The Whirlwind of Pursuing Sustainability

I almost completely walked by the house where my internship is, which makes me glad that I decided to come up to Washington DC a day early to explore, find my new internship work location and overall just get my bearings. To be fair though, the organization is located in what looks like a residential area close to the Capitol, so naturally my eyes would gloss over a house rather than a building!

This summer, I’ll be interning with a nonprofit, the Population Institute, specifically focusing on their Sustainable World Initiative program. This program looks at the overall human demands compared to the planetary boundaries and promotes a sustainable living based on an idea of sufficiency (a sort of “enoughness”) and living within our current capacities. Through my graduate career at Sanford, I’ve been growing more and more interested in the environmental impacts of our society on the planet and on our fellow global citizens. Especially with the ever growing concern over global threats such as climate change, loss of biodiversity and acidification of the oceans, I want to be a part of current efforts to change environmental policy for the better.

When I first arrive, I’m greeted by the Public Policy Director of the Population Institute who gives me an orientation and tour of the house. The house, by the way, is gorgeous, with a kind of old majestic feel to it. Next, I’m introduced to the President and the Office Manager who kindly welcome me to the Institute. As it turned out, my supervisor, the designer and head of the Sustainable World Initiative, is away on business in Europe to try and form partnerships with other relevant government agencies and international organizations. As a result, my supervisor has left me a sizable amount of reading to do – reviewing the literature produced by the organization, previewing a book on the concept of sufficiency (rather than efficiency), and learning more about the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which are the likely successors to the Millennium Development Goals, and the current UN process.

The first week is slow, with lots of reading and catching up. In the note left by my supervisor, he warns that when he gets back, the other Duke intern (an undergraduate from the Stanback program) will be starting and we’ll be “hitting the ground running”.

He wasn’t kidding.

When he gets back the following week, I am immersed with tasks regarding the UN, SDGs and the whole political process. We are to head, that week, to New York City to watch the UN Open Working Group for the SDGs. Our task… Learn more about the UN process and how to influence the SDGs, while also interacting and collecting as much contact information from delegates and permanent missions from participating countries. Soon enough, after a long bus ride, I find myself sitting at the back in a large conference room watching delegates, NGOs, and other important people exchanging words and greeting one another.

I can feel my palpable nervousness of actually going up and trying to talk with a representative, but my supervisor gives me some tips and after witnessing how he interacts, I take a deep breath and go.

It’s going to be a whirlwind of a summer.

You can find out more about the Sustainable World Initiative at:

Or the Population Institute at:


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