Sustainability Spotlight: Ansley Jones, ACSEM intern

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Ansley Jones of McMurtry College is a senior majoring in Civil and Environmental Engineering and minoring in Business and Energy & Water Sustainability. We met with Ansley to talk about her love for food and her involvement in Real Food Week, her recent LEED-Green Associate certification, and her plans after graduation.

Where are you from?
Ansley Jones: I’m from Atlanta, Georgia.

How did you first become interested in environmental issues?
AJ: When I was little, my family went on a vacation to Mexico, and we were lucky enough to go swimming with dolphins. Since then, dolphins have been my favorite animals, and I have dreamt about becoming a marine biologist. As I have grown up and taken more biology classes, though, I have learned that marine biology is not the path for me. However, I still love science, and the need to protect animals’ habitats has been engrained in my mind.

How did your interests in environmental issues evolve?
AJ: It was not until my sophomore year at Rice that I really started to dive into environmental issues. I did a group project that year in Professor Blackburn’s “Sustainable Design” class concerning Rice’s water collection, storage, and use, and I learned how great of an impact sustainable design interventions can have. In many of my civil engineering classes, I have learned about using a type of sustainable design called low impact development, which both controls the quantity and improves the quality of stormwater. Because the frequency of storm events will only increase with climate change, I feel that it is necessary to incorporate low impact development so that systems will be resilient. Thus, water and the effects of climate change, and how we can combat them with sustainable design, are the environmental topics that I find most interesting.

You have a reputation for being a foodie. How did it all begin?
AJ: It’s hard to pinpoint an exact time when I officially became a “foodie,” but one experience that comes to mind was during my freshman year of high school when I went on an “Eat-Your-Way-Through-Chinatown” tour when I visited San Francisco. This tour lasted about four hours, and we pretty much ate continuously, with short walks in between each restaurant. I still don’t know how we managed to eat that much without getting full, but I guess the food tasted so good that we just didn’t care. This experience opened my eyes to so many new flavor sensations, and ever since, I have been searching for restaurants that can live up to those in San Fran’s Chinatown. Our tour guide Shirley tied in her family history throughout the tour, and I thought that was a nice touch because we were able to learn and appreciate her culture. That’s one of the cool things about food: everyone eats it, but in such different ways. You can really learn a lot about people by learning what and how they eat.

Last fall combined your interests in food with your environmental interests by establishing a Real Food Week at Rice. What was that all about, and what did you learn from the process?
AJ: I decided to bring Real Food Week to Rice to raise awareness about the Real Food Movement, which focuses on healthy and safe diets, supporting organic farms and reforming “factory farms,” and promoting fair and just treatment of farm-workers. Sustainability requires that ecological, economic, and social factors are considered, and food is an issue where it is easy to see how each of these areas comes into play. However, it is not so easy to come up with solutions. Science tells us astounding facts about food such as the fact that the meat industry is the highest emitter of greenhouse gases. An easy solution would be to just stop eating meat, but even as a hardcore environmentalist, I would struggle to do this as many of my favorite foods are meats. Thus, I was curious to hear the perspectives of my peers at Rice. I held a dinner and forum with Rice students, with a panel of campus environmental leaders to run the discussion. A key takeaway was that students need to be more aware of what they are eating, as many of them do not know where the food in the servery comes from. It is also important to avoid an oversaturation of information, though, because then people will not pay attention. Additionally, leaders from the Environmental Club and the Rice Urban Agriculture Club spoke about their efforts to reduce food waste at the campus level, which I think were eye-opening to many of the attendees. I think these clubs have made great efforts to engage students, but at the same time, there are a lot of students here who are apathetic about food issues. My goal for Real Food Week was to generate a movement on campus to push Rice to sign the Real Food Campus Commitment, and while that did not have as much success as I had hoped, I will continue stirring up the pot on that issue throughout my last semester here.

You recently became a LEED-Green Associate. Can you tell us what that means, how you earned that designation, and what you intend to do with it?
AJ: Last spring, I took a College course called “LEED and Green Buildings,” taught by a good friend and mentor of mine, Emi LaFountain (’15). Throughout my time at Rice, all of my civil engineering classes that have addressed sustainable design and LEED have been fascinating to me, so I jumped at the opportunity to learn more about the LEED rating system through this course. Emi was also a CEVE, so we had many of the same experiences at Rice, and she helped guide me toward my future career path. She told our class that anyone can attain the LEED Green Associate certification, as long as you pass a test on green building design principles, so I decided that I would pursue this. Emi’s class gave an overview of each category within the LEED rating system (such as energy and atmosphere, water efficiency, materials and resources, etc.), but I still had to do more extensive studying prior to taking the exam last summer. The Green Associate certification opens the door for “green-collar jobs,” but in the sustainable design professional world, the next level of the U.S. Green Building Council’s certification, called the LEED Accredited Professional, is very much desired. Thus, I want to use my current certification to help me find new opportunities, but after I gain more experience, I plan to pursue the LEED Accredited Professional certification with a specialization in Neighborhood Development.

Graduation is rapidly approaching. What’s next for Ansley Jones?
AJ: I just recently finished my applications for graduate school, so, fingers crossed, I will be continuing my education next year. I want to attain a Master’s degree in Urban Planning, with a focus on sustainable design. I want to combine my interests in engineering, sustainability, sociology, business and architecture, and urban planning is a field in which I can do so. I am excited that this area of study is a growing field in which new, innovative solutions are constantly being discovered, so I look forward to joining the research community and contributing my own ideas. One day, I would like to plan communities filled with green buildings, located near employment and activity centers so that the residents have can lead healthy, sustainable lifestyles.