Stopping massive environmental problems such as rainforest destruction is a daunting task for an individual to take on. Sometimes it feels like there’s no point in trying. Thankfully, the 65th annual Public Affairs Conference (PAC) is here to show us otherwise: people can make positive changes by learning how to choose sustainable, responsible options on the individual level.
As the nation’s longest running student-organized conference, PAC’s purpose is to bring to light issues that face our world community. Senior Shelby Tisinai, the conference’s executive director, explains that “the underlying theme of the conference has been what’s going right in the world, rather than what’s going wrong. Of course the things that are going wrong are still addressed. But this year’s conference will also talk about what’s going right by highlighting the businesses and individuals who have committed to operating and living sustainably.”
PAC’s slogan this year is “sustainability: not a fad, but a future.” What does it mean? The survival and effectiveness of the sustainability movement depends on the actions of individuals. Here’s where PAC comes in: it’s an opportunity to discover how individuals have made an impact and how you can do the same, even when you’re still a student where many of your “controllables,” such as where you buy your food, are determined largely by the institution where you study. Tisinai hopes that PAC will help “encourage delegates to look at what they could change in their lifestyle to make it more sustainable. It’s all about what’s going well and how we can continue to do well.”
Basically, you don’t have to go rally an army and defeat “evil companies” in battle to be sustainable. Instead, you can educate yourself in order to make informed choices: you can do anything from taking shorter showers to buying products that are sustainably sourced. Junior Becky Skala, a director of speakers, says that PAC will “bring to light how sustainability is practical to everyone. No matter what your everyday experience is, it’s something that can be integrated into your everyday life. It’s so universal, and it is literally the future.”
PAC’s main feature is its incredible array of guest speakers. This year, delegates will be able to hear from many important contributors to the sustainability movement. Senior Kynan Witters-Hicks, the executive director of speakers, explains that the best part about the speakers is the opportunity to “get to know individuals who are professionals in the diversified field of sustainability and who are working to help our communities make better choices about how to live and think about our world and our fellow people.”
It’s a pretty rare opportunity, Witters-Hicks adds. “There are only a few chances in life that we get to meet people like this, and I certainly don’t want to miss my chance.”
One of these speakers is Vincent Stanley, a longtime executive at Patagonia. He has spent his life working with ways to make the company more sustainable. More importantly, he recorded his results, both good and bad, so that others could learn from his experiences.
Stephen Mills is another prominent sustainability advocate, who has meshed his interest in the environment with community and grassroots organizing. He worked as the international programs director at the Sierra Club, partnering with Amnesty International to help defend environmental advocates from threats. He also developed programs to help new economies be mindful of their ecological impact.
Author Kelsey Timmerman will focus on how to be mindful of what you support with your money. He deals with this subject in his books “Where Am I Wearing?” and “Where Am I Eating?,” in which he details his journeys to discover the sources, methods, people and factories that produce the food and clothes that many consumers take for granted.
T.H. Culhane – founder of the Solar C.I.T.I.E.S. NGO that works to find cheap, resourceful energy solutions for poverty-stricken communities – is presenting the keynote address on Friday night of the conference. Witters-Hicks describes Culhane as a “dynamic and energetic” speaker, saying “you won’t want to miss his talk.”
Other speakers include Joshua Foss, founder of sustainable business-planning group Ecala, and Catherine Werner, the City of St. Louis’ sustainability director.
On top of all those learning opportunities, PAC will also provide some entertainment in the form of events like a Phil Riley concert in the Science Center and a fair in Holt Gallery to showcase art and organizations.
Senior Emily Osborne, executive director of delegates, says that “the events where we’ve had more interaction with the campus, like the cupcake night… [that’s where] we get to talk about these ideas and help people understand what sustainability means and how it can be practical for them.” PAC not only introduces students to important speakers and ideas, but lets them discuss and process them interactively.
At PAC, delegates will be treated to delicious, locally-produced foods while they learn and discover opportunities to better the place they live in. But the most important result of PAC is a community with an expanded worldview and practical knowledge that will help us give back to the world. As Tisinai says, “Every single step taken to plan and run this conference is completely based in prayer. I think that is pretty special.”