Sophie O’Byrne is a fourth year Medicine student at NUI Galway and winner of the 2021 Student Sustainability Leadership Award. She also developed the Student Sustainability Toolkit.
Here, she talks to fellow student, Tiffany Greenwaldt-Simon about how she works to integrate sustainable practices into her daily life as much as possible, and why she’s advocating for change in healthcare sustainability practices.
What led you to get involved in sustainability and climate action?
Growing up, my grandfather was a huge inspiration to me in terms of sustainability. He was very conscious about waste; he never wasted food (ever!), was great for DIYing, didn’t overconsume, valued quality over quantity and saw the value in the possessions he owned. I find it so interesting how in the past, people were so much less wasteful, because it saved money and things were less plentiful.
As a primary school student, I got involved in the ‘Green Schools’ initiative and school committees. My school was quite good in terms of trying to get us to have fewer wrappers in our lunchbox – that sort of thing. My interest in sustainability started in those years, but I lost some of that passion in secondary school.
Then at 17, I got a job in a health shop, which sold lots of zero and low-waste products, like shampoo bars. I remember interacting with customers and learning why they chose those products – that was a learning experience that really cultivated my passion, and I started to implement those changes in my own life.
How do you maintain a sustainable lifestyle?
I am not 100% perfect; nobody is. I try, where I can, to implement small changes. The practices I implement in my everyday life that I believe have the biggest impact in terms of sustainability is eating a plant-based diet and diverting food waste from landfill by composting and reducing food waste, as well as avoiding fast fashion and trying to avoid buying things in the first place by using what I have first. If I am buying something new, I will opt for the eco version where I can. Mainly, I try to reduce my consumption, which is the primary thing I preach. If you don’t need something, don’t buy it.
Sustainability can look like so many things and will look different for everyone. For example, you don’t need to go out and buy a lovely bamboo lunch box if you already have a plastic one at home that works just fine. Even an empty ice cream tub will do the job of storing leftovers!
It’s really all about doing what you can – some things are feasible to only some – for instance, cycling to work may not be possible if the roads are unsafe, but if it’s a sunny day and you have a garden it’s really easy to hang out your washing, rather than using the tumble dryer, then do that!