Window on the Ecology Center

I walk. I bike. I eat local, vegan, seasonal and organic. I compost. I share a living space with five girls, and I work for the Ecology Center. And guess what? If everyone in the world lived like me, we’d need 2.5 Earths. (Quiz yourself at Wow, James Bond: the world really is not enough. Time to go on the Low Carbon Diet, a plan that offers dieters the tools to lose 5,000 pounds in four weeks—5,000 pounds of carbon, that is.

“Diet” conjures up images of hunger and deprivation. But at the last of the four weekly meetings, participants of the Ecology Center’s Climate Change Action Project experience no deprivation as we gather for a potluck of homemade and store-bought grub, and engage in lively discussion over the environmental impact of the meal. Is it packaged? Organic? Store-bought or from the farmers’ market?

The Climate Change Action Project is the Ecology Center’s newest program. Built on the curriculum outlined in David Gershon’s Low Carbon Diet: A 30 Day Program to Lose 5000 Pounds, the meetings are discussion-based and resemble a support group more than classroom-style instruction. During the first week, participants calculate their carbon footprints, and throughout subsequent weeks hold each other accountable to reach concrete Climate Action Goals, individualized plans that members formulate to meet their end-of-month targeted carbon weight loss. At the conclusion of the program, members are encouraged to facilitate their own climate action groups, triggering a chain of educational outreach.

During the second week, members share the results of their carbon footprint quiz. “I thought I was already doing a lot of things to help the environment, so I was shocked by how big my footprint was,” one member comments. Others echo similar reactions. To slim down, some participants choose to drive less and bike more, while others commit to eating less meat, installing a home graywater system, line-drying clothes, or opting for tap water over bottled. “There are many things that are out of our control [when it comes to reversing climate change],” says Climate Action coordinator Debra Berliner. “Our role here is to figure out where we can make changes among the things that are in our control.”

At the following meeting, we share the victories as well as frustrations from the previous week. I recall the disappointment of coming home from an eleven-mile bike commute, only to find that a housemate has driven her car to the store five blocks away. Why do I bother? Why give up certain comforts and conveniences in the first place? Inspiration by fear or guilt seems hardly a sustainable motivation. Are the results of this adopted lifestyle worth the sacrifice?

After sharing our “Grr” moments, as Berliner calls them, we recall the week’s victories, our “Aha!” moments. To guide us through the exercise, Berliner has each of us envision the ideal community. I imagine farmers’ markets, gardens in place of lawns, and people commuting on bikes. I dream of a community in which people make themselves visible instead of enclosing themselves in vehicles. I picture people passionate about the work they engage in, who are not afraid of claiming responsibility over their community, their futures, and each other. If this is the vision that keeps me persevering despite the setbacks, how can I make this vision more contagious?
I have to admit, I have many grrs throughout the week. But as I pursue my vision, the ahas! build up, too. At the Fruitvale Bike Station, I have a chat with Robert Raburn, executive director of the East Bay Bicycle Coalition, who gives me a bike map of Alameda and Contra Costa counties. At the recycling office on 2nd and Gilman Street, driver Hahns Cook thanks me for the breakfast of scrambled free-range chicken eggs and vegan pumpkin bread that I prepared for the meat and grease-loving crew. At Vital Vittles Bakery, I chat about the latest farmers’ market news with Huong Tran, the head baker, as she sells me an organic peppermint poppy seed muffin. Along the way, I share my vision with each of them, and each helps me sustain my vision in turn. When I find myself wondering why I should not prefer the quicker, more efficient way of doing things, I remind myself that building community takes some work, self-denial, and sacrifice, but it’s worth it. In fact, engaging the community is not only worth it, it’s necessary for change.

Berliner uses the potluck as a metaphor for the vision of community she hopes to achieve through the Climate Change Action Project. “The potluck crystallizes our purpose,” she says. It forces members to sit down together and acknowledge that when it comes to responsibility for climate change, we all eat from the same table. The program allows members of the community to “feed off each other’s ideas and nourish each other.” Climate change is not just about individual choices, but about how the community comes together to create a cooperative social environment that allows for the exchange of practical and technical information, while offering physical and social support. We can’t be Lone Rangers in making sustainable lifestyle changes.

So this week, try a new recipe for Aha! Make it local or fair-trade, packaging-free, and organic, and no doubt the pleasant aftertaste will have you coming back for more. To join a Climate Action Group and work with other residents to lower your carbon footprint, write to, including your email, phone number, and days and times you are available.

Recycling program conquers challenges to certify as green
The Ecology Center turned a deeper shade of green on November 13, when the center’s recycling program earned its green business certification through the Alameda County Green Business Program. Its sister programs at the environmental resource center completed certification a year ago in January. While the Ecology Center has advocated eco-friendly practices since its beginning, participating in the Green Business Program helps like-minded local organizations support each other (and find each other at As people become more sensitive to environmental ethics, businesses have an incentive to certify as green. In fact, some businesses will only patronize other green businesses, notes Ecology Center recycling director Daniel Maher, who coordinated the certification of the recycling program.

The Bay Area Green Business Program is a free service that guides applicants through a step-by-step checklist ensuring that the site is demonstrating energy efficiency and waste reduction; putting these measures into practice saves money and resources. Carrie Bennett, who geared the environmental resource center up for the inspections, found the application process worth the work. “There is a good chance that businesses are already doing things to help the environment,” says Bennett. “Going through the checklist reminded us of those things we were already doing right, while helping us make improvements in other areas. We learned a lot about our organization.”
Although certification was icing on the cake for the environmental resource center, the recycling facility, which is regularly exposed to toxic and hazardous materials, faced additional challenges. Maher purchased a new fleet of recycling trucks to minimize oil leakage and enforced measures to monitor, track, and clean oil spills. It may be a challenge to monitor and maintain the recycling program’s compliance with green business standards, Maher says: “One drop of oil contaminates a whole gallon of water, so we have to be ever-watchful and ever-vigilant.”

Certified green businesses take the Green Business Pledge, which includes a commitment to continuously improve by developing and implementing additional resource conservation and pollution prevention practices during the next three years. The next step for the Ecology Center is to expand itself as a resource for the community, encouraging others to follow suit by serving as a functional model that other businesses can emulate.

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