January 29, 2023
Ithaca, NY | 41°F


Sustainability Cafe speaker discusses community empowerment

Having an organic sense of community is integral to building a truly sustainable world. That was the message Michelle Kortenaar presented to students as part of the Sustainability Café environmental series.

Kortenaar, the director of education at the Sciencenter in Ithaca, spoke about the importance of community empowerment to about 50 students and faculty at 4 p.m. Monday in the Center for Natural Sciences.

“Trying to be sustainable is really a community focus, you’re not trying to be sustainable for just yourself,” Kortenaar said. “At the Sciencenter, our mission is to engage, educate and empower. Not only does the Sciencenter want to be sustainable, but we want to encourage people to do it as well.”

The Sciencenter tries to lead by example in its sustainability practices. According to Kortenaar, the museum uses wind power for all of its energy, has its own water filtering system and also has composting stations throughout the center.

“There’s an idea from the seven generations model that whatever you do now, you try to be mindful of the impact on seven generations from now,” Kortenaar said. “It’s this idea of making a better world for some stranger in the future.”

She said education is one of the ways that people can impact the world, and Tompkins County in particular.

“Education and quality of life [are] part of our sustainable commitment and practice because what we teach our youth now will help them to make wiser choices,” Kortenaar said. “Doing these things, like having Community Science Nights, makes children much more willing to participate in sustainable activities, and that’s just going to carry on.”

Freshman Abraham Hoyos said he believed the presentation helped him realize that in order for sustainability to be effective, it requires the efforts of an entire community.

“It can’t just be one person trying to compost and use less energy — it has to take a group, and the larger the group is, the larger the impact will be,” Hoyos said.

The presentation was one in a series of environmental discussions with professionals in different science-career fields. In her address, Kortenaar spoke to the audience about how to pursue careers in the sciences. Her advice went to the hearts of students like sophomore Sam Owens, who realized he will need professional connections as he looks into careers.

“I really liked what she had to say about using our networks and not burning any bridges along the way,” Owens said.

Kortenaar also advised students to remain educated and, if possible, to continue educating.

“It was more than 50 years ago that ‘Silent Spring’ came out discussing the impact of humans on the environment,” Kortenaar said, in reference to environmentalist Rachel Carson’s book. “50 years later, we are still learning about the environment and the impact we have on it, but now we know that the earth is more finite and we need to make it last.”