VCSIA winner — May Zhao
Previous Involvement in Environmental Protection
A line from The Colors of Nature reads, “If the ignorance of stories can lead to ruin, perhaps the seeking out and understanding of stories can lead to rebuilding.” Realizing that the lack of environmental education in China has shaped the public’s apathy towards environmental degradation, I founded a non-profit organization named ACC Environment in 2019 and started cooperating with local governments, schools, and sustainable corporations to initiate environmental education programs. “ACC” stands for Awareness, Care, and Change — — from knowing comes caring, and from caring comes change. In the past three years, my team of 20 high school and college students and I initiated marine conservation education programs with local primary schools, brought more than 100 primary school students to visit landfill sites, sewage treatment plants, and waste incineration facilities, and organized two large-scale fundraising sales of sustainable products over the summer of 2019 and 2021. Since the founding of ACC, we have donated 106 trees with the Million Tree Project initiated by Shanghai Roots & Shoots and $600 to various organizations, including The Ocean Cleanup, the Coral Restoration Foundation, WIRES Wildlife Rescue in Australia, and grassroots public health organizations during the COVID-19 pandemic.
This year, ACC Environment has been partnering with B Corps China and organizing Building Better Business (BBB) workshops at local schools and universities. Our team has organized three workshops with around 100 participants to share how the business sector could act as a force for change and the importance of integrating sustainability considerations into individuals’ daily consumption decisions. While the scale of change we have achieved is still very limited, I believe that systematic change results from the accumulation of individual endeavors. My team and I will continue committing to environmental protection in the future and strive to be part of the societal change that aspires to construct a different future.
Ongoing Engage for Change Project
After coming to Cambridge this year, I have been an active member of the Climate Society and participated in both Engage for Change and the Effective Climate Change Mitigation seminar program. Currently, I am trying to start an end-of-year recycling program as my Engage-For-Change project. By the end of every school year, as students graduate and move dorms, they often need to discard a lot of items in good condition because of storage and transportation difficulties. To reduce the amount of unnecessary waste at the end of every school year, I am initiating an end-of-year recycling program that collects, categorizes, and redistributes the items that would otherwise be discarded to people in need.
By the end of this academic year, my end-of-year recycling team composed of student volunteers would offer students at Fitzwilliam college the option to donate unwanted items in donations boxes in their flat as they pack and move dorms. Our team will subsequently collect, sort, and categorize the donated items and move them to designated storage space. Students and college staff from Fitzwilliam college could come and pick up items that they found useful for free in the following days, and we will donate the rest of the items to local charities, including charity shops, homeless help centers, and local food banks. By doing this, we could effectively reduce the amount of waste generated by Cambridge students while contributing to the local community in need.
While this project will be based in Fitzwilliam College this year due to start-up implementation challenges, I strive to eventually turn this initiative to a university-wide program in the upcoming years by potentially starting an end-of-year recycling society. Together with passionate students from different colleges, I hope we could gradually embed this recycling initiative into the recycling system of more colleges and reduce the university’s unnecessary waste and carbon footprint while helping the local community.