Santa Monica College strides in sustainability

Inside a garden, the green beginnings of citrus fruits slowly ripen on a tiny tree. Miniature crimson gala apples hang romantically on luscious branches. A developing plum tree will soon bear fruit. Pineapple guavas begin to form on the surrounding hedges. Plump concord grapes dangle just beyond the fence.

Of those gathered inside a Santa Monica College lecture hall, 75 percent were unaware of this whimsical garden’s existence.

Nestled next to the art complex, the Organic Learning Garden is one of many examples of SMC’s campus sustainability projects.

The first of five meetings in the fall environmental lecture series was held Tuesday to educate both college and community on sustainability issues and strategies.

SMC environmental studies professor William Selby introduced Genevieve Bertone, SMC’s director of sustainability, Dana Morgan, SMC English professor and garden coordinator, as well as Sustainable Works associates Edward Pakdaman and Holli Fajack.

Sustainable Works is a nonprofit environmental organization that promotes “environmental education and action.”

Operating out of SMC’s main campus, Sustainable Works shares a space with SMC’s Center for Environmental and Urban Studies.

“We want our grandchildren, our great-great-grandchildren to have access to the same resources that we do have today, so we need to take care of them in order to have them in the future as well,” Pakdaman said at the lecture. “That’s the idea of sustainability.”

“This has been one of the most powerful relationships between city, an organization and the college that I can remember since I’ve taught here," Selby said of Sustainable Works. "It has touched thousands of student's lives in so many profound ways. There’s no law that says you have to become more sustainable. There’s no rule that says that you have to save energy. But they’re showing people how it’s just really smart to do those things.”

Bertone led an interactive discussion with listeners, stressing the value of environmental consciousness and the implications of a lack thereof.

“It’s really important that we all recognize the role of the individual, and that our impacts as individuals really add up to create an environmental crisis that we’re facing right now,” Bertone said, referring to climate change as the responsibility of this generation.

“We are all part of the problem, and it’s really important that we all become part of the solution,” she said.

According to Bertone, SMC is one of the greenest campuses in the US and a nationwide leader in sustainability. Assisting in making use of solar energy, the largest solar panel installation in the city of Santa Monica is at SMC.

Recycling on campus is effortless, as students will find a recycling bin next to any trashcan.

To take recycling a step further, food waste can be disposed of in the worm-composting bin, which minimizes landfill waste. Also to divert waste from reaching landfills, SMC must adhere to a Zero Waste program, which, according to the SMC Academic Senate, “maximizes recycling, minimizes waste, reduces consumption and ensures that products are made to be reused, repaired or recycled back into nature or the marketplace.”

SMC provides students the opportunity to reduce their carbon footprint through alternative transportation. Not only can students ride the Big Blue Bus for free, SMC has developed an exclusive carpool rideshare program called Zimride, which matches students online based on their neighborhoods and commutes.

“It’s very important that we create a productive healthy work and learning environment,” said Bertone. “If the air that you’re breathing, the food that you have available, the water that you drink while you’re on campus are polluting your body, polluting your mind, making it difficult to breathe, and ultimately resulting in higher cancer rates, then that’s not very responsible as an academic institution.”

Morgan addressed the environmental significance of reducing transportation costs and pollutants through eating locally, or supporting local farmers and growing food, which is demonstrated through SMC’s Organic Learning Garden.

“Isn’t it better to eat locally and eat in season, because that guava doesn’t have to be shipped from Bolivia?” said Morgan.

The speakers also highlighted the many ways ecologically aware students can be proactively involved on campus, such as applying for a plot in the garden, attending gardening workshops, joining Club Grow and EcoAction Club, and dropping by the Center for Environmental and Urban Studies.

In areas of study such as Environmental Studies and Recycling and Resource Management, SMC offers an array of environmentally focused classes including environmental ethics, environmental psychology and environmental politics. SMC students can receive an associate degree in Environmental Studies or Environmental Science.

“Sustainability is a process; it’s not an endpoint,” said Bertone.