California Greenworks - Sustainability is Social Justice
PHOTOS COURTESY OF CALIFORNIA GREENWORKS
"Loss of resources that will never come back is our biggest detriment if we don't get things right and do better by the earth." These are the alarming words of California Greenworks founder Michael Meador. Having spent the last twenty years on the frontline of the environmental sustainability movement, Meador and his team's overarching strategy is to do small things that have a large impact on the climate while simultaneously improving life in urban space.
If, like me, you are wondering what better means or what this matter of sustainability is all about, I offer insight from the University of Alberta's Office of Sustainability.
"Sustainability means meeting our own needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. In addition to natural resources, we also need social and economic resources. Sustainability is not just environmentalism. Embedded in most definitions of sustainability, we also find concerns for social equity and economic development. While the concept of sustainability is a relatively new idea, the movement has roots in social justice, conservationism, internationalism, and other past movements with rich histories."
California Greenworks certainly sees aspects of sustainability as a social justice issue. In fact, Meador often refers to their work as environmental justice; he believes that ecological justice is our new civil rights movement. Therefore, he's just as determined as Dr. King was to galvanize and equip an army of young people duly prepared to push back against oppressive tactics.
Preparing future generations to meet their own needs is at the heart of California Greenworks' mission. With so much to tackle and a staff of only three, plus an intern, the organization operates as a planning and project management model that comes up with programs/projects they then contract out to others to implement. Having made clean water, clean air, and revitalization their north star, the work in real-time looks like environmental education programs in urban schools, revitalizing urban open space, and advocating for green development throughout South LA. Green development means testing water, planting trees, creating gardens, and forging viable partnerships with grassroots organizations that already serve the youth they endeavor to reach.
Because their message is not as easy to digest as, say, voting rights, the California Greenworks has had to use inspiring engagement to put their message within reach. To this end, they've creatively promoted environmental sustainability via a plethora of initiatives. Some are the Watershed Education Program, the South LA Sustainability Summit, and the South LA Earth Day Festival. As a result of being awarded a contract for over a half-million dollars for four years, they were able to work with the Compton Unified School District, Boys and Girls Club, and churches to teach hundreds of youth about nonpoint source water pollution. The program taught about pollutants getting into the storm drain and how the contaminants contaminate the sea's occupants. It also taught about the urban watershed being the last line of defense before waste (cigarette butts, trash, etc.) get into the water.
When asked how California Greenworks has managed to thrive and educate at the level it has for twenty years, Meador responded, "We've grown this business because of water. Policy is what drives what we do. Because of the legislation that policymakers put in place, it allows us to get money that we can then put into the community." With a commanding group of allies that include the likes of 14th District Councilman Kevin de León, who has put a substantial number of measures through the legislature around the environmental space, Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, Annenberg Foundation, Southern California Gas Company, Southern California Edison, California Coastal Commission and Toyota, California Greenworks is thankful for the steady support it gets moving the sustainability needle forward.
Another unsuspecting ally in moving the sustainability needle forward is data. Did you know that areas with an abundance of trees reduce the crime rate and increase property value? Have you heard that one tree reduces the environmental temperature by four degrees, and this reduction in temperature stands to benefit those with respiratory illnesses? Were you aware there is research to substantiate that the lack of tree canopy, like most injustices, is systemic? For example, South LA is tree poor and park-poor when the opposite is true for areas such as Brentwood. Revving efforts to engage more youth and adults who can help right such environmental wrongs means extending their advocacy reach to tackle issues that have social injustice implications embedded in them.
Having served over five thousand youth over the last twenty years, California Greenworks has new opportunities in the pipeline. In the fall of 2022, they hope to launch Sprouts, a skill development program for the rejuvenation of urban trees. They will be growing their efforts to teach youth about careers in sustainability. They will also be hosting an awards gala to celebrate their twentieth anniversary and honor those who have done remarkable work in the environmental sustainability space.
CEO Meador ended our time together by reminding me, "We all have to be well together. No group should be above another." I agree.You can follow California Greenworks on Instagram @calgreen1, on Facebook at www.facebook.com/Calgrnwks and on their website at www.californiagreenworks.org.