In the North West, Sustainability and Green/Eco Friendly promotions and advertisements are very numerous, from recycling and composting everywhere to sustainability tip ads on the side of garbage trucks. Education and advocacy for sustainability is on the rise with businesses and organizations all over the world and they are taking actions to decrease consumption and waste, but there are more who need to learn what sustainability is and how to become change agents for the better. In Seattle and Portland, non-profits have taken it upon themselves to educate the public with hands on, real world experiences in sustainable practices.
In 1991, those in the Seattle community came together to address issues with the local environment, particularly runoff issues from the mass amount of rain in the region. Another function the non-profit provides are measurements for sustainable initiatives so that results may be defined quantitatively. For the most part Sustainable Seattle is powered by volunteering efforts and receives limited funding from grants and donations. The city of Seattle supplements sustainable advocacy, which has helped Sustainable Seattle get the word out to volunteers and community organizers.
Sustainable Seattle projects cover a wide array of topics, from encouraging a alternative measures of Gross National Product to educating and implementing rain garden projects across Seattle.
- Neighborhood Sustainability Workshops
- Regional Sustainability Indicators
- Good Business Workshops
- Rain Gardens and Bioswales
- Sustainable Community Outstanding Outstanding Leadership and Innovation Awards
These steps taken by Sustainable Seattle has established the small organization as a force for good in area and the community has embraced the mission. In a way they have become a consultant for the community, trying to hammer out environmental and societal issues over time.
Another sustainable community education program heads into Seattle schools to teach methods and measures for going green. Washington Green Schools, a non-profit with a goal of teaching students and educators about sustainability, works with teachers, students and parent organizations to provide hands on programs and progress reports that will save the schools money and increase awareness for all participating. This program, funded by grants & corporate/individual donations, breaks up school initiatives into five categories of environmental change:
- Healthy School Buildings
- Waste and Recycling
The school will establish seven steps to reaching their goals within the category. They will also be responsible for starting small action steps in the remaining categories. To exhibit lasting change, the school and Washington Green Schools will have to implement these changes for over a year before qualitative and quantitative checks can be made. If criteria for success is met, the school will be certified as a Washington Green School and can display their flag proudly. The program has seen great success in having older students inform and train younger age groups so that all students begin working together as change agents within the schools. The criteria for certification is laid out in a report card format (with points) for easy understanding across the board.
This program could work as a model for the rest of the country in encouraging children to embrace sustainability at a young age and carrying it out as they grow into adulthood. So far 211 out of the 2,300 public and private schools in the Seattle region are participating, many reaching their goals and establishing new targets to hit.
Sustainability is not just about the environment; it is also about people and Got Green grassroots organizing is all about spreading the message that equity and opportunity is pivotal in reaching sustainability for all in society. This campaign sees social equity within a green economy as the best solution for poverty as well as environmental concerns. The leadership of the group hopes to educate policy makers and community leaders about the uphill battle lower income communities face in the emerging green economy. Got Green is currently promoting three major areas of interest that could not only help lower income, but add to the green effort as well. They hope to better access to healthy foods in lower income neighborhoods through farmers market upstarts and “Nutrition Bucks”, which can be used as currency only for healthy farmers market fruits and vegetables. Involving women in the green economy is another area of interest that could go hand in hand with providing healthier food alternatives, because women generally handle food preparation at home and at work. Educating lower income families, specifically women, might spur a lower class movement to demand healthier food options, such as local produce and meat. A major push for Got Green is to encourage decision makers to consider hiring the unemployed in local and green construction sites/developments. The idea is that local impoverished and unemployed workers living nearest new development projects should be considered for work, because it would help the local economy and lower transportation costs. They have also been pushing for green pursuits to take place in lower income areas due to lower utilities helping the local economy.
Some might regard this as demands for money, resources and jobs, but it makes sense that areas that lack investment will falter, unless jobs can arise somehow; why not use that area as a test region for green technology and development. Local workers will benefit from work and can use that money to pay rent and save money from utilities to use in the local economy. Got Green has the plans to keep money in the local economy and make sure that everyone and the environment is thriving, but it will take a spark of investment and attention to get the fire going.
The Earth Advantage Institute of Portland, Oregon advocates and educates for reducing carbon through the built environment. The institute provides LEED and Passive House consulting, audits and certifications and an array of education initiatives and programs for growing interests in the green built environment. Their programs cover a wide array, from residential and commercial building development strategies to energy performance scoring and life cycle assessments.
Aside from consulting and initiating development, Earth Advantage Institute also provides an abundance of training, workshops and courses to gain knowledge over new sustainable programs and technologies. These classes are appropriate for homeowners repairing their homes to commercial and home builders trying to get into the green building game. To help in advocating for green building, the institute also hosts fairs, forums, workshops and tours to educate the public on sustainable solutions in homes and commercial buildings. By pushing the value of building green, the Earth Advantage Institute has found a lucrative market for educating new building technologies and certifications to sustainable advocates, big and small.
Educating sustainable causes to the general public is a critical approach to someday gaining true sustainability driven cultures and economies. “What they don’t know, won’t hurt em” is wrong when it comes to people, planet and profit. Information is the key to advancing out of the carbon conundrum that exists today. Every special piece of knowledge is a tool that school children, builders, developers, underprivileged and unemployed can use to benefit themselves, others and the planet. With organizations like the before mentioned advocating and educating, it is only a matter of time before whole generations begin to think and act differently, for the better.