Sustainability Stories

For PhD candidate Ivana Zelenika, sustainability is more than just a word or concept; it’s a fundamental tenet that guides her through both her academic career and day-to-day life.

Ivana started her sustainability journey at Carleton University, where she earned her bachelor’s degree in environmental science. She continued to pursue her passion for sustainability by completing a master’s degree in sustainable development at Queen’s University. Based in part on its reputation for sustainability research, Ivana ultimately decided to attend UBC for her doctorate in resource management and environmental studies, which she is pursuing with a focus on the psychology of pro-environmental behaviour change. Her interest in sustainability developed, however, long before she entered university.

Ivana Zelenika CIRS

“I think sustainability was ingrained in me from an early age by my grandma, who raised me,” said Ivana. “Her approach to being resourceful and self-sustaining was one of the examples that inspired me.”

Ivana’s passion for nature, however, also plays a key role in driving her academic and extracurricular pursuits in the field. “I’ve always been interested in sustainability — more specifically, socio-ecological systems.

I’ve always had a deep love for nature, for animals, for ecology,” Ivana said. “As I got older I looked for ways to apply that love and support it with some meaningful skills and knowledge.”

Though Ivana has never stepped off of her pathway to sustainability, she hasn’t always been certain of her destination.

When I got to UBC I didn’t really have a clear idea of where I wanted to go. I knew that I had a lot of unanswered questions and I was looking for a piece that could tie a lot of my interdisciplinary interests together.

Ivana at CIRS

“I think I have a better sense for that now than I did, say, two or five years ago. I got quite interested in behaviour change, psychology, zero waste practices. I’ve managed to incorporate those three elements into my research and I hope to take this further. I think it will generally involve working with people to build better communities, better environments, where we can all thrive.”

Although it’s always been a driving principle in her life, Ivana’s understanding and personal definition of sustainability has evolved over the course of her education — and is continuing to develop.

“My understanding of sustainability has definitely evolved: from a more naive and skeptical view to a much richer understanding of the problems… that it’s not because people don’t care that we make these unsustainable life choices, but that we’re stuck in certain patterns of everyday life where it’s not very easy for us to make those sustainable choices.”

It was through a holistic sustainability education that Ivana developed a more comprehensive understanding of sustainability and the day-to-day challenges facing our society. Additionally, her Work Learn position as UBC’s Zero Waste Coordinator provided Ivana with an experiential learning opportunity that complemented her formal, classroom education.

“Working with campus sustainability on reaching the Zero Waste goals was a great way for me to get some hands on, real world experience and get practical training about the technical and behaviour-change challenges on the ground, but also to apply them and connect them with some theoretical components that I am working on with my research,” said Ivana.

“If you’re in a university setting, the benefits of a classroom education are very important. But getting out of the lab and getting out of the classroom and applying that theory to practice, I would say, is just as important if not more important. And then when those two things are combined, the effect of the whole is much stronger than either one of those parts alone.”

This article has been taken from UBC Sustainability website after taken the required permissions from Ivana Zelenika.