Meet this month’s “Sustainability Snapshot,” Jared Bynum, and learn more about his efforts to live sustainably:
What inspired you to adopt more sustainable practices in your life?
Sustainability has always meant more to me than simply living sustainably, but further adopting practices and a focus on the tenets of true environmental justice. In our society, the environmental “goods” of open space, clean air and water, biodiverse wildlife communities, and abundant opportunities for recreation in the beautiful open spaces of our country are not equally balanced with the environmental “bads” of pollution, decaying industrial sites, and a lack of parks and recreational venues. Communities of color and other historically marginalized and impoverished groups have rarely gotten a fair shake at enjoying the natural gifts of our state, and in an era of acute civil unrest around the systems and institutions that maintain our status quo, it goes without saying that the consequences of generational racism impact all facets of our day-to-day.
Early on in my environmental justice journey I founded an environmental club at my high school. In that space we were able to implement a school-wide recycling program, engage over 800 students in demonstrations on personal sustainability, and tour our local landfill, wildlife refuge, and plains homestead site offering a look into a bygone era of regenerative architecture and agricultural practices. Despite these successes, recruiting members that looked like me and my friends was a challenge, and in my hometown discussions around green living were believed to only be relegated to the more privileged among us. I knew from then on that the real work of this movement was not only continuing to activate the diehard activists and outdoor enthusiasts, but to build the groundwork of political efficacy in all groups, especially those who typically are not given a say on these issues.
Can you give some examples of how you practice a sustainable lifestyle (either related to zero waste, renewable energy, conservation, involvement with the Evergreen Sustainability Alliance, etc.)?
My journey started small, and local. I had a supportive mother who joined me in becoming vegan, and we challenged ourselves to live zero waste for a year by composting and recycling our trash, and refusing what couldn’t be processed as such. Although I am no longer a purist, we are still vegetarian 8 years out, and I compost and recycle as much waste as I can. I use reusable containers, and I strive to “leave no trace” and to live like I’m camping each day by using a solar charger for my devices and packing as much food as I can with me when venturing out. These efforts, although small, help maintain my awareness of the enormous impact humans as a whole have on our planet, as well as the individual and societal changes we all should endeavor to make if we want to leave a clean, healthy, and beautiful home for the next generations.
Following these experiences and as a college freshman, I joined Protégete (translation: protect yourself) through Conservation Colorado and was connected to a cohort of other youth of color from all across the Denver metro who shared my vision of a green future for all people, inclusive of more than just those who were already afforded the time, wealth, and privilege of environmental activism. Alongside being the most impacted by poor environmental quality, communities of color are also disenfranchised from and marginalized against by the very same systems and institutions designed to address these concerns. Through the work of Protégete we focused on local projects around neighborhood cleanups and educational block parties, expanding translation services at the State Capitol and in decision making bodies across the state, and worked to enhance civic literacy and engagement—connecting people with their government and amplifying their voice.
What words of wisdom do you have for someone just getting started on their journey to ‘go green’?
The efforts of adopting a greener lifestyle and developing a more sustainable society don’t happen in a vacuum. In my current position with Conservation Colorado, and in working with groups like the Evergreen Sustainability Alliance’s Action Council, Summit County’s Sustainable Hiker, and Golden’s EJ focused Next 100 Coalition, I am always supported in my mission. Community organizations like these provide us a framework to adopt a zero-waste lifestyle and to encourage our elected officials to pass groundbreaking laws that empower our neighbors to protect our state.
In quoting Bill Widener, Theodore Roosevelt famously stated that one’s duty in life is to “do what you can, with what you’ve got, where you are.” Some people have the decision making power to change the face of our state, others just a backyard to set up a garden and compost bin, and others still little more than the clothes on their back and the drive to work towards a better future. No matter who you are or where you come from, the movement towards a more sustainable and inclusive future resides in all of us, and we each have the power to make meaningful changes in our lives and in our communities every day. Making household-level changes, volunteering our time and voting with our dollars in support of sustainability groups gives us a chance to live out a more sustainable land ethic that not only preserves our planet, but also empowers and protects all the people who call her home.
Jared Bynum is a Community Organizer with Conservation Colorado working in West JeffCo and beyond. Contact email@example.com for more details on getting involved.