Growing up green
The CN&R gave birth to a new section this year, and the community has sustained it
Summing up the inaugural year of GreenWays is probably like talking about your first baby’s first year. So much happens in a relatively short timeframe, making it impossible to remember every important milestone. You’re also constantly surprised by the little moments along the way.
The CN&R launched the section in April, a few days before Earth Day, so technically it’s still an infant. Yet it was clear from the very first story that the many environmental initiatives in the community merit weekly coverage.
Chico is crazy about the S-word. Yep, we’re talking about sustainability. Call it a buzzword if you want, but it’s hard to think of a better term to sum up all of the different movements within the environmental realm.
Sustainability comprises issues of social justice, poverty, business practices, food production, construction, reproduction, and innumerable other topics. The common denominator is that at some point, those things all have an impact on the environment and the Earth’s ability to support us.
Humanity is stripping the planet of its natural resources at an alarming rate. Fortunately, a growing segment of the world’s 6.6 billion inhabitants recognize this and are working to do something about it. And many of those enlightened individuals live right in our back yard.
In Butte County (and arguably all of the North State), the epicenter of the sustainable movement these days is Chico State University. The campus has made many strides that fall in line with the pledges outlined last year in the institution’s strategic plan.
Over four days in November, the This Way to Sustainability conference brought more than 1,000 folks to the university campus for exhibits and workshops on everything from canning fruits and vegetables to building multimillion-dollar green buildings. Open to the public for a nominal fee, participants included businesspeople, activists, educators, students (who attended for free) and inquisitive everyday people.
Highlights included speeches from world-renowned experts, including David Orr, a professor at Oberlin College in Ohio, who has inspired environmental students at Chico State and around the country with his books, namely The Last Refuge: Patriotism, Politics, and the Environment.
Chico State’s Associated Students organized the first sustainability conference three years ago and has since partnered with the university’s Institute for Sustainable Development, along with Butte College and its Associated Students. The event has grown and is now considered the largest campus-based conference of its kind in the United States.
Another student-led initiative taking shape this year is located at the southwest end of campus. Workers broke ground in the fall at the site of the forthcoming student-owned Wildcat Activity Center. When completed, the facility, the campus’ second eco-friendly structure, will be certified under the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) green-building rating system.
Many other projects and programs, such as the university’s new organic dairy and the Green Campus program put Chico State in the elite company of Harvard and Yale this summer, when Grist.org named all three universities on its list of the top 15 green campuses in the world. A few months later, a Chico State biology professor became a Nobel Peace Prize winner for his work on the Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change.
The city of Chico also has made huge leaps when it comes to protecting the environment.
A majority of councilmembers made the difficult decision amid the city’s budget crisis to pay for a survey of the community’s greenhouse-gas emissions. Ultimately, the results of the complicated study will help the community reduce its carbon footprint and save money on wasted energy.
Councilmembers allocated the money on the advice of the Sustainability Task Force, itself a step toward sustainability.
The diverse 15-member panel, composed of city officials and community members, was formed in the spring, and has been working on long- and short-term goals for the city. A big one? Meeting Kyoto Protocol targets by reducing the city’s emissions levels below the levels generated in 1990, and doing so by 2012.
We’ve had a lot to write about in the community, too, namely the Butte Environmental Council. Heading into its 33rd year, the nonprofit operated a recycling program during its early years and continues its commitment to conservation today by focusing on environmental education and advocacy throughout the county.
BEC’s annual community cleanups remove thousands of pounds of trash and recyclables from environmentally sensitive areas; the popular Endangered Species Faire at Bidwell Park introduces thousands of children each year to important ecological issues; and the organization’s small but dedicated staff and 800-strong membership have acted as a watchdog group, helping protect fragile species, land, waterways and the future health of our region. The organization was honored by Chico State and Butte College with a Greenie award during the sustainability conference.
Folks in the private sector as well as nonprofits have come up with some pretty ingenious sustainable services and products, from eco-friendly diapers to recycling electronics waste. Sierra Nevada Brewery has long been an environmental champion, and the brewing company went all out this year with the solar array project at the facility’s parking lot. Butte College managed an enormous overhaul and expansion of the campus’ library, turning the old, inefficient building into an eco-conscious modern facility.
Sustainable development has taken Chico by storm this year, and the CN&R is no exception. GreenWays has opened the eyes of a lot of people at the paper’s Second Street offices. The building is filled with bicycles on a regular basis, and office lights go dark when we’re out for lunch or appointments. Heck, some of us pull the blinds and don’t bother flipping the switch at all.
Sure, these aren’t mind-boggling feats, but it’s a start. And we know we’re not the only ones.