By Kelsey Lyles, Communication Intern
Meet Maria Jones, a woman of many talents and passions: an amateur photographer, artist, blogger, singer, plant-lover, and advocate of taking care of our planet. We are thrilled that Maria Jones is our new sustainability coordinator at the University YMCA. Maria came to the University of Illinois from India two and a half years ago and is now an MBA student. Coming from a “so-called Third World country” (in the words of Maria), she says her outlook was changed when she realized that even the United States deals with issues of racism, poverty, and environmental concerns. She has been passionate about the planet since she was a little girl, raised in a family where “reduce, reuse, recycle” was part of her daily life. Maria hopes to inspire more people to live out this concept, starting with her role as sustainability coordinator at the University YMCA.
For Maria, sustainability is an ongoing process that involves three intertwined parts: people, planet, and prosperity. “One cannot stand without the other,” she says. She explains that by caring for the people, you can care for the planet, but without money (prosperity) this is not possible. Maria did not always think this way; she admits that she has never been a money-oriented person. In a class she took at Illinois, she was able to work with non-profit organizations in Champaign on a plan to reuse a brown field, which is a piece of contaminated land. She gained knowledge and understanding that with a tangible business plan, sustainability ideas are more likely to be implemented by the community. Maria encourages others to put plans into action by not only activism, but with a solid business plan.
Maria is putting her knowledge to practice as the leader of the sustainability committee, comprised of community members, professors, students, and one of the founders of the Illinois Green Business Association (IGBA). Their goal is to make the University YMCA a sustainable place, both the building and the organization. Currently they are developing a climate action plan based on the model of the Illinois Climate Action Plan. The group is aiming at net zero carbon emissions. “We are not limiting ourselves; we are setting high goals and see sustainability as more of a journey than a destination. Obtaining the IGBA certification, Energy Star, and the LEED certification are all stepping stones to getting to our main goal of net zero carbon emissions,” she says.
Apart from the climate action plan, Maria is working with certain student groups such as Students for Environmental Concerns (SECs) and a LINC class. With SECs, she mentors a group of students who are working on improving energy efficiency in low income communities. Her LINC class is in the initial stages of an urban agriculture project. Maria is an outstanding leader to these groups and the community. She encourages students to get involved with SECs and hopes to involve as many people as possible in the climate action plan. In looking at the impact of climate change that is happening slowly in front of us, Maria says it is critical to evaluate the past and change the mindsets that have brought the world to its present condition. She hopes to create an understanding among the Champaign-Urbana community that sustainability is not a goal as much as a journey and a mindset. “Today we can find a way to be more energy efficient, but tomorrow there will be another thing we need to change.”
We can all learn from Maria’s knowledge and passion for the environment. She believes that students are the next leaders of our world and urges students who want to make a change to start with themselves. “You can’t change the world if you don’t change yourself first. It starts with us.”