My Small Community’s Big Commitment to Climate Action

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Community Garden: Church of the Brethern, La Verne

A version of this post was originally published on the Path to Positive blog.

This year has been a tumultuous one for climate change. While progress was made, international agreements were put into place, and cities, states and countries have sprung into action — the political commitment to climate action at the federal and global stage seems uncertain at best. However, 2016 also showed us that action on climate begins at the local level. It is the mayors and community leaders who are closest to the people that are developing, implementing and reaping the benefits of climate-wise programs.

Action on climate can be found in cities and neighborhoods across the country, but what’s often most inspiring is how much can be done with so little. Over the past year, Path to Positive Communities has highlighted many examples of these local success stories, and even in the small city where I live, bold action can be found. These are some of the simple solutions that are already underway:

  • Invest: Through a bond measure, residents in the local school district sent the message that they were eager to invest in clean energy. The plan was simple: utilize open spaces at every school in the district to erect robust solar panels. Covering parking lots, lining rooftops, and providing shaded areas on school campuses, the solar investments are now paying off through reduced energy bills for the city and school district.
  • Inspire: Sometimes even simple solutions can go a long way. The University of La Verne has this year made efforts to encourage students to cycle, carpool, and even ditch their cars in favor of using on-campus car-sharing programs like Zipcar. By upgrading bike racks, providing a station with bike tools and pumps, and even simply encouraging cyclists, the campus has reinforced a commitment to pedal power. These actions have reverberated throughout the community. Students are cycling and walking more in the adjacent downtown, which has helped to decrease local congestion and has cut air and noise pollution.
  • Grow: One of the first steps that any community leader can take is to simply provide open spaces for developing community gardens. These can be located within church grounds, school campuses, vacant lots, or even land acquired through private-public partnerships. Community gardens improve the lives of residents by providing local, often organic, and reasonably priced fresh produce to families and restaurants. They have been linked to higher educational outcomes for children, and increased rates of science literacy. They are also good for the climate. Local food has fewer carbon miles than produce purchased in grocery stores. Additionally, increased green spaces can help dampen urban heat-island effects, thereby decreasing A/C use.

The City of La Verne has no sustainability department. There is no sustainability director, analyst, or coordinator. Climate has nearly no presence in council meetings or statements by the Mayor. However, what the community does have is a handful of committed leaders who recognize that they can improve the lives of residents through cycling, lower energy bills, less congested city streets, decreased air and noise pollution, and access to fresh produce from community gardens—and that these have the added benefit of being climate positive.

These commitments represent low-cost actions that offer significant climate impacts, yet have little or no costs. All that is required is leadership. And becoming a climate leader is easier than ever. Access the latest communications tools and research guides at ecoAmerica, join with committed leaders and begin to take your journey with Path to Positive: Los Angeles.

Posted on Tuesday, January 17th, 2017

Success Story: Sustainability at UCLA

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The view from Hedrick Hall, looking east across the campus to downtown Los Angeles. In the foreground is Kaufman Hall (1932). Janss Steps lead up the hill to Royce Hall and Powell Library, two of UCLA's original buildings (1929).

The view from Hedrick Hall, UCLA

Nurit Katz is the Chief Sustainability Officer for UCLA. An alumni of the university and longtime resident of Los Angeles, she is a distinguished instructor and lecturer of sustainability, an active member of multiple sustainable business boards, and a member of the Path to Positive Los Angeles Leadership Circle. Katz has a long history of developing and implementing bold climate action plans, and is now focusing her efforts at making one of California’s largest campuses a sustainable one.

FACING A CHALLENGE

As I like to say, in sustainability there is no shortage of interesting problems to solve. At UCLA, with a daily population of 80,000 people, we are like a small city. One of our goals is carbon neutrality by 2025. To get there we will need our whole community engaged. One of our big challenges is how to communicate with such a large and diverse audience and how to inspire people to take action.

FINDING A SOLUTION

In our on-campus housing we engage students in an annual energy competition between the residence halls. In 2016, over 2,500 students (25% of students on the Hill) pledged to reduce their energy consumption during UCLA’s 8th Annual energy savings competition. Together the students saved 119,000 kWh of electricity or 82 tons of carbon dioxide emissions! The amount of energy saved could’ve powered 15 homes in Los Angeles for a year.

Participants in UCLA's Cool Campus Challenge Program

Participants in UCLA’s Cool Campus Challenge Program

Expanding engagement to the rest of the campus community, last year we joined the other UC campuses in a system-wide challenge called the Cool Campus Challenge. Students, staff and faculty participated in pledging actions to reduce their carbon footprint, and got points for different actions they completed. The campaign was really successful — we placed in the competition and had over 3,000 people participate. We celebrated the winning individuals and teams with pedal-powered ice cream.

As a leading research institution, we also study these issues formally through applied research related to energy and behavior change. Professor Magali Delmas from the UCLA Anderson School of Management and Institute of the Environment and Sustainability led a project called ENGAGE. With funding from the California Air Resource Board and the National Science Foundation, ENGAGE has equipped 120 apartments at the University of California, Los Angeles with appliance-level electric metering to experiment with real-time information displays. ENGAGE frames energy consumption feedback to optimize the psychological motivation to reduce energy use. ENGAGE investigates how real-time energy consumption feedback can be used as an effective tool for energy conservation. It applies insights from behavioral science to design optimal interventions for changing energy use behavior. It is among the largest behavioral experiments in energy conservation in the United States.

And finally, Professor Delmas and faculty from across many disciplines are collaborating through the Sustainable LA Grand Challenge with the aim of reaching 100% renewable energy, 100% locally sourced water, and enhanced ecosystem health for Los Angeles County by 2050.

Empowering Students to Track Progress on Their Own

Empowering students to track progress on their own through ENGAGE

KEY TO SUCCESS

With the Cool Campus Challenge, our annual residence hall competitions, and the ENGAGE project, a simple, user-friendly interface were important in making data accessible and motivating behavior change. Visibility of results helps, as people are often motivated by seeing their peers participate.  It also helps to have key leaders engaged and demonstrating interest in the programs.

LESSONS LEARNED

Friendly competition and gamification can be a great engagement tool. So many people are passionate about sustainability but don’t know how they can get involved, and what an impact their individual actions can have. Through the Cool Campus Challenge, our faculty, staff, and students learned ways they could contribute to solving climate change. Being able to see actual data through dashboards in the residence hall competitions and the ENGAGE project can make those impacts more accessible and real.

The results of the ENGAGE research project showed us how different messages can resonate with different groups. Many people think that economics will always be the strongest driver, but ENGAGE found that health-related messages can sometimes be more powerful.

Posted on Wednesday, November 30th, 2016

Success Story: Mona Telega

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Spotlight On: Mona Telega, Principal, Monmark Agency & Chair, Committee on the Environment AIA|LA

unnamedMona Telega is a Principal at the Monmark Agency and Chair of the Committee on the Environment at the American Institute of Architects (COTE AIA|LA). There, she and her team create programs to advance sustainable built environments and encourage sustainable lifestyles for city dwellers.


FACING A CHALLENGE

The architectural trade in Los Angeles and the AIA LA are very involved in designing, building and living in sync with our natural environment. Part of that involves preventing further fossil fuel emissions in our cities.  To that end, COTE has been working to reward projects that meet these goals, pushing attendees to use negligible or no footprint transportation to our events. We therefore encourage people to walk, bike, take the bus or train to arrive to events like the AIA|LA’s annual Design Awards, which just celebrated the addition of the COTE LA Awards category.

For the COTE Awards this year, we had a large initiative for attending the awards via clean transportation, and were successful in encouraging many walkers, some bikers and a few “busers” and “trainers.”  While we always strive to push alternate modes of transportation, for the awards we did a big social media push complete with stickers, which participants received upon arrival. We are trying to have our constituents set an example in how walkable, bikeable and overall accessible our metropolis really is. unnamed-1

We at COTE are a small entity within the trade, so raising awareness has been our main goal.  So this year we launched an online resource library including reference literature on green architecture, sourcing sustainable materials, and related organizations (wildlife, surfers, ocean, river and water, etc.)

FINDING A SOLUTION

We set up and launched a thorough social presence online: a professional group on LinkedIn, a page on Facebook and an Instagram account, where we have seen growth.  We grew our numbers on the Committee with passionate and able people that have helped with our programs when we needed it.  As a volunteer-committee, our budgets are non-existent, so we share our ideas, gifts and talents, and whatever possible contributions to achieve our goals.

KEY TO SUCCESS

  • Have a clear mission: I am not an architect, but care deeply about the environment, our planet and its health, and us people here on earth.  I value architecture’s social and economic impact and have been working with professionals from within the architectural trade to help sustainable practices reach a wider range of clientele.  Through this work, I feel that we are educating the public about the most tenable way to live with one another in harmony with mother-nature.
  • Stay committed and collaborate: I have been on the committee for nearly three years. Last year I vice-chaired and while I am the chair this year, I will still co-chair next year.  I come from a place where I have made a conscious effort to go and meet similar organizations (the Sustainability Office at the Mayor’s City Hall, Fortune’s Sustainable Summit in Carlsbad, New Urbanism Film Festival, TreePeople, the Ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles, museums, etc.) with a firm belief that we all want the same thing—to diminish the damage we have done to the planet to date, and build paths to a healthier one for future, smart generations.
  • Keep the hope alive: I see the existence of all of these entities as little droplets of water dispersed across the city, or the country if you will, and the more these droplets increase, the more people are included and acting in each of them, they will eventually merge into this immense ocean of making possible, making it big as a beautiful ocean in which we all swim/contribute together.  And I think we are getting there. For some good reason, I have no idea how or why, most people responded to my call and action, and in the architecture trade we managed to attract to COTE some very valuable members and have grown from three to seven.

LESSONS LEARNED

Looking back, I learned that it is important to be sincere in your awareness of the climate situation. It is important to lead by example and walk your talk. I learned that this is a great fight, now greater than ever, and that together we can make a big difference, even if we start with small steps. By changing and redefining the way we design and build cities, we can transform our society’s wellbeing and, by extension, the planet’s. That happens when we all step in and share our inner genius and hard work with each other, for each other.

Thank you for bringing us even closer together into our resolve to find climate solutions.

Posted on Monday, November 21st, 2016
Path To Positive Los Angeles