Resourceful ways of sustaining the workforce

The growing concern for the environment is present almost everywhere, from recycling receptacles accompanying trashcans throughout the campus to movies being made about problems surrounding this topic such as "An Inconvenient Truth." A lot of people know that Al Gore is behind the movie "An Inconvenient Truth," but who knows the people who are responsible for things like the recycling receptacles? There is a whole army of individuals dedicating their lives to sustaining the planet, and their army is continuously building, in this case, with the help of the state.

At a time when California's unemployment rate is estimated at over 12 percent, the Department of Labor has granted $4.7 million to begin a new Associates Degree which will launch at Santa Monica College, and two other community colleges. The degree will be in Recycling and Resource Management, and the classes that make up this degree are scheduled to start Fall 2011.

SMC has taken the initiative, along with Irvine Valley College and Golden West College in Huntington Beach, to form partnerships with institutions such as the California Resource Recovery Association (CRRA) to begin this program. Although this is a new degree, Genevieve Bertone, project manager of sustainability coordination at SMC, explained that it is heavily based on a program that is already successfully in existence.

She added that the number of these green jobs, such as waste management, is growing quickly. The goal, she said, is to "increase our green class offerings to help people as part of the growing green economy."

The program that is in existence provides certification through the CRRA, and about 20 people have completed the program so far, estimates Judi Gregory, CRRA's certification manager. She explained that since the program began only a couple of years ago, there are still roughly 80 students who have completed the coursework, but not the final project. Even more, about 200, are still doing coursework.

One of the benefits of having the degree will be that this project will be a group project, which ties into the networking that Gregory describes as invaluable. Classes will also be offered more often.

An even greater benefit, both Bertone and Gregory claim, is that the message of sustainability will be even further spread. Holli Fajack, student greening program coordinator for Sustainable Works, has been working closely with Bertone, and is also excited for the new program.

"I think it's great. I think it gives a whole new generation of people an option that maybe wasn't there before, and it gives those who are already in the field an opportunity to take it to the next level."

The people for whom this program is aimed at is also different, through the AA, from the current certificate. The CRRA currently targets people already in the field, and through the degree, various people are being targeted, such as the dislocated or unemployed. There aren't really any programs out there that target the educational component, according to Gregory, which is one of the things they are hoping to do here.

Ultimately, they even hope to eventually achieve a Bachelor's Degree for this field. Gregory voiced frustration as she described what she perceives as the fight against the apathy that has engaged people in detrimental decisions for the environment.

"There's other options for throwing things in the trash… the consumers play a huge role. Our goal is that we can educate a broader audience," she said.

A big step, she added, is getting businesses to consider their own greenness at their roots and foundation. She explained that it shouldn't be an afterthought, and people who obtain the degree, or certification, can go out and implement this knowledge in their jobs.

Some jobs that this degree can prepare people for include recycling coordinator positions, landfill positions, and jobs for small local companies as well as big companies like Toyota.

Bertone said that the jobs will include people "from every front from people who sort waste to people who design recycling systems on campus even."

On specifics that the degree will entail, Gregory explained that the program can be broken into three main parts, which will make up the three core, three-unit classes. The first will be mainly focused on the idea of zero waste in the community, the second will concentrate on how to work to develop programs, and the third will be the business aspect. Additionally, there will be about five subsets, and for the first year the courses will not be accredited.

The degree will also include information on the legislative process, since how we handle waste is often governed by the state, said Bertone. They want to make it so that it can be cohesive on a state and national level.

However, the process is still relatively new. Bertone describes it as educating the faculty, as of now. She said that they are teaching the teachers about the industry certification, and how to best expand industry input.

Fajack said that, even though this has mostly happened at other schools, when she has approached teachers about the topic, they sometimes ask how it could be related to what they're teaching.

"It's important to be educated on ecological issues and solutions – it's only going to add value to any field you're in," she said. And more to the point, she said, "We all live on this planet."

"Not only does it obviously contribute to the culture shift of becoming sensitive to sustainability, but it's also really great we're taking a model that's already a test," Bertone added. "We know it's successful, we know people are interested in this, and we know there's a need."