Tell us a bit about yourself and your background.

My name is Émilie, my pronouns are she/her and I am originally from Lyon, France. I graduated from King’s in 2020 after completing a bachelor’s in human geography. Currently, I’m doing a master’s degree in Innovation, Human Development and Sustainability at the University of Geneva, on my way to professionalize my passion for gender+ equality. Parallel to my master’s degree, I’m interning at the Women’s Human Rights and Gender Section of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.

What does sustainability mean to you?

Doing our best to fight against the exploitation of resources, people and living creatures and working towards guaranteeing human rights, equality and inclusivity for all.

Can you identify a specific moment or turning point in your life that sparked your interest in sustainability?

It’s been a long process through which I’ve learned to become more aware and critical of my surroundings, the systems we are in, and what’s going on around the world.

In high school, I started to learn to make parallels between wider global processes and the experiences of people every day and what that meant for the future. During my time at King’s I was able to learn about sustainability theoretically – specifically environmental sustainability. I was also able to conduct research on the ground and always in a very humanizing perspective which was really thought-provoking.

Though I’m still passionate about environmental sustainability today, my focus is more on social sustainability, specifically equality, inclusivity and visibility of women, non-binary persons & LGBTQIA+ individuals and communities.

In what ways did your experience at King’s and in London shape your understanding of sustainability?

Being in London was a big part of my sustainability journey. In my opinion, having the privilege of living in such a big city and studying at such a prestigious university comes with the duty of being aware and doing what you can to lead a more sustainable lifestyle. The opportunities to learn more and be more active are there, I felt like I just had to make the effort. That definitely pushed me in terms of my own behaviour and habits.

Studying geography at King’s, sustainability was always in the background of everything, if not the main topic. But I would say that the most useful skill I was able to hone was how to be critical; I’ve learned to question everything from the ways things work at different scales to the systems we are implicitly part of.

Tell us more about your master’s degree – why did you choose it? What has been your greatest learning so far?

I wanted my postgraduate studies to leave behind the theory and research that made up a lot of my undergraduate degree. I wanted to complete internships, learn skills to professionalize my knowledge and be able to get a job straight after. Though I definitely wanted a human/social focus, at that time I wasn’t set on one specific topic but wanted to work at the intersection of everything sustainability encompasses. This really reduced the number of masters I could apply to.

My master’s degree focuses on finding innovative solutions for the UN Sustainable Development Goals. It’s anchored in the International Geneva system of international organizations and partners working towards the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which means we have many guest speakers who share about what they do and how we can help, and we also have access to internships within this network.

The best way I’ve found to really explain what this degree is like is to say that it’s like an MBA but for sustainability and development solutions. The focus is on practical skills rather than theory. This means that there is a huge diversity of people, backgrounds and interests within it, not all from the social sciences. 98% of my assignments are group work and we learn so much from each other.

I think my greatest learning so far has been understanding that anything can be observed through the sustainability lens. Sustainability can take so many different forms and each person can contribute in their own way.

How do you take action on sustainability? How can others take action around these issues?

As a 20 and so-year old, I feel like I have a responsibility to embed sustainability in my life the best I can. I have studied it, I hope to link my career to it in some way, I let it influence the way I advance through life and my habits. Yes, sometimes it gets tiring and I feel hopeless; yes, governments and big corporations should take more radical action. But if not us, who? And if not now, when?

The most important step I’ve taken in my everyday life is trying my best to be vegan. In my opinion, it’s the step that makes the most sense in terms of environmental sustainability. Once you develop new habits and master some favourite recipes, it becomes easier. And it’s not about being perfect! Another step is to buy as little fast fashion (and from Amazon) as possible, secondhand stores and apps are the way to go! And finally, voting and attending climate protests, if you are able to.

How do you think we can bring more people together around these issues?

I actually just had a conversation about this with a friend. We were talking about the fact that in the field of sustainability, the focus is often on environmental sustainability. People often miss the human rights focus or forget people and social issues when talking about sustainability. This really makes it more difficult to promote the concept and get people on board with it, because they don’t realize how it includes so many diverse areas of life and how heavily they are linked, for example not recognizing how environmental degradation will hurt the most vulnerable or how women’s rights deeply impact every aspect of society up to environmental degradation.

Can you recommend a book, resource or activist for anyone who’d like to learn more about sustainability?

I recommend watching the mockumentary called Carnage, directed by Simon Amstell and available on the BBC website. It’s set in 2067 and looks back on today’s society from the perspective of veganism as the norm – it’s fun and thought-provoking!

Thank you, Emilie! The ‘Sustainability Stories’ series seeks to highlight the work and passion of individuals from across the King’s community. If you have a story to tell or would like to get involved, get in touch with us.