At 26 years old, Vanessa Goh is establishing herself as a leader in the sustainability movement. She’s worked for the PowerSave Schools program under the non-profit the Alliance to Save Energy, where she helped manage programs for Southern California K-12 students that focused on behavior change in order to achieve energy and monetary savings. Now, as the the Sustainability Coordinator at Partner Energy, Vanessa help buildings achieve green certifications such as LEED, Green Point Rated, and ENERGY STAR as well as conduct energy audits and energy/water conservation measure analysis.
What does sustainability mean to you?
Sustainability means not only using resources that aren’t detrimental to future generations, but also being able to live WITH our environment instead of AGAINST it. To me, sustainability innately leads to social equity, security, and environmental protection all wrapped into a perfectly globular package. It’s not simply slapping a green label on something. It’s about working with all interconnected aspects of our daily choices to not only better our own lives, but the lives of anyone who may be effected by those choices.
“You can develop as many new, shiny, sustainable gadgets as you want, but if these political norms continue without any new laws or people in power to stop them, or even any of the public demanding a change, these scientific solutions will not make a dent in the fight against climate change.”
Can you give some examples of changes you’ve made to your personal, businesses or creative routines to move towards a more sustainable future?
I’ve always been interested in the science of sustainability. How to utilize renewable energy, optimize building efficiency, mitigate the effects of pollution, etc. The science has always made sense to me, while the politics seemed too unnecessarily complicated and corrupt for me to take interest in. Find a scientific solution and the people will follow, right? It wasn’t until recently that I realized there is no way to truly fight the causes of climate change without being politically active. There is no way to stop fossil fuel companies or corrupt politicians without taking a stand, whether that means voting, protesting, or educating. You can develop as many new, shiny, sustainable gadgets as you want, but if these political norms continue without any new laws or people in power to stop them, or even any of the public demanding a change, these scientific solutions will not make a dent in the fight against climate change. The science may be straight forward, but the politics are not. I need to work on both ends of the spectrum in order to truly fight for my cause.
What are some of the challenges you’ve come up against with sustainability? Are there any services you’d like to see which don’t exist?
Green washing is definitely a problem within sustainability, AKA giving something a “green” label when there’s nothing actually sustainable about it. I’ve seen green washing with commercial products and some green building rating systems.
I think a majority of people may start with good intentions, but get lost while pursuing their main goal of sustainability. At the end of the day, they just want their building to have a green label, their business to seem sustainable, or their product to sell. They end up forgetting about why they pursued sustainability in the first place and just want to collect their paycheck.
The great thing about California is that there are a multitude of funding programs for low income/senior multifamily developments that require sustainable building design. More national funding programs or even state programs that require stringent green building/sustainable development would make a huge impact on our carbon footprint.
Why is it important to choose sustainable options and solutions?
If there’s one thing I’ve learned from having such a wide variety of experiences in this field, it’s that little steps towards developing sustainable behaviors are fine as long as they lead to bigger steps and an overall larger movement. You can’t just solely rely on small actions like recycling or drought tolerant gardening and expect to save the planet. You have to demand change. You have to get involved. Socially, politically, scientifically. You have to work for it. Those first little steps are always necessary, and, quite honestly, represent what the majority of America needs to follow right now. But don’t stop there. Once you start changing your own behavior and lifestyle, take the next step to improve the lives of others.
Remember, being sustainable isn’t just about you. It’s about everyone and everything that can’t live their own sustainable lifestyle, or, because of climate change, can’t simply live. It’s about all of us helping each other to make sustainability innate in everything we do. And hopefully, one day, living sustainably will simply be just living.
My sustainability is an ongoing series where we ask a variety of people what sustainability means to them. From those working in the field, to people simply trying to make more sustainable choices in their everyday lives.