Sustainability. It’s a buzzword, it’s a big word. It can mean everything and nothing. But what does “sustainability” even mean today? And does it have the same meaning for everyone? In this episode, host Sophia Li sits down with climate change educator Ariel Maldonado and filmmaker and activist Anya Sastry to discuss what sustainability means to them, why this idea is so important, and why each of us needs to reframe our relationship with sustainability in order to work towards a more secure and just future for all.
- Ariel Maldonado | GoGreenSaveGreen | Environmental educator
- Anya Sastry | Activist and filmmaker
- Edward Palmieiri | Meta | Global Head of Sustainability
- Amanda Gardiner | Meta | Sustainability Innovation & Engagement
- Marlo Tablante | Meta | Sustainability Transparency & Positioning
- Carolyn Campbell | Meta | Renewable Energy
- Kati Kallins | Meta | Sustainability Engagement
- Eoghan Griffin | Meta | EMEA Sustainability
SOPHIA LI: You’re listening to Climate Talks, a podcast in collaboration with Facebook. The climate crisis is the most pressing issue facing everyone and every industry. And on this show, we make talking about the climate a conversation that everyone is invited to. Together, we can create a healthier relationship with nature, which, you know, includes us.
I’m Sophia Li. I’m a journalist, a film director, and a climate optimist. My life’s work is to make talking about the climate more accessible, more digestible, and more human. I’ll be your guide as we reframe the way we talk about the climate, and understand the best courses of action to take together. Let’s do this.
SOPHIA LI: Sustainability. It’s a buzzword, it’s a big word. It can mean everything and nothing. But what does sustainability even mean? And does it have the same meaning for everyone?
CHORUS OF VOICES – WHAT DOES SUSTAINABILITY MEAN TO YOU?
MAX S.: When I think of the word sustainability, I think of mostly the future and what we have ahead of us.
EOGHAN GRIFFIN: It’s definitely not about being perfect, but it’s all about making – making a bit of a change and – and holding others accountable for that change as well.
SONO: We need to get to a point where we’re actually becoming stewards of the earth.
KATI KALLINS: Climate action and working in sustainability is an all hands on deck field.
SOPHIA LI: I grew up in two different countries and four states – Minnesota, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, and every summer my family and I would go back to China to visit my grandparents. So my perspective was shaped by multiple cultures and multiple climates.
A huge part of my upbringing and my understanding of nature actually came from my grandparents and parents. My grandparents are Buddhists, and in Buddhism, you have a relationship with nature that is reciprocal.
They taught me that before you cook a meal, you say thank you. They tended to their gardens, and expressed gratitude for the crops and the water and all the seasons. They didn’t talk about sustainability, they didn’t even have a word for it, but it was a lifestyle out of necessity.
Today, a lot of people think of sustainability as a persona. As someone who recycles or carries a reusable water bottle or bikes to work. And sure, all of those things are important. But to me, sustainability is first and foremost a relationship. It’s a symbiotic relationship between us and the natural world that we’re all a part of.
The way we talk about sustainability, it’s just not working. The problem with envisioning sustainability as a person, is that the word gets loaded with shame and guilt: focusing on all the things I’m not doing enough of. All the things I could be doing better. So today, in this episode, we address the word head on.
We’ll hear from Ariel Maldonado and Anya Sastry, two people who have devoted their lives to coming up with new ways to communicate about the climate. And together, we’ll create a new conversation about sustainability that is empowering and hopeful. Each week on Climate Talks, we’re taking on sustainability from a different angle: from carbon emissions to water restoration.
We’ll learn about these sectors in the climate movement from multiple perspectives: activists, founders of NGOs, scientists, and you. We’ll dive into our relationship with our planet, and how we can repair it, think more critically about the ways we give and take – for a better future.
SOPHIA LI: But first. Our partners at Facebook are committed to making their operations and impact more sustainable. Let’s hear how they’re approaching this work, and this word.
CAROLYN CAMPBELL: Standing at the base of kind of one of the turbine towers. You have to totally crane your neck.
SOPHIA LI: For example, Facebook is one of the largest corporate buyers of renewable energy. When they open a new data center, they focus on also adding wind and solar energy to the grid to support the data center’s operations. Someone who has seen one of these wind energy farms in action is Carolyn Campbell.
CAROLYN CAMPBELL: We were able to go down to Texas to visit one of our wind farms. We saw some of the turbines being delivered, the turbine blades coming in on big, long trucks. So that all gives you a sense of the scale and the impact and and the significant infrastructure investment that’s happening to make these projects come to life.
SOPHIA LI: Carolyn Campbell’s work focuses on renewable energy projects. She’s one of the many people working on sustainability initiatives at Facebook. They’re a group of passionate people, working to minimize Facebook’s energy, emissions and water impacts while also protecting Facebook’s workers and the environments in their supply chain.
We spoke to some other members on the Sustainability team about what that word—sustainability—means to them.
AMANDA GARDINER: The definition of sustainable development I always use is the ability of all of us to meet the needs that we have today, without compromising the needs of our children and future generations.
Hi, my name is Amanda Gardiner, and I lead sustainability, innovation and engagement at Facebook, and I’m calling in today from New Jersey.
The power of Facebook’s platform to inspire people to take more sustainable actions and to come together and convene in order to do that at scale is the most exciting part about my role and about being here. That’s where I see the potential for us to play a leadership role, and to do even more.
EDWARD PALMIERI: Hi, my name is Edward Palmieri and I’m the director of Global Sustainability at Facebook. When I think of sustainability, I think about getting where you need to go, doing what you need to do, but doing it in a really smart way, in a way that doesn’t sacrifice tomorrow to meet the needs of today.
MARLO TABLANTE: My parents were from the Philippines, and so I would grow up visiting Manila as a child and I was always amazed by the amount of cars, people, animals, heat. And something always sort of like resonated with me about living in harmony with our environment and with each other.
My name’s Marlo Tablante, I’m calling in from Brooklyn, New York, and I focus on our sustainability positioning and transparency work. I think we’re at a turning point at Facebook. This, what we’re doing right now. This podcast is an example of us wanting to engage more in dialogue beyond just saying, oh, this is what we’ve achieved, this is our impact.
SOPHIA LI: Thank you to Carolyn Campbell, Amanda Gardiner, Edward Palmieri, and Marlo Tablante from Facebook.
Sustainability isn’t just an idea or an academic concept, it is real work. And it all starts with how we use this word, and how we bring more people into the conversation. Joining me this week are Ariel Maldonado and Anya Sastry, two people who have devoted their lives to thinking about how to communicate about the climate.
Ariel is an environmental educator. She runs the Instagram account go green save green, where she shares information and resources around activism and the environment with a sense of humor.
Anya Sastry is an activist and filmmaker, and former National Outreach Director for the U.S. Youth Climate Strike.
SOPHIA LI: Anya, Ariel, I’m so excited to talk to you both. I’m so inspired by both of your work. First off, let’s start with Ariel. Tell us who you are and where you’re from.
ARIEL MALDONADO: My name is Ariel. I’m from Los Angeles. I’m an artist as well as an environmentalist. I started running my Instagram account, which focuses on sharing news articles, information and just like overall environmental and climate science, as well as solutions, memes and a lot of humor to get through the darkness.
SOPHIA LI: I love it. Anya. Tell us who you are and where you’re from.
ANYA SASTRY: I’m from Barrington, Illinois, currently in New Orleans for college, and I became a part of the climate movement back in 2018, 2019 on a local and national level with the U.S. Youth Climate Strike Organization.
SOPHIA LI: Amazing. Let’s start with Ariel. What’s your climate story?
ARIEL MALDONADO: I just started researching like all the time, and eventually I got to a point where a couple of my friends were like, well, what if you do like an Instagram? And so I started my Instagram @gogreensavegreen.
It has definitely evolved a lot. When I first started, I was thinking like, go green, like go environmentalism and saving green, so like saving money.
And then over time, I started adding memes and I started switching from “What can I do?” to looking at like the overall systems that were in play, looking at the science that was in play, looking at the things that people aren’t talking about.
People talk a lot about fast fashion, plastic, animal agriculture, veganism – like those are like the superstars and eventually my page – I realized that I wanted to talk about the things that aren’t as popular to talk about.
SOPHIA LI: So what are those things that aren’t as popular to talk about today?
ARIEL MALDONADO: I will say it is changing a little bit, but like who wants to talk about banking, you know, who wants to talk about how like tree scams can actually turn into monocultures and like how, you know, seaweed farmers could actually be like a really huge help. You know, those are not as, I guess, sexy to talk about.
SOPHIA LI: So Anya, I want to go to you. What is your climate story?
ANYA SASTRY: The point at which I really became aware of the climate crisis was back in 2018, when I first read the 2018 IPCC report. At that moment, I realized the extent to which the climate crisis is affecting our planet currently. I think before that point, it was more of like an individual, like, reduce, reuse, recycle kind of vibe for me.
But with that report, I realized that we have these fossil fuel industries that are wreaking havoc on our planet. We have these corporations that are not acting ethically and environmentally responsible.
And I realized that this is part of a bigger picture that we all need to contribute to and we all need to fight against. And I got into contact with a few other high schoolers through Instagram who were also really passionate about the environment and really interested in getting involved on a larger scale. And so we were thinking, why don’t we start planning these climate strikes? Why don’t we do climate strikes across the nation, youth coming out from their schools and making a stand and doing a demonstration and getting people’s, especially adults, attention to this issue because we realized that not enough adults and older, older generations and businesses were paying attention to this climate crisis issue.
And March 15th was our first nationwide climate strike, and it made national news and national television. And it was a really successful event and experience and that just kind of catapulted the entire organization forward.
SOPHIA LI: Anya, you entered this space in 2018 or –
ANYA SASTRY: End of 2018, beginning of 2019.
SOPHIA LI: How old were you then?
ANYA SASTRY: I was sixteen.
SOPHIA LI: And what did sustainability mean to you as that 16 year old in 2018?
ANYA SASTRY: Before I got involved, sustainability just meant like recycling plastics and that kind of thing, like very small individual scale actions. But I think once I made that push into the climate movement and once I became more educated and involved with the movement, sustainability meant something that needed to be applied in many aspects of my life.
So whether it’s with fashion or with transportation or finances. Sustainability became a thing that had to be a part of every action that I took.
SOPHIA LI: And what does sustainability mean to you today in 2021?
ANYA SASTRY: I am a firm believer in the idea that so much of this climate crisis is a result of larger structures in society, larger racial structures and environmental structures. And I think that we, as a society, we as a country and other countries around the world need to have this radical shift in the way that we address race and environment and gender.
SOPHIA LI: I don’t know about you two, but my parents are immigrants and they – sustainability was such a foundation, a part of their lifestyle. It was survival. It was just, it was a basic necessity. They would use every single part of a vegetable, every single part of a chicken. They would have this very symbiotic relationship with nature. How did your two upbringing impact your definition of sustainability?
ANYA SASTRY: My parents are also immigrants, and I think like you said, Sophia, like my parents also, you know, used everything to the fullest. They didn’t waste anything. And they kind of instilled that practice in me. And I think America has this certain consumer culture, where people place importance on how much stuff you have. And I think that my parents did not share that value at all coming from India to America.
And in my own daily life, my own practices, I kind of tend towards the more minimalistic lifestyle just because that’s how they lived in India.
ARIEL MALDONADO: When I think of my grandparents and what they’ve imparted and what I would connect to now, it’s definitely that Green Thumb. Now I’m trying to figure out actually how to do more native plants outside, to actually have a garden that works for the environment that I’m in, instead of working against it.
SOPHIA LI: What is both of your personal stake in climate justice?
ANYA SASTRY: One project that I’ve worked on over the past couple of years is this documentary that I made back –
SOPHIA LI: Frontliners.
ANYA SASTRY: Yes, Frontliners.
SOPHIA LI: Amazing.
ANYA SASTRY: Thank you. So this documentary focuses on environmental injustice in two separate communities. The first part of the film focuses on the Ojibwe indigenous community in northern Minnesota. And the second part of the film discusses and shows the experience of a Latinx community in inner city Chicago.
After, you know, going to these communities, interviewing them, I just really understood how much of an impact the climate crisis and racial injustice and environmental injustice is having on these marginalized and lower socio economic groups across the nation and across the world. And I see my role in the movement as amplifying them and sharing their stories through my creative ways and my creative passions.
SOPHIA LI: What about you, Ariel?
ARIEL MALDONADO: Having grown up with such financial instability and being in Los Angeles, you can really, really see people like, communities, entire communities living on the street in downtown. It really put things in perspective. I think there’s a lot of fear when I – when I personally think of like the disparities between like the socioeconomic conditions of people and natural disasters and like how it pans out for them once it’s all kind of said and done.
SOPHIA LI: Yeah, I wanted to ask you because you bring in such a sense of humor into this space. And I think that not a lot of people think that sustainability or the climate space is fun or funny, and you make it fun and funny. And why is it important to bring a sense of humor into this space?
ARIEL MALDONADO: I actually use memes really strategically. When you put out a little bit of humor, you can disarm people a lot and kind of get them to, like, understand that maybe we’re not taking a jab at them. Maybe I’m not saying like, your efforts aren’t enough. I’m trying to show like larger structures in play and like memes are a good way to do that.
SOPHIA LI: So OK, my final question for the two of you is what does the future of sustainability look like, not what you think it’s going to be, but what it should be, if that makes sense?
ANYA SASTRY: Ultimately, the climate movement is not just for scientists, it’s not just for people who love to grow plants or who are really into, you know, like the science class from high school. Like it’s for everyone and it’s for everyone to get involved in. And so when I picture sustainability in the future, I think of everyone getting involved in ways that highlight their strengths and their passions in order to create a society that’s working for everyone.
SOPHIA LI: I love it. So the future of sustainability to you is where everyone has a role in the movement. Ariel, what about you, the future of sustainability to you?
ARIEL MALDONADO: The future of sustainability to me also looks like all hands on deck. I think one of the things that I’ve been most recently struggling with is how do I respond to people that say that change is challenging to them? Because I think change is challenging to all of us.
Figure out like, what are your interests and how can you make them more sustainable? And how can you just, you know, tick a little bit forward towards sustainability? I think it’s going to be a lot of people ticking. A choir relies on the strength of the many so that if anybody needs to take a break, take a breather and like not sing at any given point, the overall choir is going to still continue to succeed. And I think that’s a really great way to sum up the environmental movement.
SOPHIA LI: I love it. So we need to all keep singing. And you know what it’s going to get uncomfortable before it gets comfortable in this climate movement. So thank you both so much, Ariel and Anya. It was such a pleasure talking to you both.
ANYA SASTRY: Thank you so much for having me.
ARIEL MALDONADO: Yeah, thank you for having me, too. This was a lot of fun.
SOPHIA LI: That was Ariel Maldonado and Anya Sastry. You can follow Ariel’s work on Instagram at @gogreensavegreen.
Anya Sastry’s documentary, Frontliners, is available on her website, at A-N-Y-A S-A-S-T-R-Y dot com.
SOPHIA LI: So, every week on the show, I’m going to close each episode with a prompt, a kind of call to action, inviting you, our listeners, into the conversation.
This week, after my talk with Ariel and Anya, it got me thinking about how we reclaim this word sustainability. Reclaiming it from some kind of idealized ‘persona.’ Making it an intimate commitment between yourself and the world around us.
There’s no perfect way to live a quote un quote sustainable life. So I challenge you to think about what your personal definition of sustainability is — and how you’re committing to it.
Let us know! We’re launching the conversation at hashtag f-b-climate-talks. I’d love to hear from you how you use this word, and do this work.
SOPHIA LI: Next week on Climate Talks:
TODD REEVE: Sometimes your water footprint comes from places that you didn’t previously expect. It might be in – mostly in the products that you buy as opposed to how long your showers are.
SOPHIA LI: We’re talking about one of the Earth’s most precious resources: water. For some of us who are lucky, water is so accessible in our everyday lives that we take it for granted.
But wasteful practices in business and everyday consumption are putting our water at risk. We’ll look at ways we can all reduce water consumption, talk about how we can restore local watersheds and preserve clean water for generations to come.
See you next week!
SOPHIA LI: You’ve been listening to Climate Talks, a podcast in collaboration with Facebook. Many thanks to our guests this week, Ariel Maldonado and Anya Sastry.
You can find our podcast on Apple, Spotify, Stitcher or whenever you listen. If you like what you hear, give us five stars! And share the show with your family and friends. We want everyone to get in on the conversation, and we hope that each episode inspires you to continue that conversation with the people in your life.
This show is produced by work by work: Scott Newman, Jemma Brown, Kathleen Ottinger, Emily Shaw, and me, Sophia Li. The show is mixed by Sam Bair.
Extra gratitude to Marlo Tablante and Amanda Gardiner at Facebook. To find out more about Facebook’s Sustainability initiatives, visit sustainability (dot) f-b (dot) com.
This conversation is always evolving and I’m always thinking about it. So let me know your thoughts… You can find me on Instagram and Twitter at s-o-p-h-f-e-i. Thank you so much for listening, and thank you for being a part of this conversation.
You can follow Ariel Maldonado for climate news, tips, and more, at @gogreensavegreen.
Anya Sastry’s documentary, Frontliners, is available on her website.
The 2018 IPCC (The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) Report, which inspired Anya Sastry on her path of environmental activism, can be viewed here. It detailed the impacts of 1.5℃ global warming above pre-industrial levels, and outlined paths to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by mid-century.
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