Fellow Feature: Sierra Margolis, Conservation + Tech ‘22 (Conservation and Resource Studies)

“My goal is to maintain the parts of our global systems that work whilst also continuing to develop these systems in a way which is more sustainable.”

Sierra Margolis is a Conservation + Tech fellow studying Conservation and Resource Studies (CRS) with an area of interest in Designing Sustainable Systems. Here, she shares more about her interests and projects at the intersection of sustainability and design.

Tell us about yourself!

I come from the best place in the whole world — a small, simple home in Los Angeles, CA. Though our house is not large it is always full of people. We frequently have visitors and, since my room doubles nicely as a guest room, I have spent many nights squeezed onto our inflatable mattress with my sister. When they say (of raising a child) that “it takes a village,” they are talking about me. My grandparents, my aunts, my uncles, and even my parents’ close friends have all helped me develop my values and worldview. They are the hands that support me and the voices which guide me, and as such…

I come from a place which is never quiet. There is always noise: music playing, pots clanking, keyboards typing, and dogs barking. Most dominant however, is the symphony of laughter and chatter. Since we live in such close quarters, we understand the importance of collaborative communication. I have been taught to shout. I have also been taught to listen. My family has always allowed me to speak my mind, but they have encouraged me to do so in a way which is inclusive of viewpoints I don’t yet understand. Fused by our common environment, we must always be aware of what others might be thinking. Everyone in my family is always in everyone else’s space and as such…

I come from a place where everything is shared. I learned the concept of the “Tragedy of the Commons” early, when our first ever box of Lucky Charms was depleted in a matter of hours. In order to avoid a “dog eat dog” environment, we have learned to hold one another accountable and initiate a tally system for all of the more popular grocery store treasures. All space is shared as well. I know it is important to clean up my messes, to never play disco if Dad is in the room, and to always make sure the effect I am having on our common spaces isn’t bothering anyone else. Perhaps the only thing my family doesn’t share is the affection of our dog, Canyon, who loves Mom the most. This is very concerning to the rest of us and has led to numerous family blowouts. In the end, however, we always resolve our issues because…

I come from a place where everyone cares a lot about everyone else. We understand the meaning of the interconnectedness of our lives and the responsibility it charges us with to take care of one another. Our home environment is a living system, affected in numerous ways by each of our actions. Through my family life, I have seen how much effort it takes to maintain such a system. I know how quickly the peace can dissolve if someone makes a ring on the coffee table by failing to use a coaster. In order to encourage our system to persist we must always support each other, communicate, and share. Most importantly, we must care enough to put in the work. Luckily, I have been raised by very passionate people.

And I have my passions as well. When I was a child, my backyard was my playroom. My sister and I would make “potions” out of crushed up purple flowers, watch the birds play in the bird bath or feed ants to the small fish that lived in the pond. As I channel this early love of the outdoors into a course of study and (eventually) a lifetime of work and activism, it is helpful for me to pay attention to the numerous systems that co-exist and impact us and the environment. As an actor within these systems, I derive my strengths from the lessons taught to me in my home system.

My familial unit is not the only system I exist within. Through my studies, I have realized that these concepts extend far beyond the walls of our small, simple home in Los Angeles, CA. The same concepts of working together, speaking up and listening, respecting common space, and remaining dedicated to the cause are some of the very most important facets of environmentalism. This is the reason that, when I took AP Environmental Science in 11th grade, I was immediately drawn to its focus on community action. I felt comfortable with an explanation of the world as a global system, and understood how driving my car in Los Angeles could affect coral reefs across the world. It reminded me of the time I lit too many candles too late at night, setting off the fire alarm and causing my mom to be late for work. I didn’t have to be in the same room as her to affect her sleep schedule, just as I don’t have to touch the corals to contribute to their destruction — or to their revival.

My biggest strength and my biggest weakness are the same: I care so much. I am a naturally passionate person, and I am easily excited by learning something new. Sometimes, however, this passion for many different topics can make me feel like I am being pulled in too many directions, unable to dedicate sufficient attention to any one area. In the past, I have worried about my love for both the arts and for science and my fascinations with both the urban and the wild. Would these various callings conflict? Would I have to give up some of my big loves in pursuit of the others?

The Conservation and Resource Studies program has taught me that this doesn’t have to be so. Systems have many parts, and with CRS’s interdisciplinary model and course flexibility, I will be able to study various elements as a part of one whole. Additionally, and more importantly, CRS provides a community with which to solve environmental problems. Due to my upbringing, I am most effective as part of a team. I enjoy collaboration with others because it is my greatest pleasure to uncover elements of environmental systems which I have not yet considered — and my peers have been my greatest teachers. I hope to continue to work within interdisciplinary teams throughout my life in order to conquer some of the world’s most pressing environmental issues.

My goal is to maintain the parts of our global systems that work whilst also continuing to develop these systems in a way which is more sustainable. As the population of our planet continues to grow, our systems grow with them. I dream of a world where we can grow within our means, preserving our diversity of cultures and natural environments. My strategy to achieve this goal is to immerse myself in interdisciplinary coursework and teamwork through CRS to make sure that each facet of each system is given proper care.

What are your professional goals and aspirations?

Due to my interests in sustainability and design, I have considered many potential career directions. I have interests in city and regional planning, data-driven environmental solutions, and life cycle/supply chain development. Currently, I am especially interested in sustainable fashion due not only to its place at the intersection of sustainability and design but also because it demands solutions which are cognizant not only of environmental, but sociocultural and political factors as well. The fashion industry provides us with the opportunity to test out opportunities to move away from linear economy towards circular economy since there are already popular implementations of circularity within the industry such as thrifting or clothing rental. Exploring sustainable fashion can help us to make discoveries and create models which can be applied to many other industries as well.

Can you share more about a design challenge you’ve worked on while in the fellowship?

I am particularly proud of my work in the most recent design challenge where my team partnered with Civic Design Studio to reactivate public parks in Oakland, CA as sites of cultural, environmental and educational value. I am interested in the ways we can achieve cultural shifts towards sustainability through design, and this project provided us with the opportunity to suggest an installation in one of Oakland’s public parks which could help the local community feel more connected to both their neighbors and their environment.

What are some of your non-academic hobbies/passions?

I love photography, hiking, and found art, and I’m trying to get more into making my own jewelry and clothing!

Is there something you are currently working on that you would like to share?

I am the Director of the US Green Chamber of Commerce’s Sustainable Fashion Team and we are currently working on two major projects: a certification course for sustainable fashion professionals, and ALTR Magazine, our sustainable fashion publication. Both of these projects are on track to be completed within the next year so keep an eye out!

I am a Sustainability Data Professional at Finch. We are currently working on further developing the Finch Insights browser extension which will be available soon for widespread use. You can join the waitlist to be one of the firsts to use the extension!

My sister and I started an account as “sister creatives” on Instagram called @margxlis where we are currently showcasing and selling our handmade reclaimed wood earrings (decorated with beads and bits of found magazines). We will also be posting about our other explorations into sustainability, design, and style so give us a follow to see our art and sustainable style tips.

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