“Hi, I’m Sara. I’m new to California. Just moved here 8 months ago.”
“Oh, how nice. What do you do?”
“I’m the sustainability manager at UC San Diego.”
“Um…. sustain-a-what? So what exactly do you do then?”
For the last 10 years, I’ve worked in sustainability in higher education. But what does that mean? Basically, I’m a facilitator, integrator, instigator, champion, mentor, teacher, writer, data analyst, communicator, and much more.
It’s my job to work with everyone on campus — faculty, staff, students, alumni, and community partners in the city, state, region, country and beyond — to expand our sustainability leadership.
I work on issues like climate change and water conservation, sustainable food and zero waste, social justice and biodiversity. I collaborate with others to make sure we do what’s environmentally and socially best in the most efficient ways we can. Universities are cities: nearly 55,000 people can be at UC San Diego each day. We generate our own energy, provide housing and transportation, feed thousands, and continue to grow. We need to make sure that our operations are as eco-friendly, accessible and resilient as we can.
But sustainability is more than just green operations. We’re educating our future leaders, entrepreneurs, parents and voters. We’re doing cutting edge research to protect the planet and public health. As a public university, it’s our responsibility — and our privilege — to help solve the global challenges we face while preparing the next generation to do better than we have.
It’s not easy to describe what I do. A typical day involves meetings, mentoring students, collecting data, writing reports, responding to emails, and conference calls. One minute I’m working with colleagues to figure out how we continue to waste less and recycle and compost more, while another I’m on a committee awarding social innovation grants to students. It’s fun. It’s never boring.
And it pretty much ensures if I introduce myself to you, you’re not going to get a dull answer on what I do for a living.