Alumnus sets out on a cross-country voyage to bring awareness to sustainability
Stephen Szucs, ’05 | Founder, Sustainable Joes
By Angie Lewis, ’03
From June 2013 to June 2014, Stephen Szucs, ’05, generated only one bag of garbage. After graduating from UCF with a bachelor’s degree in finance, Szucs taught English in Barcelona, led adventure tours across North America, traveled, owned a solar company and bartended. Then, he discovered his real passion. Dedicating himself to living a sustainable life and teaching others to reduce, reuse, recycle and #RETHINK everything, he founded Sustainable Joes in January 2013.
“Sustainability is about more than trees and whales,” he says. “It’s about survival. I want Joes to teach others how to take sustainable action — how to link passion, purpose and profit…good for the Earth, others and yourself. Sustainability is possible, but we must see our diversity as a point of unification instead of division.”
On June 14, 2014, Szucs left Simcoe, Ontario, Canada, in a pedal- and solar-powered ELF tricycle, nicknamed Rita, for the first leg of his #RETHINK tour. He traveled at an average speed of 14.5 mph, making stops in countless cities and towns to talk to people about living sustainably, before arriving in Key West, Fla., on Dec. 20. His six-month and nearly 5,000-mile mission was originally routed from Canada to California, but he says that route would have been heading into the prevailing winds, which makes the ELF difficult to maneuver.
While on the road, he listened to a lot of NPR and music playlists to pass the time, and to help muffle the road and noise and Rita’s rattling.
Along the way, his ELF broke down in Canadian Amish Country, where he met Bev, Dougie and Murph. While making repairs in Burlington, Vt., over a holiday weekend, he learned how to tango with Dave and Carmen. After a 120-mile day, he says he’ll never forget how amazing Scotty’s cornbread tasted and smelled in Lebanon, N.H. Then, there was the People’s Climate March in New York City, which he’ll always remember. And, in Delray Beach, Fla., he was treated to a police escort.
“From big cities to small towns, people who carry guns to the EPA… so many interesting people,” he says.
Szucs never imagined the first leg of the tour would last more than six months, but he says the dream is to fuel sustainable conversation and action around the world, so he’ll stay on the road as long as it takes. He’s currently in the process of planning leg two of the tour.
Going the Distance Q&A
Q. Favorite UCF memory?
A. Over Thanksgiving, two of my best friends and I visited campus and went for a stroll down memory lane. Campus was empty as we sat beside the Reflecting Pond, reminiscing. It was a special moment.
Q. Any special/hidden talents?
A. I can knit, drive a tractor and give really good massages.
Q. If you could learn to do anything, what would it be?
A. Speak every language, dance every dance and learn to swim
Q. Most embarrassing moment?
A. Oh, wow… I’ve had so many of these, I started calling them “growth opportunities.” For example, while learning Spanish in Barcelona, I once ordered a sandwich that made our waiter do a double take. By accident, I had ordered something that included genitals.
Q. Happiest/proudest moment of your life so far?
A. Hugging my best friend at the end of leg one [of the #RETHINK tour] in Key West was pretty special.
Q. What or who inspires you?
A. Elon Musk and every child who hugged me on tour
Q. What’s the hardest thing you’ve ever done?
A. Learn to speak my truth
Q. What do you fear?
A. “Desperate people do desperate things.” I fear the certain global unrest which will occur if collectively we do nothing to combat climate change.
Q. Something you learned in the past week?
A. Recycling five aluminum cans saves enough energy to power a laptop for 24 hours. And, America throws away 30 billion cans annually.
Q. What’s something most people don’t know about you?
A. I’m actually an extroverted introvert.