Environmental Charter High School Gets Solar; Greenius Goes EcoMedia

Alison Diaz (with scissors) along with ECHS staff and supporters about to cut the ribbon in front of Environmental Charter High School's new solar-powered greenhouse. (photo by Glenn Marzano)

I have seen the future and it looks like a solar-powered greenhouse, a solar-powered pump driving aquaponics, a non-toxic termite treatment for buildings, students growing their own fruits and vegetables on their high school campus irrigated by captured rainwater, and other sustainable practices paid for by grants from corporations with no strings attached.

The on-stage banner heralding the ribbon cutting event @ ECHS. (Courtesy of CBS EcoMedia)

In a still repressed economy during an era when “no new taxes” is the mindless mantra that forces cutbacks and the elimination of educational programs and resources, the only place the dollars are going to come from are nontraditional, innovative sources.  You can argue the merits of that if you want, but I’m done arguing. I just want to see projects get funded, renewable energy put to work, energy efficiency retrofits instituted, conservation measures adopted and sustainable practices replace business-as-usual before the climate crisis makes any positive action a moot point.

That’s why for the past week I’ve been working at my new job in Manhattan Beach where I’ve transitioned from the volunteer advocacy efforts I’ve been contributing since 2008 to a professional role in sustainability partnerships for CBS EcoMedia.  EcoMedia employs exactly the kind of nontraditional, innovative business practices I’m talking about through their EcoAd program – the kind of innovative business practices that found me on the campus of Environmental Charter High School (ECHS) in Lawndale on Friday morning to celebrate the ribbon cutting for their new solar-powered greenhouse.

Alison Diaz, ECHS Founder and Executive Director, with Assemblyman Bradford of the school's 51st District share the joy of Friday's event. (Courtesy of CBS EcoMedia)

And celebrate we did with some of the people I admire most in the community and who I’ve written about for the past few years.  A beaming Alison Diaz, ECHS’ Founder and Executive Director was at the center of it all on the campus that started as an idea in her head and then in a church basement in 1999. Principal, Jenni Taylor, a product of the Manhattan Beach School District and a Mira Costa grad was hosting and getting used to her new “Dr. Taylor” title after earning her doctorate.

California State Assemblyman, Steve Bradford of the 51st District (left) with Lawndale City Councilman, Jim Osborne. (Courtesy of CBS EcoMedia)

Lawndale City Councilman, Jim Osborne, a strong supporter of not only ECHS but also the South Bay Bicycle Master Plan and a board member (along with my wife, Debra) of the South Coast Botanic Garden Foundation, was on hand to show his support and provide historic context as a third generation Lawndale resident who lives in the house his family built over 100 years ago.  

My close friend and tireless green advocate, Sona Kalapura, the Environmental Programs Manager for the City of Manhattan beach was there continuing her long term support for the school as was former Manhattan Beach City Councilwoman, Portia Cohen, whose legacy as Mayor is a beach city renown for its environmental leadership and vision.  

SEED Award winner, Scotty “Claus” Martin, founder and owner of the Living Christmas Company, whose sustainable business model has brought a new kind of gift to the holidays was there to see the latest living learning lab being unveiled at the school and to attend its annual community forum.

And of course the campus was teeming with hundreds of ECHS students, looking sharp and bright in their best business casual fashions as they proudly presented their purpose-driven projects, thoughts and ideas that are the heart of the annual Community Forum’s program.  Topics for this year’s interactive presentations will include: “How Do My Decisions Affect Our Quality of Life?”, “What is Progress?”, “What is the American Dream & is it Sustainable?”and “How am I Powerful?”

But my focus this day was to support the efforts of the EcoMedia team who had worked with ECHS to help pay for the solar PV system on the greenhouse using their one-of-a-kind funding model that directs a percentage of money that companies spend on their advertising to help pay for environmental projects that wouldn’t get completed without those dollars.  That’s what their EcoAd program is doing all across the U.S.A.

Through the EcoAd grant program, advertiser Pacific Coast Termite provided a grant to support the addition of the greenhouse to the ECHS Science Center, including installation of a 3kW rooftop solar energy system on the greenhouse as well as the installation of a solar-powered water pump that will be used to supply irrigation for plants inside the greenhouse.

ECHS Science teacher explains the aquaponics system inside the greenhouse to visitors (Courtesy of CBS EcoMedia)

The pump drives the closed loop aquaponics system that takes nutrients from fish in a large water tank and delivers them to growing plants in the greenhouse which then filters the water and sends it back to the tank.  Aquaculture (fish farming) and hydroponics (growing plants in water) becomes aquaponics when combined.

Plants in black tubes behind the ECHS Science teacher are being fed by aquaponic system in the new solar-powered greenhouse. (Courtesy of CBS EcoMedia)

The Pacific Coast Termite grant also funded an environmentally friendly XT-2000 Orange Oil termite treatment for the greenhouse.  James Grande and Dennis Wilson, co-owners of Pacific Coast Termite, were on hand to see the results of their grant and proudly participate in the ribbon cutting.

EcoMedia President and Founder, Paul Polizzotto, addressing the audience at the ECHS ribbon cutting event. (Courtesy of CBS EcoMedia)

EcoMedia President and Founder, Paul Polizzotto, created the concept back in 2002 and now spends his time as the Eco-Evangelist making it happen week after week with one company after another and then crisscrossing the country to participate in ribbon-cuttings in cities like Arlington, Texas; San Francisco; Worcester, Massachusetts; Sacramento, California; and Minneapolis, Minnesota.  And in the next three months he’ll be in Cambridge, Massachusetts; back in Minneapolis; the Port of Los Angeles; Long Beach, California; Long Island, New York and Denver Colorado for the latest batch of environmental projects EcoAds have helped to fund.

I met Paul a few years ago and after talking with him and learning about what he does and what he wanted to do moving forward I knew I wanted to be part of his team and spend my time making an immediate and broad-based difference in cutting greenhouse gasses, getting solar panels installed on schools and other community buildings, making energy efficient retrofits happen, planting trees and drought tolerant landscaping and cutting water waste.

I’ve had some local success here in the South Bay writing this blog and environmental columns for Patch.com and volunteering with the South Bay Environmental Services Center, GRID Alternatives, the South Bay 350 Climate Action Group, Vitality City and of course the South Bay Bicycle Coalition, but I’ve been frustrated by the slow pace of progress and my inability to foster the sense of urgency necessary to effect the rapid change that drives me.  I not only saw that sense of urgency and drive in Polizzotto and his team, I saw their ability to convince media conglomerate CBS and their advertisers to partner with EcoMedia on that change.

I won’t kid you, I wanted in and started visualizing myself working with them and accomplishing the things I’ve been dreaming about for so long now. I used every opportunity I had to make that a reality and last week I was given the chance to make it so. And I intend to do everything in my power to make myself indispensable and help EcoMedia meet its ambitious and growing goals.

If you know me or have read this blog or my columns in Patch then you know I’m an outspoken environmental and community activist who doesn’t pull any punches or try to blow smoke up your ass to shill for anyone.  If you think I’m selling out or cashing in somehow then you are simply wrong and you don’t understand what I’m trying to accomplish or the impact I feel responsible to make.

I’m working for EcoMedia because I deeply believe in what they’re doing and I believe in the people who are doing it.  I’ve known and worked with some of them on issues I’m passionate about for over 20 years, including the Children Affected by AIDS Foundation, 350.org climate actions, and the South Bay Bicycle Master Plan.  I’ve studied and seen the projects they’re responsible for and the significant difference they’re making – not only environmentally but also educationally and for the overall health of communities.  

No one else is doing anything like what EcoMedia is accomplishing and I intend to help them change the world, one community after another.

One thought on “Environmental Charter High School Gets Solar; Greenius Goes EcoMedia

  1. Lucky kids – heading to their higher education having ALREADY experienced the idea of sustainable, proactive, creative, environmentally intelligent living.

    Makes me cry with joy. Thanks Mr. Joe!!!

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