Winter 2020 Graduate: Lizzie Russler ’20
College of Arts & Sciences
Lizzie Russler in the summer of 2018 at Yosemite National Park. (Photo by Lizzie Russler)
Senior Lizzie Russler has worked around the world tackling challenges at the intersection of human rights and climate change. An internship at Sephora also confirmed her interest in sustainability issues.
Lizzie Russler has kept her bags packed and her passport ready for most of her time at Carolina.
The senior contemporary European studies major has studied, researched and worked in Uganda, Belgium, Iceland, India and San Francisco. She is also fluent in German.
Her love of international travel began when she was a high school exchange student in Switzerland through Rotary International. After her first year at Carolina, the Morehead-Cain Scholar had an internship at a nonprofit in Kampala, Uganda, working on refugee integration methods. She also began to experience how climate change was affecting people’s lives there.
“I began to see how climate change was this overarching issue that was aggravating a lot of other social issues, like food security, migration, economic security and human rights,” said Russler, who is from Charleston, South Carolina, and is pursuing a sustainability studies minor. “Climate change is this great vulnerability multiplier.”
The December 2020 graduate also spent time in Iceland studying climate resiliency and in India advocating for worker well-being programs in the apparel industry. She had an internship at the U.S. Embassy in Brussels, Belgium, where she observed the difference in governmental approaches to climate change.
But her time at the U.S. headquarters for Sephora truly cemented her interest in sustainability issues. She had an internship in San Francisco during summer 2018 at the French personal care and beauty company and continued her work at Sephora the next fall, taking a gap semester from UNC. She also worked virtually for the company in summer 2020.
At Sephora, she worked on issues that included supplier responsibility, energy efficiency and eco-design. She managed a factory audit program to determine whether supplier codes of conduct were being met. She also noticed that over 70% of workers in Sephora’s manufacturing facilities are women, and that led to an exciting new proposal that she pitched to her manager.
“I presented an idea about how investing in worker well-being programs for women would be good for both the workers and the company,” Russler said. Her idea led Sephora to become part of the BSR HERproject, which brings together global brands, suppliers and local partners to implement workplace-based interventions focused on health, financial inclusion and gender equality.
“My experience at Sephora helped to shape what I want to do in the long term,” she said. “I noticed the potential for corporations to be levers for large-scale change. Some corporations are making bold commitments to climate change and taking hardline stances on social justice issues.”
On campus, she has continued her passion for global issues. She is a part of the Center for European Studies’ Working Group on Refugees, Europe and Service Learning. She is a leadership associate at the Center for Sustainable Enterprise at Kenan-Flagler Business School. She serves as sustainability director for Vintage Blue, a UNC creative collective that empowers young people through storytelling, original events and thoughtful product design.
And she is a UNC nominee for the prestigious Luce Scholarship.
While it hasn’t been the ideal final semester she would have imagined due to COVID-19 — she misses riding her bike on campus, running into students and professors, and visiting the Meantime coffee kiosk in the Campus Y — Russler said she is hopeful about the future. She will take a break from life behind a screen to work for the Aspen Skiing Company in Aspen, Colorado, for the winter.
She also cherishes her family ties to Chapel Hill. Both of her parents, Dan and Libby Russler, graduated from UNC.
“I grew up watching Tar Heel basketball, and it’s always been their place,” she said. “Now it’s nice that it’s going to become my place, too.”
We asked Russler some fun questions about her time at Carolina.
Carolina on My Mind
Favorite Carolina course and/or professor?
This a really tough question for me, especially because Carolina has so many amazing courses and faculty! The professors who have had the greatest impact on me during my undergraduate career are professor Robert Jenkins (political science), professor Niklaus Steiner (political science) and professor Carol Hee (Environment, Ecology and Energy Program), and I look forward to staying in touch with them for years to come.
Secret on-campus study spot?
The music library at the bottom of Wilson Library or the second floor of the Campus Y (with Meantime coffee of course.)
Local restaurant or hangout you’ll miss the most?
Cosmic Cantina (always great to go for a picnic on the quad too!)
Best one-sentence advice to future Tar Heels?
Take advantage of all that UNC has to offer.
How would you say goodbye to UNC – in a Tweet?
I may have graduated, but this is definitely not goodbye. Cheers to all the people who made this place home! #GoHeels #GDTBATH #TARRRR