In reality though, the public often holds the true power in creating change. One example of this is food sustainability, which combats many environmental issues like climate change, pollution and land degradation.
EcoReps is a UNC student-led organization that deals with food sustainability. The organization focuses on educating students, said EcoReps co-chairperson Kathia Toledo, a senior environmental studies and geography major.
“We’re mainly educators,” she said. “We try to host events around campus that have to do with general sustainability practices, especially in regards to behavioral stuff, like how people can change their behavior to be more sustainable.”
Emily Hightower, a junior biology and economics major and the other co-chairperson of EcoReps, suggested that buying organic and local foods and eating in season are simple ways of becoming more sustainable.
Although tight budgets can present a barrier to being sustainable, she emphasized that doing whatever you can always helps.
“If you can’t afford to buy organic produce, consider going to a local farmers market, or if you can’t afford to buy locally, consider just buying vegetables that are in season,” she said.
Another organization promoting food sustainability on campus is Carolina Dining Services, which obtains 16 percent of their food from sources within 250 miles of campus.
John Florin, an associate professor emeritus in the geography department whose work has dealt with food and agriculture, is impressed by the strides CDS has taken in recent years to become more sustainable.
“Frankly, I don’t see how they are able to achieve even as much as they do achieve because of the limitations,” he said.
Many of these limitations stem from broad issues involved with the agricultural production and distribution system in the U.S., but students also directly impact the dining hall’s ability to be sustainable, Florin said.
“It’s really a two part thing — one part is what Lenoir decides to do, but the other part is what the consumer decides to do,” he said. “There has to be both a demand and an expression of that demand from students before it can happen.”
Creating change in food sustainability is not simply up to those in power positions — it starts with the public.
Often this change is not complicated or even challenging.
“It’s very simple to be sustainable,” Hightower said. “People think it’s a major life change, but just carrying around a reusable water bottle is something you can do to reduce waste and conserve water.”
With an expanding group of organizations in addition to EcoReps involved in food sustainability and availability at UNC — such as FLO Food, Edible Campus, Tar Heel TABLE and more — students have access to many resources that help create a more sustainable university and community.
Getting involved or simply changing unsustainable habits can have a real, immediate impact without relying on those in power.
Florin is especially optimistic in regard to the change the public can create in food sustainability.
“I believe that we’re really just scratching the surface,” he said.