Our Sustainable Future: Chico Grads Making a Difference
by Sean Murphy | photography by Beiron Andersson
Sustainability is more than just recycling, composting, and buying local. It’s a way of thinking about the balance of social, environmental, and economic needs. It’s a complex field of study that often produces more questions than answers. And it’s a mind-set that can dovetail seamlessly into any number of different fields.
The seven alums profiled here are pushing the boundaries of what it means to be a leader in sustainability. They’re thriving in their own unique lines of work and keeping sustainability exciting and fresh. You’ll find them rubbing elbows with Hollywood elite, working in one of the nation’s most respected craft breweries, and educating K-12 and college students as well as their local communities in sustainable practices.
Regardless of the stage on which they work, these alums all have one thing in common: They value environmentalism, and they’ve brought this into their work, making changes that one way or another affect us all.
USC Sustainability Program Manager
Halli Bovia (BS, Biological Sciences, ’03; MS, Interdisciplinary Studies, ’08) is a trailblazer at the University of Southern California. After working as CSU, Chico’s sustainability coordinator for three years, she became USC’s first sustainability program manager in 2011. She’s had the opportunity to lay the groundwork to educate 40,000 undergrad and postgrad students, as well as thousands of campus visitors, by sharing knowledge gained at CSU, Chico on eco-friendly practices. Her work includes everything related to sustainability across the university’s three Los Angeles campuses.
“I see higher education as a true leverage point for sustainability,” says Bovia. “You can create sustainable business practices for a thought leader that’s at the forefront of business. But even if you create the greenest company, it’s still just one company. In higher education, you actually have the opportunity to form the business and political leaders of tomorrow.”
Bovia helps campus offices employ sustainable practices via a Green Office Certification Program. She also teaches students, faculty, and community members how to garden in their yards or apartments with an urban demonstration garden at a campus-owned property behind the legendary Shrine Auditorium.
Bovia’s largest project is the Tailgate Waste Diversion Program, which educates about 65,000 fans at each home football game. Up to 13 tons of trash is generated on game days. Student volunteers station themselves at high-profile recycling and compost bins and educate tailgaters on where to dispose of their waste.
Bovia is a central part of USC’s sustainability program, and she’s excited about shifting the university’s culture. Operationally, she says, some things already work really well. For example, USC has a top-tier transportation system and boasts the largest Zipcar fleet of any university in the nation.
“This is such a big institution that even small changes have a big impact, like the waste diversion rate of our football tailgates,” notes Bovia. “While we still have a long way to go, diverting even 10 percent more than the previous year amounts to quite a bit more material avoiding the landfill.
“The culture has slowly made incremental strides. But it’s exciting because it’s finally starting to pay off.”
Los Angeles Chief Sustainability Officer
In August 2005, Hurricane Katrina barreled ashore and leveled the city of New Orleans. Matt Petersen (BA, Political Science, ’90) wasn’t happy with just rebuilding the wounded city. The then president and CEO of GlobalGreen USA instead envisioned an innovative, practical, and precedent-setting citywide project.
After tireless work by Petersen and a group of like-minded visionaries (including actor Brad Pitt and late activist and longtime New Orleans resident Pam Dashiell), the Crescent City’s Lower Ninth Ward now boasts more Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Platinum homes than any other American neighborhood.
Now Petersen is directing that visionary spirit at Southern California. In August 2013, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti appointed him to be the city’s first chief sustainability officer (he resigned as CEO of GlobalGreen USA but remains on its board of directors). He chairs the mayor’s sustainability budget and leads development for a citywide sustainability plan (a first for Los Angeles, the nation’s second most populous city). He also represents Mayor Garcetti at C40, a leadership group of megacity mayors working to fight climate change.
Whether it’s a TED talk on creating sustainable environments (http://bit.ly/1i1xept), discussing rebuilding after Hurricane Katrina with Pitt on the TODAY show (http://on.today.com/1pRFYmV), or teaming up with Hollywood heavy hitters like Jake Gyllenhaal, Salma Hayek, and Leonardo DiCaprio on water usage, energy-efficient schools, or carbon footprints, Petersen is at his finest when he’s helping people and the environment at the same time.
In 2012, Petersen took what he learned in New Orleans up the Eastern Seaboard to help communities ravaged by Hurricane Sandy—and now he’s brought that acumen to his job in Los Angeles. One of his goals is to install dozens of solar backup systems to provide emergency electricity (say, in the event of a city-crippling quake) while lowering everyday energy use and utility bills.
“The work we did in New Orleans brought that together more than anything, having a crazy idea to help rebuild a more sustainable and greener community and then actually making progress doing it,” explains Petersen. “Those homes had energy bills of $24 a month. Another home that size in New Orleans would be $250 [per month] during the summer, easy.”
Through the lessons Petersen learned in the field in New Orleans, New York, and Los Angeles, he hopes to inspire other Americans to empower themselves and their communities by being what he calls “citizen entrepreneurs.”
“Whether it’s school or business, that means people taking responsibility for their neighborhood and taking leadership and action to galvanize others to come together to create more livable, healthier communities that are also fighting climate change,” says Petersen. “It’s really reclaiming their role as citizens and not just being defined as a consumer, which we often are. And taking responsibility and being the best possible American, which is being resourceful and entrepreneurial and applying it in a different way.”
AS Sustainability Coordinator
Eli Goodsell sits on a couch near his workstation in the Associated Students (AS) Sustainability office in CSU, Chico’s Bell Memorial Union (BMU). As he discusses his many projects as AS sustainability coordinator, two things become obvious: his work is his passion, and he thinks big.
Goodsell (BA, Criminal Justice, ’07; MA, Geography, ’11) focuses specifically on AS facilities on campus, including all dining and retail centers as well as the BMU and Wildcat Recreation Center (WREC). Working in conjunction with CSU, Chico Sustainability Coordinator Fletcher Alexander (who is more focused on goals campuswide), the two partner up for events like Campus Sustainability Day, Earth Week, and Diversion Excursion with the same goal: to make CSU, Chico (including its auxiliaries) as sustainable as possible.
Goodsell and his team implement sustainable practices across the AS and educate the campus and community. Their projects include enacting energy and water savings measures in buildings, and helping the AS provide sustainable and local or fair-trade food options.
“We’ve established a local lunch program, offering a lunch with 50 percent local ingredients, often partnering with the University Farm,” he notes. “We’re also adding sustainable products to the Wildcat Store, like beef jerky, olive oil, and nuts from the University Farm, as well as other local meats and cheeses.”
Goodsell’s most ambitious project is meeting the AS goal of being certified as a Zero Waste facility by the Zero Waste International Alliance by 2015. To get an idea of the scope of this goal, note that AS operates all dining services on campus (including on-campus housing) and the Chico State Wildcat Store. To become Zero Waste certified, AS must recycle, compost, reuse, or otherwise divert at least 90 percent of campus waste.
“We adopted the goal in 2011, when we were at about a 60 percent diversion rate,” he recalls. “We’re currently at 85 percent. I’m really confident that by the end of the year we’ll be above that 90 percent level.”
After adopting the Zero Waste goal, Goodsell and his team snared the low-hanging fruit: composting materials from on-campus kitchens and purchasing compostable versions of heavily used products like soda and coffee cups. “In 2013, we had over 460,000 pounds of material to be composted, and we had well over 150,000 pounds of recyclable materials,” says Goodsell. “We sent less than 200,000 pounds to the landfill.”
Goodsell also aims to conserve in many other areas around campus. He works with administrators to facilitate retrofit projects like installing energy-efficient lighting and water-saving plumbing fixtures—for example, eco-friendly bathroom faucets and showerheads in the WREC reduced water usage by more than 50 percent.
When asked about those who influenced his work, Goodsell quickly cites two mentors: Barbara Kopicki (who started the AS Recycling Program) and Robyn DiFalco (his predecessor). And while he continues to follow the paths set by Kopicki and DiFalco, he’s blazing new trails. “I get to work on something I care about every day,” he says. “There’s always room to grow, it never gets dull, and it’s never going to be done.”
AASHE Senior Programs Coordinator
Even before the term “sustainability” entered the public consciousness, Jillian Buckholz (MA, Geography, ’05) was destined to be part of the movement.
“When I was in high school and college, all I ever wanted to do was ‘save the Earth,’ ” she says. “I knew I’d do something in the environmental field, even when family and friends told me I’d never get a job or make money.”
Buckholz has done both. After becoming CSU, Chico’s first sustainability coordinator and co-creating SCOOP (Sustainable Consultations of Office Practices) on campus, she took a position as the senior programs coordinator at The Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE), a national organization based in Denver dedicated to advancing sustainability in higher education.
Buckholz coordinates the educational programming, customer support, and outreach for all of AASHE’s programs. She also organizes the voluminous 2014 AASHE Professional Development schedule, which includes annual conferences, webinars, and workshops (on topics including leadership in sustainability, the economic impact of sustainable purchasing, and promoting sustainability on college campuses). In short, she compiles organizational material that higher education institutions, including CSU, Chico (which received a “gold” rating from AASHE last fall), use to educate their own employees and students. Education, Buckholz feels, is the key ingredient to making change happen.
“By educating others, through formal education and leading by example, I believe someone may have a very large impact on one or several people,” she says. “This impact may be small or large, but its ability to spark a change is the real key. This change, as it relates to sustainability, is the ripple in the wave of making our world a better place.”
This drive to both educate and to improve our world was evident during her search for her master’s thesis topic at CSU, Chico. “I realized there was one energy policy for 23 very different CSU campuses located in various geographic spaces,” recalls Buckholz. “I thought, ‘How is this a sustainable use of our resources?’ ”
That question led to her thesis, “Energy Use in the California State University System: A Geographical Analysis of Policy.”
“It was this big moment that got me really excited about energy use, conservation, awareness, and education, which is one of the passions related to sustainability I still have today,” says Buckholz. “It’s always been a personal requirement to work in a place or on a project I feel is making a difference to better our planet.”
Note: Before going to press, we learned that Buckholz accepted a position as sustainability program facilitator for S.D. Deacon in Sacramento, a general contractor building large projects like grocery stores and movie theatres. She will take the lead on designing how the company approaches sustainability at work sites and through internal practices. “It's a completely different world than what I'm used to, but I'm ready for something new,” she says.
Update (7/23/2014): We just learned that Buckholz has accepted a position as director of sustainability at CSU, East Bay. Congratulations!
BEC Executive Director
For nearly four decades, the nonprofit Butte Environmental Council (BEC) has served as a passionate advocate for preserving natural resources in Northern California. Since 2012, Robyn DiFalco (BA, Geography and African Studies, ’99) has been BEC’s executive director, representing the organization and its 600 members as a voice for the environment in Butte County and beyond.
When she’s not in front of the Board of Supervisors or City Council, DiFalco educates local schoolchildren on various topics related to nature and sustainability. They learn about endangered species by selecting an at-risk animal, discovering what makes it endangered, what threatens its habitat, and what is being done to protect it. Then, over four in-class sessions, BEC volunteers help the kids create a papier-mâché version of their animal. In April, the kids and their animals took part in the Procession of the Species at the Endangered Species Faire in Bidwell Park.
“Those children have now established a personal connection with this creature, its plight, and the idea that it needs protection,” says DiFalco. “And they have the understanding that usually human activity is what threatens it.”
Additionally, BEC’s Recycling and Rubbish Education program provides in-class workshops for K–12 kids about waste and recycling, as well as water conservation and water education.
“It moves me to tears to see the younger generation so inspired,” she says. “They understand that we don’t have any room for our waste, that we have to conserve resources. They get that, and it touches me to my core.”
Water issues are currently top priority for BEC. The bulk of the organization’s energy is spent monitoring the Bay Delta Conservation Plan—twin tunnels 20 feet in diameter being placed beneath the San Francisco Bay Delta to move North State water south for agriculture and residential use.
“It’s an all-California issue, because the capacity of the tunnels could drain the entire Sacramento River in a dry year, like this year,” says DiFalco.
Even before DiFalco stepped foot on the Chico campus, she knew she wanted to make a difference. As a sophomore, she was on the Environmental Affairs Council, and she helped start the AS Recycling Program with Barbara Kopicki. After working in the Bay Area for six years, she returned to CSU, Chico as AS recycling coordinator and then became AS sustainability coordinator before heading to BEC.
“It’s hard work, it’s hard to keep going, and when people recognize the effort and are grateful, that’s very fulfilling,” says DiFalco.
CSU, Chico Sustainability Coordinator
CSU, Chico Sustainability Coordinator Fletcher Alexander (BA, Economics, ’10) is all in when it comes to engaging everyone on campus in sustainability efforts. He makes his mark on the University through his work with the Institute for Sustainable Development (ISD), the campus’ central coordination point for sustainability efforts.
For example, he likes introducing incoming students to campus values as soon as they arrive. “We’re in a unique position to shape people’s identities,” says Alexander, who coordinates campus sustainability in areas like waste recycling, transportation, and energy. “Students ages 18 to 22 come through, and it’s a really powerful thing to be one of the influences.”
One way Alexander ensures new students receive early sustainability education is by distributing “The Green Book,” which defines what sustainability means at CSU, Chico and how students can be involved on campus and in the community (buying local, recycling, or ride sharing, for example). Also, over the last two years, Chico State has taken part in Campus Conservation Nationals (see story on page 4).
“For two weeks, we track the on-campus students’ baseline consumption in the residence halls,” says Alexander. “After they’re told what their baseline consumption is, they compete to reduce that baseline over the next three weeks.”
In fall 2013, the students averaged a 24 percent reduction in energy usage. “There’s only so much they can control, building and operational wise, so a lot of it is behavior,” he says. “It’s about immediate energy savings, but it’s also about awareness and ownership.”
When the academic year winds down, Diversion Excursion ramps up for two days during finals. As students begin their exodus from the residence halls, they jettison all sorts of things from their rooms. “If the students throw anything away, our student volunteers encourage them to instead recycle or reuse,” says Alexander.
Now in its 15th year, thanks to the efforts of staff and students in CSU, Chico’s Housing and Food Services, Grounds and Landscape Services, and AS Recycling, Diversion Excursion annually diverts more than 20,000 pounds of material from landfills to local charities and recycling facilities. “So many students on campus today are aware of the local and global issues we’re facing, and they’re very passionate about taking an active role in developing solutions,” says Alexander.
Through ISD, Alexander also helps coordinate events like Campus Sustainability Day, the Wildcat Sustainability Showdown, and Earth Week, and he reports on campus sustainability goals and initiatives. He advises multiple sustainability-focused student organizations and the residence halls’ Eco Reps program. He also helps expand staff and faculty involvement in campus sustainability efforts in five specific areas: energy, waste/recycling, transportation, procurement, and health/wellness.
“Working in a position that’s so invested in sustainability is great because it’s really part of the culture here, and something that so many members of the campus community care about,” he says. “And I think that’s a reflection of the culture of our greater community.”
Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. Sustainability Manager
Cheri Chastain’s path to her current work as Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.’s sustainability manager is testament to her passion and ability to play to her strengths.
While taking general education classes as a kinesiology major at Sacramento State, she continually found subjects that were more exciting to her. She moved from kinesiology to criminal justice, liberal studies, and geology. Finally, she landed on physical geography.
“Like most people, I had this preconceived notion of what geography is,” says Chastain. “It’s place names, political boundaries, and names of rivers and mountains. But it’s so much more than that. My eyes were opened to this whole side of geography, and I just fell in love with it.”
For grad school, Chastain chose CSU, Chico, where she jumped into the world of sustainability with both feet. “I knew about environmental issues and environmental awareness and education,” she recalls, having spent a summer mapping invasive species along the American River. “But the topic of sustainability and actually calling it ‘sustainability’ were new to me.”
During her time at CSU, Chico, Chastain credits like-minded students and faculty (like Barbara Kopicki and Robyn DiFalco with AS Recycling and department chair Mark Stemen) with keeping her inspired. “Just finding other students who were passionate about the same things I was and willing to put themselves out there and make change made me feel like I was kind of normal,” Chastain recalls.
Soon after receiving her master’s degree in environmental geography in 2007, Chastain was hired by Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.—and her impact was felt immediately. In 2006, the brewery had diverted 98 percent of its waste from landfills. Ever the tinkerer, Chastain studied the numbers, and noticed how much spent grain was leaving the brewery. She removed the grain out of the waste diversion equation and was shocked to see the result: now, only 45 percent waste diversion.
“I realized, wow, we have a lot to do. Just that one slight numbers manipulation showed me a whole different picture,” says Chastain, who noted the brewery uses up to 100 tons of grain a day. “With a little bit of leadership and direction, we switched to more recyclable and compostable materials and got that number up to 95 percent by about 2010.”
Today, Chastain works on all aspects of sustainability for the company, maintaining existing programs (like monitoring the brewery’s solar panels and hydrogen fuel cells, recycling, composting, and biodiesel) and securing new project development.
The brewery boasts more than 10,500 solar panels (one of the largest privately owned solar arrays in the nation) with a potential power output of 2 megawatts—enough to power approximately 250 average American homes. Additionally, each of its four hydrogen fuel cells has a 250 kW capacity (Sierra Nevada is the nation’s only brewery with on-site fuel cells), proudly producing a total of 1 megawatt of power.
In 2013, the above alternative energy methods combined to generate 76 percent of Sierra Nevada’s Chico facility operations (21 percent from solar panels and 55 percent from fuel cells).
A second Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. facility is currently under construction in Mills River, North Carolina, and it too will boast impressive sustainable capabilities: more than 2,200 solar panels with 600 kW potential output, as well as a pair of microturbines capable of 200 kW each. Chastain helped to plan the technology in North Carolina but will remain in Chico.
Being a sustainability leader also means that businesses everywhere (both inside the food and beverage industry and out) want to pick your brain. While speaking to The Sustainable Business Council of Missoula, Montana, in 2012, Chastain was asked by a brewer about how a small business can maximize its sustainability efforts. She said that while fuel cells and solar panels may sound more sexy, establishing an energy-efficient foundation is actually more effective and provides the most bang for the sustainability buck.
“Start with an [energy] audit,” advised Chastain. “Once you audit, then you can find out where your weak spots are and work on addressing those. Lighting, water, packaging, space heating, and cooling for offices, variable frequency drives on pumps and motors.”
The joy Chastain demonstrates from making changes, preserving what precious resources Sierra Nevada uses, and looking to the future is evident in every word she speaks on sustainability. It is clear she’s found her niche.
“I think that’s part of what makes us so good at our jobs,” she says. “We really, really care. This isn’t just something that we show up, do, and go home. We live our lives like this. We come here to make a difference.”
About the author
Sean Murphy (BA, English, ’97) is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in local and national newspapers, magazines, and websites over the past 20 years. His pieces cover a wide range of topics including sports, home improvement, and human interest.
Beiron Andersson and Michael Paras