BY: Lauren Steffes
Yasmin Asghari is a senior pursuing a degree in environmental health science at the University of Georgia and the president of UGA’s largest environmental sustainability organization, Students for Environmental Action. Since she first joined the club 3 years ago, she has helped lead SEA in numerous movements to improving sustainability on UGAs campus, including composting at the dining halls, installing light sensors in major buildings on north campus, and participating in nature clean up events such as Rivers Alive. Here are some of her ideas on increasing environmental sustainability on campus:
Q: When did you first discover your passion for environmental sustainability?
A: Well, my mother and brother are both environmental engineers, so I grew up being told about the importance of maintaining a healthy environment. As a grew older, I realized that the environment is not some separate entity or idea…it is the very living essence of all life. We depend on the environment to provide us with food, water, shelter–everything! You cannot separate human life from the environment. To neglect the environment is to neglect the very source of our own lives. In order to sustain human life we must sustain the environment. There is no other way.
Q: What drew you to study environmental health science?
A: I have always been fascinated to see how humans react to their environment. Many people are unaware of the huge role the environment plays in their minds and bodies. Most of a human’s psychological and biological functions are completely reliant on their relationship to the world around them. I am currently interning with the United States Department of Agriculture, and every day I learn about the environment’s impact on the food we eat and how that food impacts our health. It’s fascinating because many ailments can be prevented through changing the way our farmers grow the food we eat. It’s important for humans to make wise choices before putting anything into their bodies.
Q: Why did you get involved with Students for Environmental Action (SEA)?
A: Honestly, I have travelled all around the world with my family since I was a young girl. I think visiting other places really gives you a strong sense of perspective about different countries and the different ways they approach environmental issues. For example, European countries are much more conscientious about their energy consumption and waste reduction. When I returned from a trip to Europe, I began to grow increasingly aware of the wasteful practices that Americans partake in. I knew when I got accepted to UGA that I would try to make a difference in the environmental practices of students and faculty here.
Q: How do you spread awareness about environmental issues on campus?
A: We have weekly meetings and we encourage our members to bring new people each week. We also talk about different issues plaguing the environment every week. Every year we pair up with the Office for Environmental Sustainability to help promote Earth Week. Earth Week is a weeklong event with nightly events such as documentary screenings and panel discussions to inform students about how they can live more sustainable lifestyles. Each year we also devote our club to implementing a sustainable project on campus.
Q: What are some projects you have successfully completed with SEA?
A: Every year we focus on implementing a new environmentally sustainable practice on UGA’s campus. Two years ago, we decided to install light sensors at Park Hall to reduce energy costs. We monitored the building for several months to see how much energy we could save with the light sensors. We found that by implementing light sensors, UGA could save lots of energy and money. Now many buildings on North Campus use light sensors, and we are happy to have been part of that improvement. Last year we worked with UGA Food Services to implement composting in the dining halls. It was a huge success, and they are still composting today. This year we are working with the Office of Sustainability to improve alternative transportation infrastructure on UGA’s campus.
Q: How is SEA working to improve environmental sustainability in the greater Athens-Clarke County area?
A: Every year we volunteer with a group of over 250 people for an event called Rivers Alive. The event coordinators place volunteers along banks of various rivers throughout Athens to do a city-wide cleanup of all of the rivers. We also participate in the Green Expo at the Classic Center every January. We meet with different organizations across Athens who are trying to implement various sustainable practices in the community. The expo draws hundreds of people, and it’s a great opportunity for us to spread awareness about environmental issues.
Q: Has SEA worked with the Athens-Clarke County government to implement sustainable practices?
A: One of our members, Landon Bubb, works with another organization called Bag the Bag. He has spoken at many city council meetings to try and persuade the government to institute a 5 cent tax for every plastic bag used. We are supportive of Bag the Bag because plastic bags are oil-based and not bio-degradable. We think the tax would encourage people to use more reusable bags, which would have an immense impact on reducing our landfill waste.
Q: How do you plan on continuing SEA’s efforts after you graduate?
A: I am not worried about leaving SEA because I have selected fantastic executive board members who are doing great things on and off campus. They share my same passion, and I couldn’t be happier knowing that I am leaving my organization in the hands of the best people I know. They will continue to do great things for this community!