Global Green was founded in 1993 by philanthropist and activist Diane Meyer Simon as the American arm of Green Cross International (GCI), an organization launched by President Mikhail S. Gorbachev in order to inspire people to reconnect to the environment and thereby shift attention to sustainability. They’re one of the few (if not the only) national environmental nonprofits headquartered in Southern California. And they have a unique and multifaceted means of affecting change, addressing education of consumers and the general public; advocacy for legislation on municipal, state and federal levels; applying technical expertise to actually implementing building projects; and accessing capital to instigate concrete change.
Many of their crucial environmental initiatives have been centered in this part of the world, such as their six-plus year collaboration with the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) to convert and/or build CHPS (Collaborative for High Performance) certified green schools, and helping facilitate the placement of solar panels on schools in Santa Monica in order to reduce the buildings’ energy expenditures. So far in the LAUSD, six green schools have been completed and Global Green has helped review and certify 56 new schools that are under construction and will, serve over 64,000 students and teachers every year. This makes an important difference for kids beyond the environmental impact of the buildings themselves because studying in a green school increases productivity dramatically. This has been documented, as evidenced by studies which show students’ test scores increasing by as much as 25% in environmentally friendly environments, as opposed to the alternative with little or no natural daylight that is often toxic-fume filled.
Global Green has worked with communities in Southern California, including the cities of West Hollywood, Irvine and Malibu to develop forward-thinking comprehensive environmental policies. The green building policy adopted by the City of Los Angeles with Global Green’s assistance, is one of the most robust in the country, according to Global Green Communications Director Ruben Aronin. This focus serves to silence critics who claim that building green is either too expensive or suitable only for the wealthy and elite. Global Green is visibly changing this assumption as it is involved in pioneering projects to build affordable housing developments using green principles and sustainable energy (including installing solar panels) that save residents money while improving their health and well-being.
They’ve also been involved in some ground-breaking collaborations around the country, including innovative efforts to rebuild in New Orleans’s Ninth Ward, where they’ve already built five low-income green built homes and are in the midst of constructing a sustainable community and climate action center and fundraising to put in green low-income apartment buildings. Their rebuilding plans were a leap of faith amidst much derision, but held true to Petersen’s vision to pick some small corner of the world to make it better, and through that, serve as an example to other communities.
These examples are powerful markers for all of us. We sometimes forget that as the consumers in this economy, we have the power to make the choice as to how we consume, how we vote with each dollar, each quarter, each penny. But sometimes, according to Petersen, too much emphasis is placed on green in terms of consumption. With an earnest gaze, and an attitude like he’s used these lines before, Petersen says, “I’d like people to just connect the dots and become more aware. Not that people aren’t more aware now, but I want to see the shift of consumers to citizens.”
Before we feel overwhelmed by the idea of that imperative, it’s important to remember that being a citizen is both the benefit and the responsibility that we have as a result of living in this democratic nation. Being a citizen is something that we can weave into the routines and rituals of our everyday life. And it means something. Petersen cites the recent efforts of groups like Heal the Bay in banning single-use plastic bags (which have been demonstrated to be lethal to sea life), but it is only through the corresponding voice and efforts of ordinary people demanding legislative change, that inspire the shift in government.
And while we can feel discouraged at the state of the federal government and the quagmire of arguments at that level, Petersen affirms that we have the power to affect positive change, particularly by working at the level of our cities and states. We can be conscious citizens and make our voices heard at city council meetings or by writing letters or calling in our opinions to the officials who report to us.
Uniting the local and universal efforts and messages, this month, Global Green hosts one of their four annual fundraisers that has become a signature event for the organization – the Global Green pre-Oscar® Party. They’ve created the go-to green-themed celebrity-attended green carpet anchor event for the week. What has become an extravaganza with a message began as a way to draw attention to environmental issues. Their first effort was a push to encourage celebrities to arrive to the red carpet in hybrid cars. At the time, hybrid cars were clunky and didn’t have the sleek environmental warrior street cred as a status symbol they enjoy today. So, for those collecting style points, this was a sacrifice, but one that made a statement of another kind, leading to write ups and cartoons in The New York Times and The LA Times.
One of their initial events that launched the current incarnation, titled Rock the Earth, wasn’t during awards week at all, but was held in August, 2002, a few weeks before an environmental summit in Johannesburg. There, Leonardo Di Caprio and a few of his friends, including Cameron Diaz and Tobey Maguire, helped Petersen call on President George W. Bush to encourage him to travel to Johannesburg and represent. The result? The celebrity-studded Global Green event generated more press than the Johannesburg conference. As Petersen says, “It showed what we can do to break through the clutter of the media to get the message out.”
With the traction of Rock the Earth and the excitement around the hybrid caravan to the Oscars, Global Green has combined them for an awards week extravaganza combining music, celebrity, the media, people in the community for a night of great music, great fun and education related to Global Green’s ongoing initiatives.
According to Petersen, “There are two principles behind our pre-Oscar party. One is educating and activating people who attend and people who read about the event. The other is, as humans, we need to have fun sometimes.” The event is an example of the positive power of celebrity to disseminate messages about the good we can actually do in the world. It’s an antidote to the perception that celebrity and awards are only about vanity or the proliferation of overconsumption. It also provides a platform for people to talk about their commitment to Global Green, to the environment and to the change they want to see in the world.
One of the initiatives being launched this year is the unveiling of Global Green’s new interactive online City Carbon Index. According to Petersen, this tool is designed to track where action is being taken to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and give people specific action items they can engage in throughout their daily lives.
Energy – It Can be Clean and Green
Something that many Angelenos may be surprised to learn is that the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power is the dirtiest West of the Mississippi, generating 50% of our power from coal, according to the Global Green team. Even though Mayor Villaraigosa has stated some lofty goals related to changing how we procure our energy, upholding those takes commitment from the community. This a situation where we have the opportunity to be not just consumers of power but citizens advocating for a more sustainable present – and future.
The aforementioned interactive City Carbon Index is designed to give the City of Los Angeles an actual grade on the pollution that comes from producing power – including showing the raw tonnage of CO2 emitted annually. As Aronin says, “I think of it as a tool for bringing awareness to the people of Los Angeles to understand what their city is doing for climate change. It also puts some pressure on politicians to do what needs to be done to get us off of coal. Solar initiatives are gaining ground in a country like Germany that has dramatically less sunshine than California. This shows that a lot can get done with the right incentives in place.”
The growing environmental awareness within the Yoga community is helping to fuel these kinds of initiatives – if we put our awareness into action. “Awareness about your own body tends to increase awareness of what is around you,” according to Global Green Chief Operating Officer (and yogi) Richard Wegman. Through this, we can transform the nature of our interaction with the environment from being an issue (save the Earth, go green) to the paradigm shift and adjustment of our core values that Petersen sees as being needed so that our relationship with the environment is part of our every consideration. Considering the Earth in every action from the ground up – in building, in how we choose to power up our ability to turn a light switch and even how and where we practice Yoga – rather than being a separate deliberation, is what will make the biggest difference in all of our lives. Supporting the work of Global Green is one component of this. Another is to take action from our hearts, every day.
For more information about Global Green’s local, national and international initiatives, attending the Global Green Pre-Oscar Party, receiving regular Action Alerts or supporting the nonprofit financially, please visit: globalgreen.org.