A MITASC story contributed by Selma Sharaf
My name is Selma Sharaf and I am a rising sophomore studying course 1 (civil and environmental engineering) on the environment track. This summer, I am participating in MISTI-France, in a program called the Innovation Policy Internship Program. I am working for the City/Eurometropole of Strasbourg within the Department of Sports, focusing on the question “How can Strasbourg and its citizens benefit from the 2024 Paris Olympic and Paralympic Games in a sustainable way?”
I am particularly interested in the intersection between sustainability and policy within organizations. In my internship, I am working with another MIT engineering student and a French student studying public policy. I think that this combination of backgrounds works well because it has helped us develop ideas that make sense both scientifically and sociologically. Our proposals regarding environmental sustainability involve both technical features of sports infrastructure and the behavior of people who use them. Straightforward enough, but this is much more than a simple optimization problem. As humans, we are boundedly rational in our decision making, and I have recognized the disconnect between optimal choices and actual choices in myriads of ways. These experiences have helped me to better understand the complexity of the relationships between science, policy, and decision-making.
Throughout my time here, I have also been reflecting on my definition of sustainability. Our original prompt used the word “durabilité,” which typically refers to environmental sustainability in French. However, as a group, we wanted to capture the connotations of the broader French term “developpement durable.” We decided that sustainability can be viewed as mitigating the negative social, economic, and environmental impacts of our activity and harnessing the positive social, economic, and environmental impacts on a long-term scale. Interestingly, our office seems most focused on the social aspect of sustainability, which can be difficult to measure. Of course, the aspects are all related. For example, the fact that more marginalized populations are often those most directly impacted by environmental issues highlights the connection between social and environmental sustainability.
Through interactions with other departments in the city as well as outside of work, I have been exposed to impressive sustainability initiatives that have been successfully implemented in Strasbourg. For example, urban mobility in the city is largely catered towards bikers, pedestrians, and public transit users, with little parking available. I learned that the transformation of parking lots into green space and pedestrian areas a few years ago sparked a lot of anger, but is now widely accepted by citizens. I have also learned a lot about green roofs while conducting research for a project proposal, and I have been fortunate to simultaneously observe firsthand their more widespread existence in this part of the world. As my time working and living in Strasbourg comes to an end, I hope to draw from my experiences here to continue to reflect on sustainability.
This public reflection was produced as part of the work of the MIT Action Sustainability Corps. Learn more about MITASC here.