I often feel conflicted about my job. I work as a production engineer in a chemical plant for a global chemical company. I have helped produce plastic foams that I know will never really decompose once they reach the landfill. Our processes are energy intensive and rely on raw materials derived from fossil fuels, contributing to climate change. A disruption in my plant could lead to polluting the air and contaminating the nearby river. Am I on the right path?
In reading Pope Francis’ encyclical, Laudato Si’, I was struck by his entreaty that the “ecological crisis is also a summons to profound interior conversion”, and that “living our vocation to be protectors of God’s handiwork is essential to a life of virtue.” I took direction and encouragement from his statement: “by developing our individual, God-given capacities, an ecological conversion can inspire us to greater creativity and enthusiasm in resolving the world’s problems and in offering ourselves to God”. I reflected on where in my life I might use my talents to drive stewardship of creation.
There is the groundwork at my company to realize climate targets set by the United Nations and the Paris Climate Accords. However, I noticed that these executive-led sustainability work streams were not yet reaching us in our production facilities, where the waste and pollution occurs. The full path to zero emissions and zero waste is unclear, and buy-in from every single employee will be needed to achieve this goal. I felt the need to start the conversation in my facility.
Two years ago, I started the Sustainability in Production Community (SPC) at my company. We have evolved into a group of 70+ members who virtually meet and brainstorm ways to make an impact on environmental sustainability within our plants. We hope to make our processes more efficient. We are brainstorming ways to reduce off spec material which is sent to the landfill or incinerated. We are planning ways to reduce our water consumption. We have to start somewhere, and my colleagues and I believe this conversation can prompt an attitude shift towards sustainability in manufacturing.
We can all make changes in our personal lives. We can all make changes in our professional lives. Let us all pray for a greater ecological conversion, that we may be able to see opportunities to make an impact within our individual circumstances.
Earlier this year, I learned that a colleague on our small planning team for SPC is a fellow Catholic. I was surprised and encouraged that God is working through the two of us to be better stewards at our workplace. Truly God has put me on the right path, or at least getting me closer to it.
Claire, member of the Ss. Peter and Paul Jesuit Church Green Team