PKG Social Impact Internships: Lucy Kitch Peck (’22)
Finding Hope in Environmental Research
I’m Lucy, and I’m a junior completing a dual major in Materials Science and Engineering and Energy Policy. This winter, through the generous help of the Priscilla King Gray Public Service Center, I am completing an internship with the World Wildlife Fund (WWF). I’ve been researching the actions companies take to mitigate emissions within their own supply chain, and what language different industries and organizations use to describe these actions.
In an environmental policy lecture this past semester, my classmates and I were tasked with identifying the top ten reasons to feel hopeless about climate change. Sitting in a Zoom breakout room, we discussed the reversal of federal environmental protections, the politicization and distrust of sound science, the exhaustion of a public asked to contend with centuries of racial injustice and a lethal pandemic and a dying planet all at once. Based on everything we’d learned during the semester, how could we best argue that Earth was irreparably doomed?
But, despite our best efforts to persuade them towards pessimism, our professors ended that lecture on a high note. Because given a seemingly insurmountable task, given a literal list of reasons to give up, here was a room of students and researchers determined to make an effort anyway.
Working at the World Wildlife Fund gives me a similar sense of hope. I spend my days reading company sustainability reports, learning about initiatives that sequester carbon or improve climate resilience or create well-paying jobs for women or preserve biodiversity. I learn about all the organizations that are ensuring serious progress towards net-zero emissions. I contribute my small piece of work to an organization that has continuously fought for the conservation of the planet for decades now, with no end in sight. I engage with a community of brilliant people who care so deeply about the planet we live on that they’ve devoted careers to protecting it. The work is enriching and interesting, and its impact motivates me to do my best.
On my first day of work, my advisor sent me a TED Talk by the Senior Vice President of Markets at the WWF, entitled “How big brands can help save biodiversity.” He poses the problem of overconsumption; we are using the world’s finite resources at a much faster rate than they can be replenished. And it’s an enormous, seemingly insurmountable problem. But he explains, “100 companies control 25 percent of the trade of all 15 of the most significant commodities on the planet. We can get our arms around a hundred companies. A hundred companies, we can work with.” Suddenly, a nebulous challenge crystallizes into its tangible leverage points. A few pivotal changes can precipitate change at a global level.
This principal guides my work at the WWF. In six weeks, it’s unlikely that I’ll transform global value chains, eliminating greenhouse gas emissions and unjust labor practices and deforestation in one fell swoop. But I may help build the case that what’s good for the environment can be good for business too. And that may help convince just one company to assume responsibility for the emissions in their supply chain. And that may help pressure their competitors to partner with sustainable suppliers. My impact can ripple out beyond what I was able to accomplish on my own.
During the most arduous parts of my undergraduate experience, life seems to be comprised of a Sisyphean list of tasks to accomplish. Perfect Friday’s problem set. Nail the next midterm. Secure that high-paying internship. I lose sight of my big, abstract goals, and I hyper-focus on the minutiae that feel more familiar to me. Passion gets replaced with a need to be perceived as impressive. This social impact internship has helped me poke my head out of a torrent of to-do’s and refocus on the causes that are important to me.
My work at the WWF gives me hope. Because I can witness people who care deeply about the planet and know how to help it. And my work gives me hope because I can see how I might become one of those people.
Want to learn more about the PKG Social Impact Internships Program? Visit our webpage to learn about ELO opportunities for Spring 2021, and stay tuned for information for summer 2021 postings!