Sustainability in Practice

Why and how was a small community service project going to change or add to the sustainability of the Galapagos?

This is what I thought to myself as music floated through the semi-warm air, indistinct words and heavy electronic rap beats—the typical selection for the group to listen to while doing activities around the Galapagos. We—Sustainable Summer’s 10-day Galapagos (July 2015) group were doing a community service project. There was an acrid scent burning my nose, giving me a headache, and paint on my hands, sticking my gloves to my skin, but none of it seemed to filter in… A single thought kept popping into my head and drowning out everything else. I tuned the rest of the world out, focused on the project at hand and my thoughts dawning on me like a brilliant sunrise. This is the basis for practical sustainability.


It made me think about what we were doing, and how it was related to the reason we were there. I figured that it had to do with the way sustainability is defined. That night we talked about sustainability in our group discussion. We discussed how sustainability isn’t just one thing, but sometimes comes in three major parts. Sustainability is best explained with a venn diagram. Imagine three large circles; economical gain, ecological gain, and social gain. Where these three things have common ground is where true sustainability lies.


By painting the building we gave back to the community the time they would have spent on the task, saved them the money it would have taken to hire someone, and made the area we painted look much better, while making it longer lasting by protecting the walls. These fall into the categories that make sustainability. Seeing the practical application of what we were there to learn opened my eyes to a world of possibilities.

While it was hard to see any of this in my life before this trip, the practical application of sustainability was really clear to me when painting the building for community service. I cringe to think of how I missed the occurrences in my day to day life. Looking back there quite a few times where it was glaringly obvious. My eyes were opened to the true meaning of sustainability for the first time by the pre-program course. It showed me not only that I need to do a lot more for my planet and the people on it, but also that it’s relatively easy to do.

It’s not even necessary to be the first person to lead the group. For example, this girl named Kayla in my group was always initiating plans and being the first to state her opinion. But in order for her plans to be put into play, she needed someone to agree, someone to follow her lead. The best example practicing this phenomenon was given to our group by the trip leaders. They called it the story of the first follower. The “example” goes that there was a guy at a concert and he was dancing but no one else was. They were all just edging around the area he was in and looking at him like he was crazy. Then, one person came and started dancing next to him. This person was the first follower.

We talked about how the example applied in one of our group discussions, and came to the following conclusion. When someone has a great idea to make something better, the first person to go with the idea gives them support makes it easier for others to accept and support the idea as well. This idea of a “First Follower” ties into what I learned about sustainability in the following way. In order to get support behind the idea of sustainability, being greener, and helping the planet across to the people in your city, your town, your neighborhood, or even just your family, you have to convince people to become your followers. But you don’t have to convince everyone at once. You can start small, with one other person—your first follower—believing in sustainability. Then, every action you take towards learning about it and teaching what you know to others is bolstered by the support of that one other person, and ultimately helps to make the whole world more geared toward sustainability.