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Golden State Green Gurus Get Down

Jun28

Matt Kettmann mug shotBy Matt Kettmann
Special to Calbuzz
More than 500 of California’s leading advocates of green just concluded the 8th annual Sustainability Conference, one of the most important environmental conventions in the state. Sponsored jointly by the UC, CSU and Community College systems, the green gaggle spent five days at UCSB hearing from big thinkers, sharing success stories and complaining collaboratively about what’s preventing total world eco-domination. Here’s an on-the-scene review of conference highlights by Calbuzzer Matt Kettmann, senior editor of the Santa Barbara Independent who  writes about the environment for Time, and Indie intern Susannah Lopez.

Sustainability Saves People: Keynoter Dave Newport, director of the environmental center at the University of Colorado-Boulder, provided an alternately funny and grim overview, using color-coded maps to show growing global environmental inequalities, with Africa and India suffering the most.

He also quantified costs of climate change, saying that 300,000 people die each year amid $125 billion in economic losses: “This chunk of rock is going to be just fine,” he said of the earth. “What we’re really doing is killing the people on it.”

The solution lies in “making sustainability social” by making direct connections between eco-movements and immediate human impacts, he added. Example: purchasing organic, locally grown food reduces carbon emissions due to less driving, financially benefits farmers and improves consumer health. “The best way to preserve the environment through sustainability is to focus on people first,” Newport said.

Water, water everywhere: UC San Diego’s Jan Kleissl uses wireless monitors on rooftops and fields to track “evapotranspiration” on campus, where 366,000 gallons of water a day go for landscaping. The idea is to reduce the amount of water wastefully poured into the ground by using data to increase awareness of how much of it quickly leaves the ground.

Josiah Raison Cain, a UC Davis expert on using water flow to “make less-bad cities,” explained that current design methods try “to force water to move through our cities which are inherently out of sync with the way water wants to flow.” This attitude leads to flooding, heat waves, and other manmade problems.

He proposes to “intercept” water through better designs, which include living roofs and living walls. Among other projects: a fancy off-the-grid environmental education institute in San Francisco’s Hunter’s Point and the state’s agriculture department building in Sacramento, which uses chicken coops under solar panels on the roof and rotating live walls of greenery to feed resident goats.

Water into wine: It takes six bottles of water to make one bottle of wine, a problem that the planned Robert Mondavi Institute for winemaking, beer brewing, and food sciences at UC Davis will address, by using “cleaning-in-place” systems, according to David Block, vice chair of viticulture at the campus. The systems were pioneered by dairy farmers and pharmaceutical companies, they require less water and chemicals, are faster and more reliable. Plus: guilt-free wine consumption.

Composting Bruins: UCLA’s dorms and dining halls are rapidly reducing waste, in compliance with a UC system goal of zero waste goal by 2020. UCLA emphasized composting in awarding their new waste collection contract to Athens of Los Angeles; the company sponsored tutorials, trained staff in recycling, and organized students to form the Waste Watchers to track tossed foodstuffs – seems the average student throws out more than a cheeseburger’s worth per day. The lesson, according to UCLA’s Rob Gilbert: “You have influence as a large buyer on how the corporations do things.”

What Higher Ed is doing: A panel unfortunately titled “Rethinking Diversion Rates and Innovations in Waste Management,” featured members of UCSB’s Laboratory Research and Technical Staff (LabRATS) who described their web-based surplus inventory program, modeled on eBay and Craigslist, that extends the life of campus resources by connecting those with extra electro junk to those who need said junk. More here.

Santa Monica College Professor Pete Morris said the institution leads the way in community college greening, which they’ve achieved by progressing in an “organic, non-linear way.” They’re working on getting more rigid, though, because hard-fought efforts to formally establish an environmental science/ studies track at the community college level have been shot down, an unfortunate development given the large number of students interested in green majors.

What Higher Ed Isn’t Doing: Chico State’s Scott McNall, who spoke on “institutionalizing sustainability,” said universities should be more aggressive in teaching the next generation a new value system, incorporating ideas about sustainability into all disciplines: “This is not about recycling cans and bottles,” he said. “It’s about recycling our values.”

Halli Bovia, sustainability coordinator at Chico State, called for “a chancellor’s mandate in our system for climate policy.” Unlike the UC system, which has a climate action plan and other sustainability requirements, Bovia said CSUs are lacking such guidance. “We need to have some continuity if we’re going to be effective at all,” she said.

The Hunt for Green Jobs: Los Angeles Trade Tech, which integrates sustainability into courses from green construction, sustainable land-use, and real-estate development to alternate fuel systems technology and sustainable design architecture, was recommended for those seeking green jobs.

The L.A. Community College District has a renewable energy and sustainability program, which focuses on reducing energy and water consumption, and reducing our carbon footprint. The district features renewable energy technology studies, including concentrated solar power, wind, bio-mass, geothermal, hydrogen, and electrical energy.

Beware Greenwashers: The new popularity of green products has generated a wave of “greenwashing” scammers, warned Alicia Culver, owner and executive director of the Green Purchasing Institute. She explained a product’s environmental impact is defined in “shades of green,” through factors like amount of recyclable content, bio-based content, or mercury content. She noted the increasing popularity of EPP’s, or Environmentally Preferable Products, which demonstrate a reduced negative or increased positive impact on human health and the environment when compared to competing products.

Car Share Everywhere: After a year of contract negotiations, both the UC and CSU systems have signed contracts with ZipCar for campus ride-sharing programs, one of the larger sustainability programs to bridge the higher ed divide.

Living Roofs – Who Knew? Cain of UC Davis described the “cascading manifests” of living roofs. They’re great places for growing food in a greenhouse, especially for massive-acre-big buildings stores, he said, noting that “two major national (grocery) chains are very interested in this process.” Living roofs cool homes, trap water, and grow food, and also attract butterflies, hummingbirds, and, Cain hopes, migratory bird species; common house cats are decimating the latter, which Cain hopes can find sanctuary on living roofs. Tweet that.


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