Whether he’s working with youth in Paraguay or some of the world’s largest companies, Joseph Sarvary connects people with the abiding value of our planet's abundant biodiversity
Earth Advocates is a Tufts Now series featuring Tufts graduates and students working on climate change issues around the world. If you know others who are leaders in sustainability, let us know at email@example.com.
WHEN JOSEPH SARVARY, A12, traveled to Paraguay for a summer internship with the conservation nonprofit Fundacion Para La Tierra before his junior year, he intended to study the country’s extraordinary wildlife. He hoped to follow the path of a celebrated natural historian. “I was an aspiring David Attenborough,” he says.
Instead, the biology undergraduate from Princeton, New Jersey, fell in love with Paraguay, and devoted the next decade to working on behalf of the nonprofit, rising to become its deputy director. In 2016, he cofounded the group’s environmental education initiative, Voces de la Naturaleza (Voices of Nature). For his innovative leadership, he was named a 2017 One Young World Ambassador and in 2018 he was one of the “30 under 30” leaders recognized by the North American Association for Environmental Education.
Today, Sarvary brings his twin passions for conservation and education (and a recent MBA from the French graduate school INSEAD) to his work as a London-based sustainability consultant for Engie Impact. There he helps to drive environmental change by helping some of the world’s largest companies reduce their reliance on fossil fuels. “I still believe that grassroots projects are the best way to lead change at the community-level,” he says, “but the private sector is a key driver of climate change. I wanted to contribute to solving the problem at that level as well.” He continues to support Para La Tierra's advocacy for biodiversity as a volunteer board member.
ELEVATING LOCAL VOICES While visiting schools in a rural area of Paraguay, Sarvary wanted to raise awareness about the negative impact of illegal hunting and logging on local habitats. But standing in crowded classrooms with dirt floors and broken windows covered by plastic, he realized his words were not enough. “Here were children who had the most to gain from the protection of the forests surrounding them and yet they were powerless,” he says. “I saw how the people who would benefit most from the correct management of natural habitats are the least empowered to act on that protection.” He vowed to amplify the voices of local communities. “It is about giving people the right to be heard, the right to believe their voice matters .”
PIVOT POINT While conducting ecological field work one night in Paraguay, Sarvary had an epiphany. He and a colleague were observing and recording the elaborate mating rituals of the white-winged nightjar, an endangered bird species, when they were startled by an endangered maned wolf. “It eats mostly fruit, so it wasn’t a threat, but it scared us out of our skins,” he says. Standing in the endangered habitat, next to the endangered bird species and endangered wolf, he realized that “most of the people who were making decisions about the future of that habitat saw it as an empty wasted area; it was just without value. Meanwhile, this habitat had just provided me with a memory and experience I will treasure for the rest of my life. That moment shifted me from a scientist to a conservationist.”
WHAT MATTERS MOST Through a thriving Eco-Club program, which he co-founded in 2016, Sarvary nurtures what he calls the “three Cs”—curiosity, creativity, and a connection to nature—in young children in Paraguay. “Nature, in its pristine state, has the power to give us a sense of wholeness and completeness,” he says. “To deprive children of that experience is criminal.” Connecting with nature also can inspire a sense of responsibility, he adds, as children “see how they fit into a greater puzzle… and that their personal actions impact the resulting shape of their larger community.”
WHERE HE FINDS HOPE The Eco-Club program reaches hundreds of children every week across Paraguay. Most of those children expect to become farmers, so they will play a vital role in the future of Paraguay’s land use and habitat conservation. It’s imperative to awaken in them a “sense of interconnectedness to the land and their rightful place in caring for the land,” Sarvary says. The change he sees when children grasp that sense of interconnectedness gives him hope. “They stand up a bit straighter. They no longer feel powerless; they know they are capable of action,” he says. “They can make the future different than what it is today.”
Sarvary aims to make a difference through his sustainability consulting , striving to identify the innovations and technologies that will make a net-zero future possible.
“A lot of smart people are working on the difficult problem of helping our companies, our countries, and our communities create a future where 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming is the limit,” he says. “I am proud to contribute my part and I hope the children of Eco-Club find a place where they can feel equally proud of their contributions.”