A journey of environmental activism in and outside of JCU
By Marilù Ciabattoni / Staff Writer
President of JCU Grassroots Club, Giacomo Di Capua, describes himself as “passionate environmentalist, international volunteer, European citizen.”
Currently pursuing a double B.A. in Business Administration and International Affairs with a 4.0/4.0 GPA, he has contributed to significant changes at JCU by working with the Administration: from replacing plastic cups in the cafeteria with environment-friendly paper cups, to organizing Meatless Mondays at the Tiber Cafeteria, to giving JCU students, faculty and staff water containers in aluminum to completely removing plastic items from campus.
As a die-hard climate activist, he created Environmental Action Rome, an association of young volunteers who denounce problems in Rome with articles about timely topics like fast fashion and environmentally sustainable architecture in our modern-day metropoles.
Giacomo, let’s start by talking about why you chose to enroll in your majors.
I am currently pursuing a dual Degree in International Affairs and Business Administration. For the former, I have a natural interest for Politics and I really enjoy participating actively in political life but also studying the underlying processes of international organizations and politics in general. For the latter, instead, I am particularly interested in working in the non-governmental area, so third-sector associations and organizations, so I thought that Business Administration knowledge or expertise could help me pursue a career in that field.
Could you tell us more about the Grassroots Club and its mission?
The aim of the Grassroots Environmental Club is not only to promote a better understanding of sustainability on campus and to reach out for students to engage in topics such as environmentalism, sustainability, food waste, carbon impact, and climate change; but also to give students the opportunity to engage in environmental activism with realities in Rome, with other organizations, for instance. I first joined Grassroots four or five semesters ago, I have been president for one, nearly two years now, and when I first started with Kateryna “Katia” Umanets as our former president, she really wanted to continue this type of “green” leadership at JCU because there were so many good projects but also a lack of human resources – in particular, a lack of Board Members – and we’ve been steadily growing.
Luckily, environmentalism has been at the forefront of media attention in the last two years, so we’ve passed from me being one of the four people leading Grassroots, to having a Board of eleven members plus other fourteen club members, so I’m really proud of how this has been growing progressively throughout these two years.
Any upcoming events you are going to take part in?
The next one was the TEDx Countdown on Sunday, Oct. 18, which is one of our big projects for the semester. This is a starting point of an ongoing discussion with the administration to improve and strengthen our climate environmental action, not only from the student body but also – and I would say mainly – from the institutional leadership of John Cabot.
Why did you become so involved in environmental issues? Do you have any outside projects apart from Grassroots?
I first became engaged in environmental issues when I was 17, when, against my own will, I traveled to Belgium to join a little environmental project. I’ve always been interested in nature and conservation, but as a side hobby, not as a main concern or as a main area of activity, and I was truly inspired by the people I met there, whom I’m still in touch with four years later. They inspired me to take action in my little local community, which is Rome: “little” compared to the global activists that have a much more mediatic attention and exposure. So, I decided to try to replicate what I saw abroad even in my own city.
So I’ve been volunteering with Grassroots and I’ve also founded another association called Environmental Action Rome: thanks to this organization we are now trying to coordinate the actions that pertain to sustainability of more than 13 organizations – from firms and startups, to universities and non-profit organizations – we’ll try to create synergies to maximize the potential social impact of each of those organization programs towards sustainability. I’ve also participated in a lot of conferences around Europe concerning the topics of sustainability and innovation, especially in the European Union, because I was so deeply interested in learning more.
Do you think you’re making a difference?
Not big enough. I think that making a difference is inevitable. Everyone makes a difference in their own context, even when people are not actively reacting to social phenomena, they’re creating inertia: that is still a difference. I believe that in the field of environmentalism, everybody should make a positive impact, a positive difference. So we are way beyond the point where we can be passively passionate about nature and conservation: it is time for an active and pro-active approach to what we should truly care for, which is the preservation of biodiversity, animal rights, preservation of our climate, and, of course, the fight against global warming. Everything starts from little gestures, from electoral behaviors, to lifestyle preferences and, again, from how we invest our free time.
What have these experiences taught you?
There is an insane amount of human capital – citizens worldwide, that are deeply concerned for environmental issues. One of the biggest problems in the field of environmental activism is, that most times, environmental activists feel isolated because the issues they are called to confront and face are so big compared to the individual impact that everybody can make in their own communities. It can be overwhelming. What I found is that, although there is a sense of climate urgency among students, sometimes environmental actions are not easily pursuable. We just have to dig and look for ways to gather all these energies in one place.
Any future plans for the organizations outside JCU or Rome?
We are working with these networks and organizations. My long-term goal is to see this model of synergic coordination work in Rome in order to get in touch with national institutions to try and replicate this model in every Italian city as a starting point. We’ll be reporting and sending reports on all the activities and synergy that we create to the ministry of environment and to the mayor of Rome, and, if this proves to be a successful experiment, we will be in touch with organizations outside of Rome.
Any future plans for Grassroots? What do you wish for its future once you graduate?
It’s a big concern, because we have had such a shortage in Board Members and also students in the past: it can be challenging to have a continuous stream of action and progress with regards to one’s single agenda which, while in the case of Vittoria Maione, President of STAND, it might concern a particular approach to volunteering, in my case it could be about university-wide progress in becoming more and more sustainable, more and more eco-friendly. Therefore, we’re trying to work together with the JCU Administration to create long-term plans, plans that can transcend the individuals that are working on this with the goal of creating a roadmap for the next ten or fifteen years, to create also a sort of legacy that is not only lasting for the people that are physically here at JCU, but also an idea of where we are going that can be shared by both students and staff members in the future of our university.
As of today, what are your plans after graduation?
I will be seeking scholarships in the field of environmental policy, where my two fields of knowledge or expertise will hopefully come to synthesis. This is of course the area in which I would like and love to work, so I will be looking for potential programs in this field, but it will depend mainly on where they’ll grant me a scholarship.
Giacomo Di Capua was a speaker in the TEDxJohnCabotUniversity talk on Oct. 18 on Zoom, an event sponsored by the Office of the Vice President and Dean of Academic Affairs, the JCU Institute for Entrepreneurship and Italy Reads.
As part of the TED Countdown initiative, TED Countdown talks aims to empower local communities to take action on climate change, seeking to “champion and accelerate solutions to the climate crisis, turning ideas into action.”