When Choices Become Chances
College students know a thing or two about choices. Decisions follow them everywhere, from picking a major to picking what to eat.
Consider the dilemma you face every time you finish a burger from the Union or panini from the Falcon. After narrowing down the menu options, the remaining trash thrusts you into yet another predicament: landfill, recycle, or organic trash bin?
Voices get louder, time moves slower, and the take-out box in your hand gets heavier as you ponder this responsibility.
For some, the trash goes in the landfill bin every time.
Still, others take longer to pick through their trash to ensure a more productive future for the leftovers.
Emily Pyle* falls into that second category, a sophomore biology major with a heart for sustainability. If mirrors reflect the exterior of a person, Pinterest reflects that person’s interest, and a look at Pyle’s sustainability board, affectionately labeled “susty love,” gives a glimpse into this way of life that affects her actions and mindset.
For her, sustainability acts as the intersection between the daily choice of the organic and recycling bin and the long-term lifestyle that she describes has “just made me much more mindful and helped me to grow more in my faith.” But even as she discovers this passion through her time at college, she admits that she was not always fluent in the language of sustainability.
So how did this girl with a heart for the earth turn this daily decision into a dedicated lifestyle?
As most passions do, it appropriately started with a seed, Pyle’s being her high school environmental stewardship club. For all of the significance the name evokes, especially since she served as treasurer, Pyle admits that “it didn’t really spark this passion. It was more of a fun thing.” Sheepishly, she adds, “I just joined it with some friends.” A seed, nonetheless, had been planted. Maybe friends should receive a better rep for positive peer pressure since this was the first blip on Pyle’s radar. Before then, her childhood memories did not include “the whole taking care of creation and earth keeping view.”
Though environmental living didn’t necessarily shape Pyle’s daily decisions at first, it wedged its way into her heart amid a long-term decision: college. As Pyle waited for move-in day, finalizing the big transition, she also found time to work at a sustainable café.
Whatever her experience with her high school club, Pyle draws upon the opportunity with the café as the defining point of her sustainable interest. To her, “just through the people I met there, the customers as well as the people I worked with, I started really shifting my frame of mind, and it just blossomed into this passion that I now have.”
Even though the café opened up a new interest, Pyle didn’t necessarily know where to go with it. Just as summer is that transitionary period of waiting, this interest in sustainability waited to find a more permanent place in Pyle’s life.
It would’ve been easy to forget, to write it off as a fleeting summer interest and let it get lost in the archives of her mind. Pyle’s time-consuming biology major and her involvement in the multicultural program would’ve made the forgetting process a quick snap. But the seed had already been planted. And it sprouted. And college turned out to be just the right environment for all of her interests, full-fledged and budding, to intersect.
To understand how sustainability managed to intertwine with Pyle’s other passions amid her busy life, we have to revisit her Pinterest profile, where followers can see boards about God, people, and nature coexisting. As Pyle entered the college scene, her summer experience hadn’t completely left her and even nudged her toward the Agapé Center, the place on campus that fosters service.
It helped that they already had a section just for her: sustainable agriculture. Though her background lacked consistent service, she explains that it drew her in. “I was really excited to just get involved in something,” she says. Embracing the narrative of change that college represents for everyone, Pyle refused to sacrifice this new interest of hers, even though she may not have known how it would turn into the lifestyle she now leads.
Just as the café experience drew her in, her choice to volunteer continued to cultivate her environmental enthusiasm. As she worked, the experience coaxed the seed into something more.
“I noticed,” she says, “that as I was doing service outside, and I felt the sun shining in my face and felt the heat at my back, whatever I was doing outside and doing it with fellow Christians, it was like a time of meditation or refreshment for me, just continually talking to God in my head and just being so thankful for the opportunity to just be outside and to be helping others and producing food for others.” That choice to volunteer took its place in the chain of decisions that continue forming her.
The girl who entered college with a seedling of interest in sustainability now runs the Earth-keepers club on campus, a gathering of “students from all majors and all interests and all levels of knowledge of sustainability and the earth.” From café worker to volunteer, to club president, Pyle can encourage others toward sustainability themselves. But she’s still not afraid to get her hands dirty, using her daily life to implement sustainability.
Her fervor becomes evident as she launches into the details of microplastics: “the part which I’m interested in is the plastics that come from plastic-based clothing,” she says, “so the different polyesters and elastics and nylons. And every time you wash an article of clothing that’s not made with natural fibers, those tiny fibers wash into the ocean, and microorganisms eat them and starve. And it hurts ecosystems.”
Not content to merely absorb the information, she set to work applying her passion to her own life. “Last year,” she says, “I very clearly remember, learning about this and getting upset, and I quite literally took down all of my wardrobe and I kept all of the clothes that were made out of 100 percent natural materials, or mostly natural, or were absolutely essential pieces, and the rest I got rid of. And it was a lot more of an easier change than you would think it would be.”
For Pyle, it helps that choosing sustainability means so much more than a couple extra seconds rooting through her leftovers. Through sustainability, her “frame of mind is less about consuming and more about conserving.”
She explains the reason for her mentality, saying, “I think that that’s really important because this earth is not ours as we like to think it is. It’s God’s, and to respect Him, we need to respect it,” she explains, “And so, I view sustainability as a sort of form of worship, and I think that’s the main reason why it’s such a big part of my life.” Her ability to step back and place sustainability in the context of a larger picture reflects how her daily decisions contribute to her abiding mindset.
A year and a half have done Pyle good. Though she has no concrete plans for the future, her past experiences paint a hopeful outcome. Not everyone can start out by making their own toothpaste and deodorant, as she does now. However, Pyle herself has gotten where she is step-by-step, “starting with a lot of small changes, which,” she says, “in a college setting is about the best you can do.”
As Pyle continues to make those everyday changes, her story shows how choices can become chances, how decisions sustain seeds that can sprout into a lifestyle.