“Local businesses, local family farms, local shopping—anything to reduce guzzling fuel can help make our planet healthier and stronger.“—Amanda Charland, Co-op Sustainability Coordinator
by Ken Davis
Long before “green” was a buzzword used to promote everything from game shows to gasoline, cooperatives were educating consumers about the importance of an environmentally sustainable world.
Our cooperative is no exception, of course. If you’ve been following this series this year, you know that consumer education is a philosophy with a long history at the Co-op—and sustainability education has always played an important role.
Whether it’s providing information on the planet-healthy benefits of small family farms or explaining the importance of re-using a shopping bag, our Co-op has made the effort to be green before green was cool. Perusal of old Co-op News issues reveals articles on water quality and conservation, consumer goods packaging, and environmentally friendly cleaning products dating back thirty years. We established a group called “Waste Watchers” back in 1993.
Even our Service Center has gotten in on the act over the years—collecting Freon, recycling motor oil, and sharing helpful hints consumers can employ to save gasoline. How many other gas stations would encourage you to use less gas?
To this noble and Earth-friendly end, our sustainability education efforts have changed over time to meet the needs of a changing world.
Formerly a part of the Co-op’s Education Department and shared among multiple people with environmental expertise, the sustainability responsibility has steadily grown over the years to the point of developing into a job of its own. Today, sustainability is a focus of the Board-directed Ends policy that guides the Co-op’s goals—complete with a staff member who is here to make sure we walk the environmental talk.
Meet the Co-op’s new Sustainability Coordinator.
Amanda Charland is sitting at a clean desk, in a clean office. An interviewer has just ambushed her for a Co-op News article. It is her second day.
Quick to laugh, slow to reveal her wide variety of accomplishments, Amanda has an easygoing manner that belies a scientific and analytical mind trained to sweat the details. She is affable and approachable, conversant on any topic. She wears dark-framed glasses. She speaks with enthusiasm and a smile.
Amanda came to the Co-op in June 2012 after a successful stint working in community education and outreach at the Vermont Institute of Natural Science (VINS)—a highly regarded center for environmental education and wildlife conservation in Quechee, Vermont. A native Vermonter raised in Burlington, she attended Marlboro College in Brattleboro, Vermont, earning a Bachelor of Science degree in alpine ecology. Upon graduation she also earned a certificate in non-profit management, laying the foundation for an MBA in sustainability she plans to earn further down the line.
Academics aside, Amanda went west after college. She spent years in Colorado, Montana, and Oregon working in a mix of environmental fields: climate change, research, wildlife preservation and rehabilitation. During her years out west she also developed an interest in local foods and the greater local movement as a whole—sensing the planet-wide environmental benefits that come with living a local-focused life.
With much of her work focused on research, Amanda had a desire to spread the information she was compiling and studying. The natural educator in her was blossoming.
Eventually Amanda returned to Vermont, bringing with her a desire to put her sustainability expertise and educational interests together in a role that would feel less like a job and more like a calling. Her job at VINS was the ideal first step.
Then the Sustainability Coordinator position opened at the Co-op.
“I thought it was truly a perfect fit,” Amanda says. “Emily Neuman, the Co-op’s last Sustainability Coordinator, built an awesome program here. I want to continue building what she started and further the Co-op’s work.”
One of Amanda’s many gifts is the ability to take complex environmental esoterica—often laden with increasingly clichéd marketing lingo—and summarize its key messages for anyone willing to listen. It’s a gift that’s perfect fodder for a Q&A session.
Beyond the buzz, what does sustainability mean?
That’s the problem. It truly has become a buzzword. It’s also a big word, in that it means different things to different people. To me, what it means is doing what we can to help the environment take care of itself as it was designed to do.
Why did Co-ops catch on to sustainability so early?
The early natural food co-ops of the 1970s were among the first to take hold of the organic and natural movement, so even if they didn’t realize it, they were sowing the seeds of the coming environmental and sustainability movements, too.
The other big contribution from the cooperative community has been the local movement. Local businesses, local family farms, local shopping— anything to reduce guzzling fuel can help make our planet healthier and stronger.
How do our Co-op’s sustainability efforts measure up?
We’re actually well ahead of the curve. We’re so far ahead that people don’t even realize it. The key is the word “restores,” which appears in the Ends statement on sustainability. Most companies and organizations are just trying to catch up, just trying not to add to the problem. We’re actually trying to do our part to restore the environment and help fix the problem. That’s really out of the box, when you think about it.
What can members/shoppers do to help?
The simplest thing you can do to make a huge difference is localize your life. We provide many opportunities for doing that through the Co-op, but people can do it anywhere in a wide variety of ways. Going local is the first big step toward making a significant difference.
And the role of education?
Everything depends on education. Nothing happens without people knowing the issues and having access to information they can trust. That’s what we’re here to do.