Julie Hornsby was a 2017 summer intern through Opportunity Now with the Department of General Services, Division of Sustainability. She shares her personal story about her interest in sustainability.
I have spent most of my summer working as an intern with Socket, which has been an amazing learning experience. I am a rising senior at Vanderbilt University, where I am majoring in Civil Engineering, with a focus on environmental issues. After I graduate, I hope to work with sustainable urban planning here in the rapidly-growing Music City. With this blog post, I hope to shine light on the journey I have had so far and how my experiences have led me to where I am sitting today, in the Division of Sustainability of Metro Government’s Department of General Services. I am very grateful for the opportunity to see up-close the steps Nashville is taking to become a more environmentally-sound city. I would like to thank the Opportunity Now program for providing me with the financial resources that allowed me to stay here this summer to work with something about which I am very passionate.
At the age of 13, I watched a documentary that changed my life forever. As someone who spent the first few years of her life on a farm, living among cows, horses, and dogs, I always felt that my connection with nature ran deep in my veins. But by the age of 4, I was living in a big city, and the animals and trees that once surrounded me quickly turned into cars and concrete buildings. Life went on and although one might think I was becoming one of those “city kids,” I continued to call myself a nature-lover while having weekly debates with my mom about how caring for animals was more important than caring for people, an idea she could never understand.
In 7th grade, my school decided to take a field trip to the movie theater so we could all watch “An Inconvenient Truth”. I could never have guessed that the 1 hour and 36 minutes I spent looking at that big screen would define me for the rest of my journey on earth.
While growing up, my mom would always tell me that God puts each one of us on this planet for a reason and that every single individual has a mission they need to accomplish before they pass away. At 13 I got a glimpse of what my mission was. My eyes were finally open. Climate change was an issue that could lead to the end of nature as I knew and adored, and I was not about to let that happen.
Fast forward 5 years and I was a senior in high school sitting in one of my favorite classes ever: “Sustainable Economy and Living”. My teacher decided to bring a guest speaker to tell us some stories about his experience with tree-spiking. He talked for about 45 minutes and said many interesting things, but it was the very last part of his presentation that had the most impact on me. In an attempt to appease a group of high-schoolers who were about to embark on their college journeys in just a few months, he said we didn’t have to go around spiking trees to make an environmental statement. To make a positive difference in the world, we could start by changing just a few things in our daily lives. Specifically, he wrote 3 things on the board:
1.) Become a vegetarian
2.) Take 5-min showers
3.) Never buy new clothes again
My eyes were fixated on that board. I had been doing research on how to “go green” since watching that documentary in 7th grade and I considered myself an eco-master. I had become a vegan on my 17th birthday. I was addicted to recycling. I always brought my own reusable bags to the market. I begged my mom to buy only organic produce. My showers lasted no more than 3 minutes. I always chose to take the stairs instead of the elevator. I ensured that all of our paper products at home, including paper towels, toilet paper, printer paper, etc., were all made of 100% recycled materials. And last but not least, I had given up my allowance in exchange for my dad agreeing to switch our energy provider to Green Mountain Energy so that our home could be powered by renewables, which added an extra cost to our monthly utilities bill.
With this in mind, I could put a check next to the first two items of my speaker’s list. But never again buying new clothes?? I absolutely adored shopping for new outfits with my mom and for some reason, I had never once stopped to think about how purchasing a new t-shirt could have a negative impact on the planet of which I took such good care… or at least I thought I did.
So, after all, what was so wrong with new clothes? Well, just like everything else, manufacturing a piece of clothing requires energy, water, and other raw materials needed, such as cotton, in addition to all of the resources and pesticides that go into growing such crops. Thus, when choosing to buy clothes that are second-hand, no virgin materials have to be extracted from nature and used to produce whatever you are purchasing. Also, most of clothes today are produced abroad, in countries that tend to have poorly enforced environmental laws. In China, for example, about 18% of the country’s industrial water pollution can be traced back to textile dyeing and treatment.
Furthermore, I soon realized that purchasing second-hand clothing meant giving new life to something that would otherwise have ended up in a landfill, making thrift-store shopping the ultimate form of recycling. When I became a vegan over 5 years ago, I felt like I had taken up a full-time job as an activist, which was a wonderful feeling that made me feel like a powerful teenager at the time. Whenever I chose to replace my hamburger for a local, organic veggie burger, I was standing up for what I believed in. Adding the challenge to never again buy a new piece of clothing to my list of tasks as a self-proclaimed full-time activist made me feel that same sense of power that veganism had brought about, so soon after I got home from school the day the tree-spiker had visited my class, I announced to my family that the gifts under our Christmas trees would never again look the same as they had for 18 years – and indeed they haven’t.
The End, At Least For Now
Throughout my life, teachers always called me a perfectionist, which I soon learned was more of a warning than a compliment. Before I knew it, the “never buy new clothes again” rule grew a little out of proportion in my hands. For me, those words soon became “never buy anything new again”. And that’s just what I did! From my room furniture, to my shower-caddy, to my kitchen appliances, down to the socks on my feet, everything I purchased since that one class almost 5 years ago belonged to someone else before belonging to me.
The funny part is to see my friends and my entire family stressing over what to get me for Christmas or other special occasions. While my friend Jacquie so generously hands me down outfits she no longer uses, my aunt always writes me a letter trying to explain whatever gift she is sending me in the mail is sustainable: “Hey darling, this pair of earrings was made from wood scraps from a barn in …..”. It’s hilarious and it makes me feel very blessed to have such wonderful and supportive people around me. Although moments like this lead to a lot of laughter, they can also make me feel bad for causing so much inconvenience, but then I remind myself of what my momma taught me.
We all have a mission. If my life choices can, in the very least, influence my friends and family to think about the environmental impacts of their actions and the power we all hold as consumers, then I can believe that, at least for now, I seem to be walking the path that was drawn for me. Join me, as I try my best to replace the carbon footprint humans are known for… leaving behind only the footprints of my own bare feet walking across our natural lands.