SMC Director of Sustainability Genevieve Bertone departs, but leaves behind a legacy of greening

As SMC Associated Students Director of Sustainability Andrea Cabrera stood outside of the library last Thursday, she was approached by a member of the Bike Club, who energetically rattled off numerous ideas of what to do now that the club was officially installed by the Inter-Club Council. Relays, scavenger hunts, and group rides with other clubs, he went on and asked Cabrera if Genevieve Bertone, Campus Director of Sustainability, was around so he could ask her for advice on coordinating them, to which Cabrera answered, “She’s gone.” He asked, “For the day?”

Cabrera said, “No, she’s gone-gone. Today was her last day.”

Bertone announced to SMC’s Center for Environmental and Urban Studies (CEUS) of her upcoming departure for Santa Rosa College during winter break. To many it came as a surprise that she was leaving less than halfway into the next semester.

“I thought it was a joke at first,” said Cabrera. “I don’t think it has hit me that she’s gone, to be honest.”

Bertone started being involved with SMC early in 2007 as the director of Sustainable Works, a non-profit, currently housed in the CEUS, that seeks to provide “green” education to communities and businesses. From her work with current Sustainable Works director Susy Borlido, she went on to start the CEUS as a project manager, and later officially became an administrator as the Director of Sustainability for SMC and the CEUS.

Before getting the chance to become a key part of SMC's sustainability programs, her master’s thesis at UCLA was a full audit of SMC’s environmental impact.

SMC Executive Vice President Jeffery Shimizu said, “She essentially built our sustainability program here at the college.” He noted that Bertone played a large role in many “green” initiatives of the school including composting, chairing the campus transportation task force which helped build a strong relationship with Big Blue Bus, the bike program and bike parking, Earth Week, “greening” the curriculum, the Organic Learning Garden, and even started two Associate degree programs, Recycling & Resource Management and Solar Photovoltaic Installation.

“We needed somebody to champion this and push us in this direction. I mean, this is Santa Monica right?” said Shimizu. “She really was a leader in that for us.”

SMC has received many accolades for its “green” initiatives, most recently becoming the first community college to earn a Bronze-level Bicycle Friendly University award from the League of American Bicyclists; this merit was achieved thanks to 800 bicycle parking spaces placed throughout campus, an active bicycle club that encourages students to bike and use public transit, and a paid incentive program the school offers employees for biking or taking public transit to work.

The Organic Learning Garden garden master Dana Morgan, a retired English professor at SMC, was introduced to Bertone back in 2007.Morgan commends Bertone's work with jumpstarting and supporting the "green" initiatives and programs on campus, noting the difficulty of doing such work.

“I don’t think she had any idea of what she was going to accomplish here,” said Morgan. “It will be literally impossible to replace her and her institutional knowledge.”

Morgan credits Bertone with making SMC a more sustainable environment and regrets not having had more time to celebrate her achievements before her departure.

President of the Chemistry Club Eugene Kim, who tends to his club’s plot in the Organic Learning Garden, had only met Bertone a few times before her departure. He remembers her as being strict, but very helpful and patient with all students who worked in the garden.

Cabrera, who is only the seventh director of sustainability the AS has had due to Bertone’s push for the position on the board, sees the garden much the same as Kim did. “[The garden] builds a community within the movement,” said Cabrera. “It’s our icon for sustainability on the campus.”

Cabrera herself was originally interested in pursuing architecture and design to follow in her father’s footsteps, but once she had a class on “green” architecture solutions, she found her calling. She will earn her Associates degree in Recycling & Resource Management in June and is looking to transfer to San Francisco State for Family & Consumer Science.

“My pathway is kind of open because of this program,” said Cabrera of the program she says Bertone referred to as “her baby.” “Sustainability has to do with social aspects, environmental aspects, consumer aspects, community building, health.”

Cabrera became involved with AS because “I see the problems and try to find solutions” in the campus community. Right now her latest mission is to do something about the smoking areas on campus, which extend past their legal zones and are often littered with cigarette butts and cartons. She recently spent five minutes picking up the insurmountable litter and presented it to a facilities DPAC in the form of a tower to address the problem.

Cabrera sees the need to fix these issues as soon as possible because much like Bertone, SMC president Chui L.Tsang, and latest soon to be retiree Director of Auxiliary Services George Prather, she assumes that “at the end of the day, we’re all going to leave.”