reigned over quantity. I incorporated biking as my main mode of transportation, limited my clothing purchases, reduced consumption of animal products, purchased food from the local markets and bulk stores, prepped my meals a few days in advance to avoid spontaneous purchases that use wasteful packaging, and opted for long-lasting instead of single-use objects. Over the last four years, I have kept a personal record of sustainable lifestyle tips and businesses around Padova that embody this idea. I particularly admire the Friendly Shop located in the city centre. It is the first zero-waste shop in Italy, opened by a young Italian couple who wanted to share an ethical, sustainable and waste-free lifestyle with the community. The items sold are hand-picked by the owners, Caterina and Nicolae, in order to support virtuous manufacturers. The bulk store, La Bottega Sfusa, employs a similar philosophy by directly stocking products from local suppliers. Shopping from these stores reassures me that my products are ethically sourced.
In February 2018, while I leaving an exam room, I came across an advertisement for an event presenting individual actions that could improve sustainability. The event was hosted by a student-led group called SustainABILITY, which I later joined as the social media manager, translator, and co-researcher. The group was formed by a motivated student who felt that the daily actions of each student and the University itself have repercussions that exceed our immediate perceptions. The project has three main goals that will catalyze the actions of students, both individually and collectively. They include: raising awareness in order to take action, facilitating individual action towards a sustainable lifestyle, and stimulating collective action to support an improvement also at the systemic level. Thanks to the cooperation among students we have managed to organize a cycle of conferences about waste, mobility, and alimentation. We also compiled tips into the resource book, The Sustainable Student Guide, which highlights the issues related to what we waste, how we move around and what we eat.
Throughout this journey, I have learnt that everything makes more sense when viewed within a wider spectrum. Significant changes in the sustainable arena often occur at a snail’s pace and require commitment to improve our quality of life and planetary conditions. If you are having difficulty along your own journey, try measuring your carbon footprint as a first step. Identifying your personal contribution to environmental degradation can help put this issue into perspective. Secondly, dedicate some time to reviewing the UN 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). They provide detailed information about global initiatives we can all participate in to improve the human and planetary condition. Lastly, appreciate the fact that Padova is the 2020 European Volunteering Capital (EV Capital) and utilize this opportunity as a member of the UNIPD student body to share your time, knowledge and experiences in ways that benefit yourself and your community.
Written by Susanna Ajazi
Edited by Christine Nanteza
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Susanna Ajazi is in her 2nd year of the MA in Human Rights and Multilevel Governance at Università degli Studi di Padova. In addition to being an environmental activist, community volunteer and working student, she is also a recipient of the UniPD Collaborazioni per studenti (200 ore) which offers part time job opportunities for high achieving students.
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