The Sustainability Prize


The Lab’s Sustainability Prize program at EARTH University has been running for more than a decade, with the annual prize awarded to the student graduation project that best exemplifies The Lab’s five core sustainability principles. In 2010, Johanny Pestalozzi was awarded the prize. We recently caught up with Johanny, who updated us on the impacts of the prize on her life, and what she’s been up to in the decade since graduating from EARTH. Please enjoy this short interview with Johanny.

Johanny Pastalozzi, winner of the 2010 Sustainability Prize at EARTH University

The Lab: It’s now been a decade since you won The Lab’s Sustainability Prize at EARTH University. What did it mean for you to win the prize?

Johanny: Participating in this initiative made me take time to reflect and internalize the meaning and scope of The Lab’s five core sustainability principles. It was important for me to be able to transfer those concepts into real life, to effectively reflect them in the design and implementation of the projects I led. Learning about these principles made me think more comprehensively.

My decisions became more complex but also richer. I would say that I became more strategic towards accomplishing my personal and professional goals, which meant that while developing my career, I was making sure that my decisions align with my values and the sustainability principles that I have since then integrated into my life.

Winning the award represented to me a recognition of the positive impact my project had among the 100 participants of the environmental contest I organized at EARTH University in 2010. It also served as an encouragement to keep visualizing a better future and continue to design initiatives to bring people together and raise sustainability awareness. I believe that winning the Sustainability Prize has helped open doors both academically and professionally.

Working with local schoolchildren as part of Johanny’s 2010 graduation project

The Lab: Tell us about your trajectory in the years since EARTH. What types of work and projects have you been involved in?

Johanny: It is just over 10 years since I graduated from EARTH and it feels as it if it was yesterday. Maybe because this was an institution that substantially shaped the way I think in a very positive way. At EARTH, I had a unique opportunity to try many different socially innovative ideas for positive transformation, and I will always be grateful for it.

After EARTH, I received a scholarship from the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research, to pursue my Master studies in Environmental Sciences at the University of Stuttgart. After that, I gained the funds to complete my Doctoral studies at the University of Hohenheim, also in Stuttgart, specializing in Risk Management and Stakeholder Communication.  These have been my major academic commitments since EARTH.

In parallel to my post-graduate studies, I was involved in various NGOs, supporting causes ranging from education, arts, international development, and global youth-led initiatives. Some examples include the pro-bono assistance I provided to the Foundation Stay in Stuttgart as Sponsoring Manager, co-organizing two events in the context of TEDxStuttgart, and supporting the Global Entrepreneurship Summer Schools in Munich also with fundraising.

In the meantime, I naturalized in Germany, and as of last year permanently live in Zurich with my husband. I have re-oriented my career, shifting to the business sector as a project manager.

The Lab: Have you been able to apply The Lab’s approach to sustainability and five core principles in your work and life? If so, how?

Johanny: While I have not deliberately applied the five core sustainability principles in my work, this concept significantly changed the way I understand and approach life. It has become somewhat embedded into my identity and my worldview. In my decision-making processes, for example, I try to be consistent with my beliefs of avoiding waste, being sensitive to my socio-cultural context and respecting it, considering financially viable options, and enabling replicability by being reflective about possible outcomes, analyzing lessons learned, and building models/patterns that could help me in future occasions or that I could recommend to my peers.

The Lab: Tell us your philosophy about creating positive impacts through one’s work, regardless of the individual’s field or stage in life.

Johanny: When I moved to Europe, I had the conviction that to make a positive impact in the world I needed to either work in the international development sector, move back to my home country, or work in the humanitarian sector, for example. As time passed, I realized that practically every society/every part of the world needs some kind of positive impact, e.g., need for more empathy, respect, tolerance, or inclusion among humans and at the interface human-nature, just to mention some. In summary, the entire world is in some kind of need, which much comes down to integrating values into our daily lives.

I started to develop the thought that for me to make a meaningful contribution to society while at the same time accomplish my personal and professional goals, I do not need to be limited to a particular geography or career, but rather I needed to examine the concept of being a world citizen, which becomes even more accentuated in the era of social media, rapid digitalization and increased globalization.

A positive impact can be made in every aspect of our lives and in/from any part of the world, and we can make it happen. I believe that we just need to be sensitive to the problems happening around us and, in our communities, assess how we can best contribute to positive and significant changes, and commit to those initiatives.

Johanny (right) with other 2010 prizewinners Neida Melina Chow Méndez (left) and Tania Del Socorro Pérez Matute (middle)

The Lab: Do you have any advice for participants in the Sustainability Prize competition?

Johanny: I would advise them to become dedicated observants about the society in which the live, to inform themselves about events happening in their surroundings, first locally, and then at a global scale; and to reflect carefully and critically on the news and the observations they gather. This information will serve as seeds to identify areas in which they can make a significantly positive impact in society, and in which they can continue to grow in their careers.

The Lab: What are your plans for the future?

Johanny: In the short-term future (5-10 years), I want to continue growing professionally as a project manager and become a leader in the organization where I work, to steer positive change towards resource use optimization and business excellence.

I also want to continue to inspire people in my social and professional network, encouraging them to believe in themselves, to network, aspire to achieve bold dreams, and go the extra mile for their personal (and ultimately) societal development.

Otherwise, I have recently started a coaching business on a part-time basis, to provide training sessions to people on topics of personal growth, such as resilience, positive mindset, personal re-invention, and sustainability. I hope my experiences can be of help to others to keep making the world work for 100% of humanity.

We wish Johanny luck in all of her future pursuits, and we look forward to following her career moving forward!

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