On October 6, the Ecology Center launched the first-ever Berkeley Sustainability Summit. The day-long event exposed the range of efforts underway within the city limits. Featuring nearly 30 presenters and an abundance of organic cuisine, the summit was designed to encourage as much networking as possible among stakeholders, many of whom didn’t know each other existed.
In this era of federal backsliding, municipalities are leading the charge to reenvision cities as greener, cleaner, healthier, more efficient, and economically vibrant places to live. Berkeley has long set the pace; we benefit from a critical mass of citizens whose shared values have led to the creation and support of environmentally progressive projects and policies.
Thirty years ago, the environmental movement consisted of a smattering of activists and volunteers, such as the people who founded the Ecology Center. These days, sustainability projects are led by businesses, government agencies, school districts, and other institutions in addition to the nonprofits, grassroots groups, and passionate individuals who historically formed the backbone of the effort. Environmental values are far more deeply woven into Berkeley’s fabric than in the past.
But diversification has brought new challenges: the last few years, we at the Ecology Center have noticed that many people involved in sustainability work are unaware of what their peers are doing. We’ve also seen a trend toward specialization; groups commit themselves to deep knowledge and activism on very specific subjects, and important linkages between related issues are lost. Inefficiencies result, with groups spinning their wheels to find out what someone in the next block or organization knows intimately.
We wanted to provide a forum in which all the players could regain a sense of the incredible variety of the sustainability universe and could connect for strategic and inspirational reasons. As one summit attendee remarked, “I’m pretty plugged in, yet I heard lots of new things yesterday.”
The Summit was a gamble: just because we thought there was a need for such a forum did not mean that others would want to participate. But the gamble paid off. The crowd of over 170 attendees proved that the Berkeley’s sustainability movement is comprised of proactive people eager for cross-pollination. Between the sponsors, speakers, and audience members, over 60 local groups, agencies, businesses, and institutions engaged in sustainability work were represented.
Speakers had five minutes to convey the essence of their project or service. Topics included current city sustainability policies, EcoHouse, consumer biofuels, environmental management at Bayer, transportation planning, community aggregated energy purchasing, solar generation, commercial and residential water and energy conservation measures, youth development, sustainable food systems, the School Lunch Initiative, Zero Waste, the David Brower Center, certified green businesses, affordable housing development, green building programs, green-collar jobs, greening health care and dentistry, air quality in West Berkeley, the development of the Santa Fe Right-of-Way, community gardens, municipal greenhouse gas reduction, sustainability projects on UC Berkeley campus, the Creeks Ordinance, and a cross-sector working group called Sustainable Berkeley. During the several structured networking sessions, attendees huddled around “topic tables,” engaging in discussion and hatching ideas. The energy and positivity in the historic Krutch Theater were palpable. The summit reinforced the connections between our individual efforts to move toward a better future. One speaker described the event as “informative, uplifting, inclusive, and delicious,” and expressed the hope that it would become an annual event. We hope to oblige!