Archive for the ‘Los Angeles’ category

Making the Grade: Report Card on School Conditions

April 16th, 2013

Leaky faucets. Classrooms that are too cold or too hot. Hundreds of pounds of food and thousands of gallons of milk thrown away. Inefficient and improperly designed lighting.

These poor conditions, and more, plague many of our public schools, driving up operating costs, damaging our environment, and making teachers less effective in education our children. Nationwide, it would cost $271 billion to clear up deferred maintenance and bring our schools back up to code; an equal amount would be required to make them resource- efficient and high performing learning environments, according to a recent report from the Center for Green Schools.

Problems of this magnitude often seem overwhelming, particularly when it comes to existing buildings. Each individual building is a complicated environment that changes over time as a result of interactions between it and those who use it and maintain it. Over the past several months, Jill DeCoursey, Lauren Fuhry, Walker Wells, and I have been delving deep into the conditions at schools in Los Angeles, trying to break down the assessment and upgrade potential of existing school buildings into manageable chunks with a tool that could be easily adopted at a large scale.

Here in California, scalable tools are in desperate need as state policymakers consider how to spend upwards of $550 million annually for school energy efficiency upgrades made available through Proposition 39 (passed last November).

Using the Operations Report Card (ORC), developed by the Collaborative for High Performance Schools (CHPs) in collaboration with Global Green USA, we’ve been walking around schools with scientific instruments to measure lighting and sound levels in classrooms and test indoor air quality, analyzing energy and water bills, and – fun, fun, fun – doing “dumpster dives” to get a handle on what’s going on in a school’s waste stream. We also send out surveys to teachers so that we can blend qualitative impressions with our quantitative data.

The data we’ve collected, sometimes using a smartphone app we developed, is being fed into the ORC software to give the school a 1 to 100 score in each of seven areas: energy, water, waste, thermal comfort, air quality, lighting, and acoustics. In addition to scores, the ORC report offers actionable suggestions for how the schools might alter their operations or pursue building upgrades. Schools that get a score of at least 70 in all categories receive recognition as high performing.

While recognition is nice, it’s not really what we’re after. Instead we’d like to be a catalyst for focusing facilities and sustainability staff at the Los Angeles Unified School District on making upgrades to schools in ways that save the district money, enhance the learning environment, and reduce school’s impact on the regional urban ecosystem. Our experience with green building rating systems like LEED is that a numerical score combined with suggestions for how to improve that score can be a very simple and powerful tool with decision-makers who are looking to balance priorities across a wide variety of school building types and conditions.

Just in the six schools we’ve been working in – Olive Vista Middle School, Audubon Middle School, Foshay Learning Center, First Street Elementary, Cardenas Elementary, and Escalante Elementary – we’ve encountered this wide variety, depressed by some things and inspired by others. Some notable things we’ve found:

  • Green Design Standards Matter. Two of the schools we’ve been in are new schools built to new CHPS construction standards with Global Green USA’s assistance. After some teething pains typical of any new building, these schools have dramatically lower water use – and classroom indoor air quality, lighting and acoustics are all measurably better. Their ORC scores in these areas will provide a good target for older schools in the district to shoot for when they plan to upgrade.
  • Principals, Teachers, and Staff Can Make a Difference. A principal who understands that the conditions in a school building can set a tone and have an impact, and who acts on that understanding, can make a big difference in the school’s ORC performance. A teacher who is active about opening windows and blinds and taking time to learn how to operate the systems present in a classroom can make a big difference. And a plant manager who is concerned about waste and water management can make a big difference.
  • Portables are Problematic. Portable or temporary bungalow classrooms are performing far worse that permanent buildings, regardless of how good or bad the conditions are in those permanent building. Sound, lighting, thermal comfort and air quality are all noticeably worse. This may come as no surprise to folks who pay attention to school buildings, but it is helpful to remember that while these buildings are always called a “temporary solution” when installed, generations of children end up being educated in them and school upgrade projects should prioritize getting rid of them.
  • Food Waste is Dramatic. Our waste audits are turning up an unhealthy amount of food waste, whether it be whole uneaten meals, compostable remains, or high volumes of plastic packaging too contaminated to be recycled. This is unhealthy for the kids who are not eating and for the school district  that pays to dispose of recyclables rather than being paid for it. It’s also unhealthy for the ecosystem, as methane is being produced in a landfill rather from the food waste, which could instead be putting nutrients back into the soil. Thankfully, one of the schools, inspired by two 4th Grade girls, is taking this challenge head-on by working with a local food bank.
  • Kids Are Interested. In many classrooms we visit, students want to know what we are doing and, more importantly, why we are doing it. When we explain how classroom conditions impact their ability to pay attention, school district finances, and the natural environment, they get it. This is inspiring.
  • Energy Use Varies Widely. So far we are not seeing much correlation between low energy use, energy efficient design, ,and high performance in other areas. This is still preliminary, but its quite possible that schools with low energy use are actually that way because fundamental systems like heating and cooling are not working or because they have more technology in the classrooms that other schools. This finding supports our notion that we need to consider a number of factors when assessing the performance of school buildings, not just energy use.

After uploading all the data into the online ORC assessment tool, we will see how the scores turn out. We’re looking forward to seeing if the numbers match our impressions and certainly expect some surprises along way. And then it will be on to the larger task of fixing schools and broadening the use of this integrated assessment tool.

Calling for Action, Rallying for Change

February 18th, 2013


On Saturday, environmental organizations and concerned citizens came out by the thousands in Washington, D.C. and other cities to call upon President Barack Obama to take serious action — now — on climate change. Above, CEO Matt Petersen was joined by Global Green USA board member Sebastian Copeland and supporter Orlando Bloom at the Los Angeles Forward on Climate rally. Bloom was also interviewed about his involvement on ABC. You, too, can make your voice heard and sign our petition to the President, urging him to take action on climate change during his second term.

Voting Green: Renewable Energy on the Ballot

November 1st, 2012

Prop 39 in California: Vote Yes

We endorse Prop 39, which would close a business tax loophole and create clean energy jobs for all Californians.

Prop 3 in Michigan: Vote Yes

We endorse Prop 2 in Michigan, which would boost the clean energy economy in trying to achieve 25 percent renewable energy by 2025.


Global Green Room Interview: Hynden Walch

October 9th, 2012

ce_hyndenMeet Hynden Walch, one of the runners-up of our first Citizen Entrepreneur Contest to honor local green heroes. Walch was selected for running the Hillside Produce Cooperative, a group she started in her Los Angeles neighborhood to collect and distribute excess produce from neighbors.

How did you become environmentally conscious?

I don’t know that I’d consider myself more or less environmentally conscious than anyone else. But what really hit home for me was seeing all the waste of fruit growing in yards and on vacant lands in my hillside neighborhood. On one walk, I saw an elderly neighbor digging her way out from under a deluge of once-delicious, now-rotten lemons. I saw a mess of once-perfect California avocados smashed in on the street — the victims of a fruit “hit and run.” And I thought, This is crazy! Are we really so rich we can just let food rot on the tree and roll down the hill? That’s when I mobilized and formed the Hillside Produce Cooperative, as a place where once a month, participants pick all that fruit they can’t use themselves, bring it to my house and, in return, receive an equal share of all the fruits, vegetables, herbs, and flowers that everyone else contributed. Truly, it is an astonishing variety of incredible food — and it’s always free for everyone.

What would surprise us about your work?

Surprisingly, this project comes down to economic theory for me. From the beginning, the co-op has been about getting the chance to really practice what I preach. Under this system, we have no need for money nor any sense of “dibs.” No matter what someone contributes (how much, how little, how exotic, how ordinary), everyone gets the same in return: one equal share of what the group “collected.” Capitalism claims that this moneyless equality will breed resentment and competition. What I’ve discovered (much to my delight), is that when no “score” is kept (ie. “I brought A LOT, so I get I A LOT; you only brought a little, so you should get less than me”), people are freed up to become wildly generous! What I hear from my co-op members is how they want to give more next time! And plant more, too! It’s a very nice thing to see and experience.

How have you worked with Global Green?

I regret to say, I only learned about Global Green once someone nominated me for this award. (Thank you!)  It’s been nice to learn about Global Green. You guys are doing great work, especially in New Orleans!

Who is your hero?

I’m sorry, I’m not much on heroes. I think we’re all (all of us) amazing as a big group. We just have to remember our interconnection — we’re all part of the same thing.

What has been a recent work success or accomplishment?

Much to my astonishment, we just completed our fourth year! During this year, I got to visit some of the other chapters, and it was amazing to see it existing and functioning as the “system” I always dreamed it would be — operating without me in other places. Which meant more people were eating local, organic food free, less homegrown produce was going to waste, and people were getting to know and appreciate their neighbors in entirely new ways. And oh, it was really great!

If you had the power to make one global and green change, what would it be?

Well, that’s easy!  I would love to cut everyone out of the food-getting chain, except for the people who grow and the people who eat.  Agri-mega-business would be no more. Food would be freely shared, and locally grown. Other than that, I’d love for us all as a world to come up with a different way of measuring everything (including, sadly, people) that’s not money.

Bike Share in Santa Monica: Coming Right Up

September 10th, 2012
Reviewing bike plans for Santa Monica.

Reviewing bike plans for Santa Monica.

Exciting news: the City of Santa Monica received a $500,000 grant from the Mobile Source Air Pollution Reduction Review Committee (MSRC), with funds earmarked for Global Green to help the City in their marketing and outreach efforts for the Bike Share program.

“As extreme traffic veterans, I think we can all appreciate alternative options for getting around,” said Mary Luevano, Policy and Legislative Affairs Director at Global Green. “This is a victory for our environment and for Santa Monica’s many businesses, residents and tourists and we are excited to help the city continue its successful ride to reduce congestion and air pollution while improving zero emission transportation options in the city.”

Update: Good LAist story on the news.

Santa Monica will join Washington, D.C., Seattle, Minneapolis, and Denver as U.S. cities offering bike sharing to residents and visitors. It is expected that 35 bikes share stations for 350 bikes will be part of the launch of the program in 2013.

Global Green Room Staff Interview: Ted Bardacke

August 29th, 2012

staff_tedMeet Ted Bardacke, Senior Program Associate of our Green Urbanism Program, based in our Santa Monica office.

What would surprise us about your work?

How much time we spend walking the fine line between winning trust from our partners and getting them to work outside of their comfort zone.

Who is your hero?

I have people I admire — Bill McKibben, Aung San Suu Kyi, Michael Bloomberg, Jason McLennan — but no heroes. Heroes always disappoint and antiheroes are much more fun.

What has been your greatest success?

Proving that net zero energy affordable housing can be financed and built.

What about a failure or challenge?

Not being able to keep up with the pace of change in the world. Being deliberative and slowing down leads to better decisions with more long-term durability, but the world today doesn’t value slowness or deep thinking. We are worse off because of it.

Favorite green book?

“The Hanover Principles” by William McDonough and Michael Braungart. Part design brief, part philosophical manifesto, it is also highly readable and has stood the test of time.

Favorite green movie?

“In Our Own Backyard,” a documentary about the Love Canal released in 1983. I saw this while I was in high school and it made a big impression, probably similar to how people a generation earlier felt when they read “Silent Spring.”

Favorite way to spend a free day?

Swimming in the (warm) ocean. And then cooking a meal.

If you had the power to make one global and green change, what would it be?

Have everybody live walking distance from their work.

Global Green Room Staff Interview: Walker Wells

August 29th, 2012

staff_walkerMeet Walker Wells, the Director of Global Green USA’s Green Urbanism Program, based in our Santa Monica office.

What would surprise us about your work?

I often find it surprising that much of the Green Urbanism Program’s work relates to coordinating the efforts of different design professionals to get an efficient and integrated use of currently available systems and equipment, rather than what people expect, which is to promoting bleeding edge technologies and materials.

Who is your hero?

There a number of people I respect and am inspired by, but I do not have a hero.

What has been your greatest success?

My greatest sense of success comes being able to create a spirit of respect and collaboration within the Green Urbanism program that allows us to be curious, creative, and focus our work on emerging challenges.

What about a failure or challenge?

Sometimes great ideas emerge that are not in synch with the spirit of the times. This doesn’t mean the idea is not valid but rather that it either needs to be presented differently or there needs to be a shift in perspective to enable the idea to take hold.

Favorite green book?

“Design with Nature” by Ian McHarg because it is an early inspiration for the urban sustainability work we do in the Green Urbanism program.

Favorite green movie?

“Where the Green Ants Dream” because it reveals that there are a diversity of cultural, historical, and spiritual experiences related to the environment, and that the human time scale is often out of sync with and thus unable to fully comprehend the processes and patterns of nature.

Favorite way to spend a free day?

Exploring L.A. with my kids.

If you had the power to make one global and green change, what would it be?

I would make completing a class in urban planning a mandatory requirement for high school graduation.

Global Green Room Staff Interview: Richard Wegman

August 21st, 2012


Meet Richard Wegman, our Chief Operating Officer, who works in our Santa Monica office.

What would surprise us about your work?

Not sure about that one — I am pretty transparent. I hold people accountable, but maybe what is in the back of my mind is what would surprise you. I am constantly looking for new funding sources, new ways that we can promote ourselves and bring money to programs. I look for ways to make the organization healthier, and more effective and efficient. I am always looking for how to keep the organization safe from financial losses and lawsuits that could potentially put a drain on our scarce resources.

Who is your hero?

I am a yogi, so my hero is Gandhi. He was humble, poor, and was able to change the world. He did not just change India — his work continues to affect the planet today. But most of all, my heroes are the people who take the world and the environment seriously, and change their own behavior, the choices they make on a daily basis, their values. To me, these are the people that are going to change the world. They don’t wait to be told what to do, or have some piece of legislation adopted to change their behavior — they do it because they are conscious and aware.

What has been your greatest success?

Wow, I don’t think that way. But here are some things I am proud of: Helping to keep our Environmental Security and Sustainability program alive through agreements with Green Cross International and Green Cross Switzerland; helping Plaza Community Center, a 105-year-old organization, stay out of bankruptcy to continue its good work — this is where Goodwill Industries came out of; playing a part in the invention and roll-out of the Los Angeles Recycling program; building a yurt village at Tree People to house 60 staff — something never done before; and building a LEED Platinum community center at Tree People. And, oh yes, I believe that teaching yoga for 15 years is a great success.

What about a failure or challenge?

I have been challenged in the past by wanting to do things my way and have learned from experience (sometimes painfully) that change comes from communication and the involvement of those you want to change. It never comes from force — it comes from community.

Favorite green book?

“Blessed Unrest,” by Paul Hawken. It shows the ramifications of an activist’s work and the effect that each and every one of us has on social change, that we are the largest movement ever known to man, and we have no central leadership.

Favorite green movie?

This keeps changing. “Fuel” I tend to quote a lot; “Avatar” because it reached so many people and is a strong metaphor for our times; “Inconvenient Truth” because it opened up the environment to a whole new level of donors.

Favorite way to spend a free day?

Early morning bike ride, yoga, brunch with friends, beach, dinner with friends, and a concert in the eve.

If you had the power to make one global and green change, what would it be?

Can I have two? One is to stop all government subsidies and loopholes to all destructive industries — beef production, oil, mining, logging — and tax them a much higher “resource” tax. The other is to take away the “person” rights of corporations — it’s a movement that is just getting going and I think has huge potential. Also I would require corporations to follow the precautionary principle, which puts the burden of proof on the corporation instead of our regulatory agencies to prove something is bad for the people. It would, in essence, stop things like nuclear power, toxic chemical use in foods (and cigarettes would have never come to market).

Global Green Room Staff Interview: Karl Knief

August 20th, 2012

staff_karlMeet Karl Knief, the Database Administrator in our Santa Monica office.

What would surprise us about your work?

The intricacy of handling the data and all the steps it can take to get the proper conclusion.

Who is your hero?

Satoshi Kon, the animation writer and director who created films and TV shows without any cliches or stereotypes.

What has been your greatest success at work?

Giving order to the database.

What about a failure or challenge?

Entering tens of thousands of names and determining whether they’re new constituents or already in the system.

Favorite green book?

The Lorax” was the first book that ever made me think about the environment.

Favorite green movie?

Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind.” The story deals with how unexamined belief systems regarding the world can allow people to keep damaging the world around them.

Favorite way to spend a free day?

Good long walk or skating along the beach.

If you had the power to make one global and green change, what would it be?

Free the younger generation of the self-centered brainwashing they inevitably learn that makes them believe their every need comes before the health of the planet.

Event Alert: Women In Green

August 17th, 2012

wigf125Mary Luevano, our Policy and Legislative Affairs Director, will be attending the annual Women in Green Forum August 28-29 in Santa Monica and we’re working with them to make sure there is another amazing turnout with a special 10% discount for those who use “PartnerGG” as a discount code when purchasing tickets online. The agenda includes presentations, workshops, and the presentation of awards to women in green movers and shakers. Among those being honored: Mahuya Barua, one of the winners of our Citizen Entrepreneur Contest to honor local green heroes.