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Ella Stewart, EAS ’23, gets her book signed by author John Lanier.
Ella Stewart, EAS ’23, gets her book signed by author John Lanier.

Passion First, Influence Next: A Talk by John Lanier Strikes a Chord With First-Year Undergraduate

I’m not quite sure how I discovered my love for the environment. Was it when Ms. McDonald showed our class Before the Flood, a film about climate change? Or was it on family vacations when mom would take me out to the beach—just to gather litter? I honestly can’t pinpoint an exact starting point. However, I thank my lucky stars that I know my purpose in life: to make this world a better place.

Now, I am a first-year earth and atmospheric sciences major at Georgia Tech. Recently, I joined a new publication on campus, 3484 Magazine (named after the coordinates of the City of Atlanta). The magazine strives to report on a variety of events and topics in Atlanta, from politics to societal developments. To fuel my zeal for environmental issues, I plan to write on local environmental problems and climate solutions.

For my first article, I am looking into the Atlanta Climate Action Plan of 2015, specifically what, if anything, it has achieved thus far. On September 17, I interviewed Jairo Garcia, who developed the plan. He is currently chief executive officer at Urban Climate Nexus and also happens to be an adjunct faculty member in the School of City and Regional Planning here at Georgia Tech. During our talk, I learned that Garcia is an extremely passionate, informed, and talented professional in the world of sustainability.

At the end of the interview, I asked Garcia if he had recommendations for other people I might interview. He immediately mentioned John Lanier, executive director of the Ray C. Anderson Foundation. As luck would have it, Lanier was coming to speak at the Scheller College of Business on September 19! He was going to give a “Lunch and Learn” presentation on the book, Mid-Course Correction: Revisited. The first edition of the book had been written by his grandfather, Ray C. Anderson, the CEO and founder of Interface; the revised version had been expanded with new chapters by Lanier himself. The description of the event, hosted by the Ray C. Anderson Center for Sustainable Business, said that I would be able to hear about “the unlikely industrialist who shaped the face of green business.”

I had minimal knowledge of Anderson, Lanier, or Interface prior to the event—but I was excited to learn more.

John Lanier discusses the book "Mid-Course Correction: Revisited".
John Lanier discusses “Mid-Course Correction: Revisited.”

As it turned out, Lanier was one of the best speakers I’ve ever seen, and I’m not just saying that to get on his good side. He was well-spoken and welcoming. Hearing Anderson’s story through such a thoughtful presentation moved me to my core.

I learned that Anderson was a successful businessman and leader in the carpet tile industry. However, it was not until he was in his 60s, after reading The Ecology of Commerce by Paul Hawken, that he had a “spear in the chest moment” that led him to the “second act” of the story that was his life. After he implicated himself and his company as plunderers of Earth’s resources, he became a vocal advocate for corporate sustainability.

Anything pertaining to environmental issues gets me emotional to some degree—that’s part of the reason I chose environmental science as a degree pathway. Throughout Lanier’s speech, I kept getting goosebumps, just like the ones I get when I listen to really good music.

Towards the end of Lanier’s speech, he went into detail about one of his biggest motivators in pursuing sustainability: future generations. He mentioned his daughter and son, and said, “If we get it right, we can leave to them a fundamentally better world than we have today.” This statement didn’t just give me goosebumps; it made me tear up. Those words emphasized that our current climate situation is “sink or swim” right now. The next generations will bear the consequences of the decisions we make today.

   

Lanier’s talk reminded me that we have to use our best efforts to spread this message of sustainability. It’s not just what we say but how we say it.

Sometimes I do worry about my chosen career. I wonder whether there are organizations out there that want workers like me to make the world a better place. I also live in fear of our impending climate breakdown and wonder if we are truly capable of digging ourselves out of this mess.

Lanier’s talk encouraged me to keep up the fight. He reminded me that I’m not alone. There are others out there who care just as much as I do, and we are going to turn this train around together. One day, I may be able to speak as well as Lanier did. I could be that knowledgeable and influential. Heck, I could even write a book!

I left the talk with a copy of Mid-Course Correction: Revisited in hand, and I look forward to reading the book. My biggest takeaway from the event, however, is that these big dreams of mine can come true. I can find an effective, beneficial career, and I can be part of the solution to our climate crisis. I am more excited than ever to pursue these goals.

 

 

Ella Stewart is a first-year undergraduate student majoring in earth and atmospheric sciences at Georgia Tech. She grew up and attended high school in Woodstock, Georgia. On campus, she is involved with Veggie Jackets and Students Organizing for Sustainability. Please visit Ella’s Instagram page for environmental conversation: https://www.instagram.com/n.a.t.u.r.e.l.l.a/.

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Brandi Thompson
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