SMC Turns to Sustainability to Reduce Costs

In a time of slash-and-burn budget cuts, SMC's sustainable programs are still running strong. The success of current programs has encouraged exploration into other economically viable methods, with payoffs materializing through investment and culture change.

On Dec. 2, SMC's Budget Planning Subcommittee invited Genevieve Bertone, Sustainability Coordinator, to suggest sustainable methods of saving money. After discussing a number of options, from installing more energy-monitoring motion sensors to limiting the printing of class schedules, the committee and Bertone agreed to meet again to decide which tactics should be implemented on Jan. 20.

The Budget Planning Subcommittee is comprised of sixteen representatives elected from staff and student organizations including the California School Employees Association, Administrative and Managerial Staff, Academic Senate, Faculty Association and Associated Students. Recommendations from the subcommittee are sent through a chain of approval and may reach the Santa Monica and Malibu District Board of Trustees, who give final approval for financial expenditures.

The Board of Trustees works together with a variety of groups that lobby for SMC environmental programs, including the Environmental Affairs Committee, a group of professors and students who volunteer their time to promote sustainability.

"We want to make sure that our campus is a good local and global citizen. The Board of Trustees knows this and that has made a difference," said Bill Selby, member of the Environmental Affairs Committee. "The leadership gets it, and that's what's changed everything."

Another key figure in funding is Sustainability Coordinator, Bertone. In 2007, she presented the SMC Environmental Audit which took a comprehensive look at the college's use of resources and explored the financial viability of projected sustainable programs. A copy of the audit is available on SMC's website.

The audit explored many of the rising costs in energy, water and transportation, introducing programs to efficiently cut costs. The outlined solutions were practical in nature, calling for personal accountability in resource management.  The data provided in this audit incited many efficiency programs at SMC.

Selby explained how one such practical change made an impact. Trash disposal costs rose to over $100,000. The grounds' crew on campus unified their efforts by implementing a variety of measures, such as consolidating garbage bins and initiating an extensive recycling program that eventually decreased the overall cost to $35,000.

The audit initiated many other sustainable methods, including investment in green technology. Efforts to improve energy consumption, including rewiring of electrical systems and using energy-efficient lighting, are making a substantial impact.

"As the costs of energy continue to rise, we're going to save millions on light and energy efficiency on this campus," said Selby.

Investment seems to be a predominant theme in the economics of sustainability. The City of Santa Monica has recently opted for investment while constructing a new train line. Along proposed subway stops, there are plans for high-density buildings that will combine resident and commercial property.

"It's the most economically viable thing we're doing right now," said Andrew Basmajian, Communications Coordinator for the City of Santa Monica's Office of Sustainability. "It's creating businesses, creating a living place, and also using efficient methods regarding energy and water."

School construction also provides an example of investment. Because it is funded by bonds that the voters of Santa Monica approved to designate, the funds must be used on construction costs. The construction of the new Student Services building and renovation of the AET building on Stewart Street are geared toward sustainability, with natural light and heat options being implemented, among many others.

In the long term, these simple design options will pay for themselves, eventually returning profit to the school. "Green building may have higher construction costs," said Bertone. "But the payoff is seen through reduced maintenance and operational costs."

SMC's student government also allocates funds toward sustainability. Natasha Gorodnitski, Associated Student's Director of Sustainability, lobbies to ensure the legislative success of environmental initiatives and expenditures. All funding is received directly from SMC students.

"When we put forward proposals to spend money, it is the students' money," said Gorodnitski. "So whenever I pass something, it's out of a small portion that comes from what every student pays to the college."

Financial investment throughout the chain of command at SMC has resulted in a successful sustainable program. However, Bertone stresses another kind of investment. She maintains that a "perceptible culture shift" is vital to enhance the success of sustainability both ecologically and economically.

 "Getting people to change behavior, whether that be turning off their computer when they leave or redesigning a building, is always challenging," said Bertone. "But people are finally starting to make the connection between actions, environmental impact, and economic reward."