MU graduate student Lydia Schreiber has always been passionate about sustainability, but it wasn’t until more recently that the Missouri native discovered how she can turn her passion into a full-time career after graduation.

“I had volunteered for the Roots and Blues music festival back in 2017 and I saw that they had a green team,” Schreiber said. “It kind of connected that thing for me. I have been going to events and festivals for years.”

Schreiber said she began noticing how much waste was being generated at the one-time events and it shocked her. While volunteering for Roots and Blues she began questioning what she could do as an individual to help combat the issues at hand.

“I saw that as a future career, being able to go in and work with companies or organizations that have these wide reaching events,” Schreiber added. “Being able to help them make it more sustainable or less impactful but through a fun avenue where you have an opportunity to educate event attendees.”

At the time, Schreiber was in her senior year of her undergraduate studies at MU, studying biological engineering. Looking for additional opportunities to grow professionally and academically, in the fall of 2017, Schreiber joined Sustain Mizzou, a non-partisan environmental MU student run group.

“It makes such a difference to be around people who have your same values and have hopes for a better future, but you can also kind of commiserate with them about the current state of things,” Schreiber said. “It was just really validating and it connected me with a lot of people who were doing cool things around the community and campus.”

Schreiber was not only a member that first semester, but she also signed up to serve on Sustain Mizzou’s Sustainability Week Executive Board. The Executive Board who oversees Sustainability Week is formed in late fall to begin planning and organizing a full week of sustainability events that typically take place each April.

But Schreiber’s efforts didn’t stop there. Before S-Week took place in April 2018, Schreiber served as a sustainability intern for the annual True/False film fest that March, where she began to understand some of the challenges associated with recycling and waste reduction.

“I realized just how hard it is to actually curb those behaviors with people because people just aren’t thinking about it,” Schreiber said. “Even if they do care, sometimes they just don’t really realize what they’re doing or don’t know what to do about it. Getting into those events was a really fun way for me to explore that.”

As her extracurricular opportunities helped her expand her awareness and knowledgebase, her studies helped enrich her passion as well. During that same spring semester Schreiber took a class called Sustainability In Engineered Systems with Assistant Professor Christine Costello.

“(Within the class) you look at a product, a process or a service and you evaluate its impact but across its entire Life Cycle,” Schreiber said. “You look at the material sourcing and the energy, and whatever tools are needed in extracting materials. For example, with natural gas, CO2 is released when you’re extracting it. So those impacts would be included, not just when it’s burned, it’s like the energy required to extract materials, the transportation, the energy that went into processing and then any impacts that were caused while using it. With products that aren’t combusted, you’d include emissions from its wasting process.”

From there, Dr. Costello helped her discover the next piece of the academic puzzle, Schreiber explained.

“She’s the reason I’m doing grad school,” Schreiber said. “I was on the fence about it until the end of my last semester. I was working on a project with (Dr. Costello) at Columbia Independent School. We were doing a food waste audit. Literally going in and weighing how much food these kids were wasting.”

When you have that data, you can analyze which age groups are wasting the most food, which food is being wasted the most and understand how to encourage children to eat certain foods, Schreiber explained. Dr. Costello’s team is still analyzing the data from the research, but Schreiber said she is excited to see what positive changes will come of all their hard work.

In the spring of 2019, Schreiber began her PhD in Industrial and Manufacturing Systems Engineering with a focus in Sustainable Systems Engineering and she hopes to one day provide similar services to businesses or organizations, like her and Dr. Costello are providing for Columbia Independent School.

“The biggest thing I’ve learned is that there are so many systems that are just constantly working in the background that you don’t even realize you’re dependent on,” Schreiber concluded. “Different economic sectors are really dependent on one another too so it’s like if you want to change one it would probably require a lot of changes in another. It’s shifted my focus from individual action, which I think is still important for practicing your own values, setting an example and pushing a cultural change because that is a really important part of it, but to make the amount of change we need in the amount of time we have we have to change the system, which is why I’m studying sustainable systems engineering.”