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People, profit, planet

A conversation with Sustainable Tulsa’s executive director

Corey Williams is the executive director of Sustainable Tulsa.

Greg Bollinger

According to the 2017 CDP Carbon Majors Report, as few as 100 companies are responsible for the lion’s share of global carbon emissions. Since 1988, when human-caused climate change was first officially recognized by an intergovernmental panel, “more than half of global industrial [greenhouse gas emissions] can be traced to just 25 corporate and state producers.”

Numbers like these illustrate an urgent need for government action to reign in polluters in order to combat the most devastating effects of our changing climate. While the harm caused by corporations far outpaces the impact of individual behaviors, there’s still plenty we can do on a personal level to do right by the earth we all share.

That’s where Sustainable Tulsa comes in. They “provide education, tools, and resources to businesses and individuals focused on three areas of sustainability: social responsibility, economic vitality, and environmental stewardship — people, profit, planet.” Below is a Q&A with executive director Corey Wren Williams, who spoke about her organization, the state of recycling in Tulsa, and the steps we can all take to be better stewards of the environment.

Judy Langdon: How are Tulsans currently doing regarding the mantra, Reduce. Reuse. Recycle? Give us some ideas on room for improvement. 

Corey Williams: We are doing better at recycling than we were six years ago, which is when we added curbside recycling. Over 109,000 residents are recycling daily due to the City of Tulsa curbside recycling program and the The M.e.t. recycling centers. As a community we are educating more through civic groups, schools, and businesses; however, we have a long way to go. … We are heading in the right direction, but more waste reduction is needed. As residents and business owners, we can first asses what items can we stop consuming that are single use. … Second, we must ask the question: What can we reuse at home and at the workplace that will make us more efficient and save money? Thirdly, what can we start recycling? Recycling in the business place can save big money on the bottom line.

Langdon: When you personally buy products, do you specifically choose items that are all or nearly all recyclable, or can be reused another way later? How convenient, easy or difficult and expensive/inexpensive is it to do that, and how would you impress others to do the same? 

Williams: Simple steps are the key to making lasting changes in our lives and businesses. I often think about what I can do to cut back on waste, reduce clutter and stress in my life. When I pick products, I often consider a couple things: Can I buy the item locally and support a local business and the Tulsa economy? Next, I try to buy from locally-owned stores and then next regionally-owned chains. We are investors, and every dollar we spend with locally owned companies gets reinvested nearly 10 times as much as when we buy from national chains. Then I consider the packaging … if it has lots of packaging, I do not even consider it as an option. Next, is it recyclable, and can it be recycled here in Tulsa?  Many items are labeled recyclable, but that does not always mean it is recyclable in Tulsa. And of course, I consider price. It has to also be practical in our budgets to live more sustainably.

Langdon: Recently, the City of Tulsa purchased rechargeable scooters which have become very popular. In your opinion, is that the future of getting around? 

Williams: It is a little early to tell how electric scooters will really change transportation patterns here in Tulsa. They certainly can fill a void of a short car ride or a long walk. If we want Tulsa to welcome e-scooters as a future important mode of transportation, we would need to have more protected lanes and designated parking with convenient charging. Several e-scooter rental services like Lime and Bird have been the fastest rising start-ups in the last year, but the e-scooter industry as a whole has few things to figure out before they will make it big in a city like Tulsa that favors the car. E-scooters are better for the environment than driving a car, and they’re also fun to ride!

Langdon: What about bicycling as a major mode of transportation, in lieu of driving?

Williams: Like the e-scooter, we need more protected lanes for bicycling in order to make it a major mode of transportation. Along with protected lanes we need education and incentives. … We still need our car culture community to respect and protect [people on bikes]. I have on several occasions relied on bicycle transportation, and it initially takes a commitment to make it work in my daily routine. However, once you get started, you feel lost if you miss your morning ride into work! The exercise and the time connecting with nature can be an invigorating start of your day. We need to make it more available to ride to work with access to showers by employers or building owners. Why shouldn’t it become a major mode of transportation? Well it should, and there are many communities around the nation and world that have successfully incorporated this mode of transportation.

For more information, visit sustainabletulsainc.org.