Taking a Closer Look at Volunteering with Sustainability in Mind

Taking a Closer Look at Volunteering with Sustainability in Mind

By: Alexandra Lowe
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With Sustainability Opportunities Week happening, I found myself asking what “sustainability” really means. Typically I associate sustainability with the environment. You know, recycle, reduce, reuse? But as I was looking at volunteer organizations that are considered sustainable, I realized that sustainability encompasses a few more areas than just the environment alone. After doing a bit of research, I have compiled four main areas that sustainability tends to describe.

Environmental Sustainability: Many of us can probably list off many areas that deal with environmental sustainability. As I said before, recycling and making sure we rethink our consumption in order to reduce our carbon footprint are huge areas. A lot of environmental sustainability can include buying local and organic food, taking the bus or riding a bike instead of driving, and powering off lights and electronics when they are not in use. You can find tons of volunteer opportunities in this field. Check out the Oceanwise program with the Vancouver Aquarium, the Wilderness Committee, and Farm Folk/City Folk.

Economic Sustainability: I am not going to get into supply and demand curves, but economic sustainability refers to the ability to use resources to maintain a long-term balance (usually referring to a country). Many volunteer positions for this type of sustainability are international opportunities. Organizations like Canadian Alliance for Development Initiatives and Projects focus on helping out developing countries, finding ways to utilize resources and foster business and economic stability. This category can also include local organizations such as Hope in Shadows.

Social Sustainability: Labour laws, human rights, creating and maintaining quality of life. Some of the organizations that deal with this area of sustainability include VAST Vancouver, YWCA and Alternate Shelter Society. Social sustainability can take on some more ethically challenging areas, however you are almost guaranteed to feel like you’re making a difference.

Cultural Sustainability: This area includes the appreciation and maintenance of various cultural values. Cultural sustainability can be seen in a variety of different ways. My favourite is the food festivals (yum the Greek festival!). Some great organizations to volunteer for are the Italian Day Festival, Nikkei Place Foundation and Urban Ink Productions Society.

Each of these four areas covers a huge amount of what is considered to be “sustainability” and each are quite different. So what does this mean for us students and volunteers? It means that we should focus on all types of sustainability to make sure the world and our way of life can be maintained and enjoyed by future generations.

So check out what’s available at Sustainability Opportunities Week and beyond. Volunteer Services, Career Services and the SFU Sustainability Network offer great resources to help you get started if you are interested in more sustainable options! Sustainability is all about maintaining a balance in order to make tomorrow as good, if not better, than today. What can you do to ensure that this will be the case?



Alexandra Lowe is a co-op student working as the Volunteer Services Assistant. She studies communication and in her spare time she volunteers, plays sports, and enjoys the outdoors. You can find her in Career Services in MBC 0300 and don't forget to visit the Volunteer Services website (sfu.ca/volunteer) to get information about events and opportunities. 

Posted on January 31, 2013