Living Sustainably: Lessons from Washington for Local Efforts

Lessons from Washington for Local Efforts

By Kyle Funk, Hope College Green Team

Education is about taking in wisdom from different settings and applying it to communities you work for. While interning in Washington, D.C., for four months, I made some observations about how to work toward sustainability policies right here in Holland.

First, learn civics. Learn about how government works. That begins locally. Know who represents you. Know who sits on government bodies such as city council and school boards, and know how to communicate with them.  Then progress to understanding Lansing and Washington, D.C.

Also know the Constitution, the branches of government, and the different committees that your federal legislators sit on. For example, I took many calls about the House health care bill – something we could do little about because we were in the Senate.

Next, consider bipartisan effort. Learn how to work together, even with people of different philosophies, to find solutions to shared concerns.

For instance, Sen. Stabenow, a Democrat, and Sen. Portman, an Ohio Republican, co-chair the Senate Great Lakes Task Force. It is an issue that needs both parties to come together to find solutions.

This shared goal has carried over into a great friendship between the two of them. Together they are even stronger advocates for protection of the Great Lakes.

Last week, an Asian carp was found very close to Lake Michigan, a serious threat to the Great Lakes and the communities around them from environmental, recreational, and economical standpoints.  Recent policy development on stopping Asian carp was also a bipartisan effort between Rep. Bill Huizenga, co-chair on the House side, and Sen. Stabenow.

Third, appreciate community. In Holland, we have a strong community, and we need to value that.

Through many phone calls and letters I read while in Washington, I learned that is not the case everywhere. Communities across America are hurting. But that can be fixed by coming together, listening, and working on solutions.

Some things are better addressed locally than at the federal level, such as raising money for schools, addressing energy needs, encouraging sustainable business growth, and maintaining parks and recreation for all citizens. We also need to understand that some things will require public and private partnerships.

Consider the motto on Holland’s City Seal: “In unity is our strength, God be with us.”

Fourth, develop empathy. To accomplish any of this, we need empathy, a trait greatly lacking in our country right now. We need to listen and realize that sometimes when people say something or ask a question, it is not out of ignorance but out of anxiety for the future.

Lessons like these from Washington can be put to practical use. Coming together in empathy, we can build a resilient community, one that causes other cities to look to see what Holland is doing. One that that works towards a sustainable community through policy and practices that promote healthy citizens, economies, and ecosystems.

 Kyle Funk, a rising senior at Hope College and Hope College Green Team intern, interned in the spring semester on Capitol Hill with Sen. Debbie Stabenow’s office as part of the Hope Washington D.C. Honors Semester.


Kyle stabenaw.jpg Kyle Funk interned this spring in the office of Sen. Debbie Stabenow in Washington, D.C.

Kyle whitehouse.jpg Kyle Funk toured the White House during his internship in Washington, D.C., this spring.

This Week’s Sustainability Framework Theme:

Community & Neighborhood: The places we live and the individuals we interact with support the development of our personalities and perspectives on life. Encouraging vital and effective communities is essential.


Living Sustainably is a collection of community voices sharing updates about local sustainability initiatives. It is presented by the Holland-Hope College Sustainability Institute, a joint project of Hope College, the City of Holland and Holland Board of Public Works. Go to for more information.