Environmentalism and sustainability aren’t always the most feel-good causes. A cursory glance at spiking population and oil consumption statistics or a visit to the National Resources Defence Council’s website can leave even the most well-intentioned activist feeling like the apocalypse is upon us. But it’s important to remember that inroads are being made. This month, we follow up with some of our favorite champions-of-green.
The city of Irvine is celebrating the 25th anniversary of its Open Space Accord this year, a phenomenal achievement approved by 85% of voters in 1988 that will permanently preserve more than one-third of the city’s total land area (more than 16,500 acres of parks, trails and wilderness areas). This accord with the Irvine Company, which three years ago handed over 20,000 acres to the county to be designated as permanent protected space, is managed by the Irvine Ranch Conservancy, which provides continued protection of this precious natural resource. The Irvine Company has also helped the county fund the management of the land, making the clear statement that conscious development starts with a commitment to undeveloped space.
The Coastkeeper Garden
Parents around Orange County waited eagerly for the June opening of the Coastkeeper Garden at Santiago Canyon College. The garden is a natural playground of sorts – featuring a gravel creek bed, log paths, and both environmentally and kid-friendly plants. It gives kids a chance to play and connect in a nature rich environment, while parents are able to learn about water-wise landscaping and pick plants that make sense as they dream up their own landscaping projects. In this way, Coastkeeper is attacking urban runoff where it starts: in the backyards of OC homes.
The California Brown Pelican
Pushed to the very brink of extinction 40 years ago due to the affects of DDT pesticides, the California brown pelican is officially off the endangered species list. The win, which is dated by a few years but deserves a turn in the spotlight, is a great testament to concerted conservation efforts. The brown pelican, whose primary rookeries are in the Channel Islands, is now thriving (and diving) in record numbers.
One World One Ocean
After a few years spent filming around the world and launching a massive, multi-platform campaign, the team at MacGillivray Freeman Films hasn’t slowed down for a second. To the Arctic, the first movie released under the One World One Ocean (OWOO) banner, finished 2012 as the most successful IMAX film of the year. Its impact was bigger than just ticket sales – by giving surveys to guests leaving the theater, MacGillivray Freeman found that 86% of attendees felt seeing the film had changed the way they planned to vote on environmental issues. Through matching gifts and fundraising initiatives with Coca-Cola and the World Wildlife Fund, the movie also brought in $4 million dollars to help protect the arctic polar bear.
In 2013, as crews continued to shoot in the South Pacific for the next OWOO release, MacG Media, a new media division of MacGillivray Freeman, partnered with Tampa’s Museum of Science and Industry (MOSI) to provide multimedia content for the museum’s exhibit of the world’s largest plastinated sea creatures. MacG utilized famed oceanographers Fabien Cousteau and Sylvia Earle in their video presentations for the exhibit – inviting guests to discover some of the rarest (and biggest) of all marine life.
OWOO also led a mission to visit the Aquarius Reef Base in the Florida Keys Marine Sanctuary. Aquarius is an underwater science lab and, at the time of the OWOO mission, was threatened with closure due to loss of funding. As a result of OWOO’s multimedia efforts to bring attention to the base, Aquarius has been stabilized by an infusion of funds.
Looking back on the year that was and excited for the year to come (which includes a movie hitting IMAX theaters in the spring), One World One Ocean’s Executive Director Shaun MacGillivray says: “I’m proud of how far we’ve come and where we’re headed. We’re continually discovering that through education and awareness we can do a lot to inspire people to care about our oceans.”
The Ecology Center
Since The Ecology Center in San Juan Capistrano opened in 2008, it has continually and steadily built a name for itself. Part of this success may be attributed to designer David Rager’s top-shelf graphics, which feel crisp, modern and sleek in a way that logos and branding for grassroots organizations seldom do. Another share of the credit is likely owed to the center’s unique location (the 135-year old Cogdon Farmhouse) and the fact that it was founded at a time when “going green” was on the tip of everyone’s tongue. But the lion’s share of the credit for The Ecology Center’s overwhelming (and consistent success) is most certainly due to the clear vision of founder Evan Marks. Under Marks’s steady guidance, the center has hit every projection out of the park, consistently exceeded expectations, and grown at a constant yet sustainable pace. In doing so, Marks has built an energetic, excited staff, a superb base of volunteers and developed relationships with corporate sponsors that most 501c3’s can only dream of (Hurley, Sambazon and Chipotle among them).
Since we last checked in, the team at The Ecology Center has kept their win streak going. The Water Shed, a mobile exhibit on Southern California water consumption, hosted nearly 4,000 visitors, with nearly 200,000 gallons of water savings pledged. The shed is a descendant of the center’s first featured exhibit, SPLASH!, which was recently invited (and funded) by the U.S. Embassy to attend the prestigious Lodz Design Festival in Poland. Meanwhile, Green Feast, a four-course farm-to-table dinner and Eco App Off which highlights notable chefs, organic farmers, ranchers, fisherman, winemakers, bakers, and cheesemakers and has become the eco-minded foodie’s go-to late summer event (happening this year on September 7), was also a success—bringing in more than $70,000 to support The Ecology Center’s programming.
Up next comes the conclusion of the very popular Summer Speaker Series titled “Basic Needs.” On August 16th, TED-award winner Cameron Sinclair of Architecture for Humanity will share his experiences designing and building safer, more sustainable structures in parts of the world affected by poverty and natural disaster. A few weeks later, on September 7th, the fifth annual Green Feast will feature some of the best (and sustainably minded) chefs across Orange County, competing in an “Eco App Off” and serving up locally sourced food.
Reflecting on how The Ecology Center has progressed in five years, Marks says: “We find ourselves being asked to be part of the sustainability conversation across the region now. People know us, they seek us out and invite us to offer input. We’re excited to make an impact – both within our established community and beyond.”
The Plastic Bag Ban
The single-use plastic bag, loathed by ocean-dwellers everywhere, may soon be a thing of the past. Laguna Beach’s ban was enacted January 1, 2013, Dana Point’s took effect April 1 and the Huntington Beach City Council voted to adopt a single-use bag ban just days later. The only hiccup has been San Clemente, whose council voted down the ban in May, forcing the issue to be tabled for at least a year. And though Senate Bill 405 to ban plastic bags on the state level was defeated, the Los Angeles City Council voted 11-1 in favor of a ban (becoming the largest U.S. city to do so). Seeing that Angelenos are committed to a sustainable future will hopefully prompt more cities to follow suit.
Miocean has scaled down a bit over the past few years, with an operating budget around $500,000 (down from $1 million) – but that hasn’t stopped it from making big moves in an effort to protect the “Blue 42” from hazardous runoff. Recently, in a partnership with the city of Costa Mesa, Miocean created the Santa Ana River Wetlands at Fairview Park. The wetlands provide filtration for 50,000 gallons of runoff per day before the water has a chance to reach the River Jetties surf break at Newport Beach. Pat Fuscoe, chairman of the Miocean board, calls the creation of a natural wetlands, “the greenest way that I know of to filter urban runoff on its course to the sea.”
Up next, Miocean is partnering with OC cities to install floating litter booms in coastal streams. Litter booms (which have proven incredibly successful in the LA River) capture trash before it can enter the ocean. The first two are planned for the Talbert and Huntington Beach channels. After that, Fuscoe sees more of these booms in Miocean’s future, saying: “By partnering with cities to maintain the technology, but paying for the booms with our own funds, we’re creating a partnership model that can be recreated across the country.”
Crystal Cove Alliance
During the 2012-2013 school year, the CCA launched The Marine Protected Area Citizen Science Cruise. The cruise offers teenage scientists a chance to use state-of-art equipment to monitor the restoration of the Marine Protected Areas off Crystal Cove State Park. Last year, the CCA hosted 1,200 students from local middle and high schools. The thrust of the program is to give young scientists a chance to participate in the collection of data – but a surprise ancillary benefit has been that the project provides a sustainable model for commercial fishing vessels in Newport Harbor (CCA rents the fishing charters to use in their programming). Combine that with the fact that the data collected will be used to help chart the resurgence of marine life and you have a triple win.
Up next for the CCA is the development of the Berns Study Loop in Moro Canyon, another spot where students can take part in the science of the park in a variety of hands-on ways. Michael and Trica Berns made the project possible with a $ 1 million gift, the largest educational gift given to California State Parks, which will also allow CCA to hire a part-time park interpreter. Once again, CCA has been lauded for its ability to create partnerships and fundraising opportunities between the private sector and the state parks. Harry Helling, the bearded, oft-smiling director of the alliance, is proud of CCA’s growth: “It’s always a win when you get the next generation of stewards immersed (quite literally) in the science of protecting their beaches, parks and oceans.”
The Fight to Save Trestles
A few years ago, Surfrider, along with Friends of the Foothills and various other conservancy groups, rallied against the Transportation Corridor Agency (TCA) and its proposed 241 Toll Road extension. The road would have cut through San Onofre State Beach, built pilings in the San Mateo Creek and shifted the silting patterns that create the famous Trestles surf break. The grassroots campaign to fight the TCA was a thing of beauty – organized with military precision, it reminded us of the incredible power wielded by individuals bound together by a common cause. When the rulings were delivered, the TCA was thoroughly trounced, first by the California Coastal Commission and then by the Department of Commerce.
Recently, the TCA tried to regain traction by pushing to build a five-mile extension to the existing road. Perhaps they hoped that since this extension wouldn’t affect Trestles, groups like Surfrider would ignore it. No chance. Surfrider was ready and instantly remobilized. Again, the TCA was taken to task by the surf community – who immediately saw through the ploy to gradually segment the road into existence. On June 19, the San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board voted to deny the five-mile extension, which means that the TCA’s quest to develop the 241 isn’t even on square one, it’s on square none.
When speaking about the victory, Rick Erkeneff, chairman of the South Orange County Surfrider Chapter, can’t help but slip a jab at the TCA: “We beat them in the World Series in ’08, now they wanted to take us on again in spring training so we beat them again. Hopefully they got the message this time.”
In fact, though Erkeneff and Surfrider are staying vigilant in their dealings with the TCA, it’s not the biggest fish they’ve got frying. They’ve also been offering support to 10 Surfrider clubs at OC high schools, and pushing the city of Dana Point to remove time restrictions at one of the access points for Strands Beach (upholding another Coastal Commission victory).
“We’re volunteers who love the beach,” Erkeneff says of Surfrider, “we want it to be protected, we want it to be open. That’s what we’re fighting for.” A very worthy cause indeed.
ABC Green Home
Built in a partnership between Irvine’s Great Park, Southern California Edison and Green Home Builder Magazine, the ABC (which stands for affordable, buildable and certified) Green Home is designed as much for cost-conscious developers as it is for the average home buyer, especially when they find out the yearly electric bills amount to zero.
In June, Award-winning national firm KTGY Group, Inc., Architecture + Planning, announced that its innovative ABC Green Home won the prestigious 2013 PCBC Gold Nugget Grand Award for the “Best Zero Net Energy Home Design.” The Craftsman-style, 1,695-square-foot, three-bedroom, three-bath home is a net zero energy-consumption model home, which provides a blueprint for builders on how to mass produce environmentally friendly houses that generate as much energy as they consume.
Built by Southern California Edison (SCE), BCA Development & North Orange County ROP-BITA Program, and Peninsula Publishing, and designed by KTGY, the ABC Green Home represents an industry-wide collaboration of approximately 70 companies that contributed labor and materials to design, build and accessorize the home with available materials, technology and appliances at a cost, which is competitive with conventional housing. Students from seven Orange County high schools assisted with construction of the ABC Green Home as part of special educational efforts aimed at students interested in construction trades.
The ABC Green Home serves to educate and train builders, students, industry groups and thousands of visitors about sustainable living and is on display at the Orange County Great Park in Irvine for the remainder of the year. The ABC Green Home will also be on display as part of the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon 2013, which will take place October 3-13, at the Great Park. This will be the first time this world-famous competition will be held outside of Washington, D.C. Eventually, the house will be donated to Habitat for Humanity and given to a combat-wounded service person.
“There’s a misconception in the housing business that green homebuilding is daunting,” said Peninsula Publishing’s Nick Slevin, publisher of Green Home Builder magazine and a project organizer. “We built this home out of materials you can get anywhere. It is designed to be easily built by a homebuilder on a lot anywhere in the country, using modern sustainable products and practices. In fact, students from seven local high schools helped with construction.”
Architect Manny Gonzalez designed the ABC Green Home’s exterior to look similar to Craftsman-style homes built in many of the county’s older cities. However, every element of design and building kept to a strict standard of highly efficient energy usage, eco-friendly materials and universal access for people of all sizes and abilities.