People of Color Sustainability Collective wins top honors

Group of students

Students displaying the stencils they created at the group's "Art Tools for Environmental Justice" event in Winter 2016.

Students at the group's May 3 event, "Rooted in History: Asian American/ Pacific Islander Resilience and Sustainability Through Art."

The People of Color Sustainability Collective is making waves and getting recognition in sustainability circles. Its latest honor is a Best Practice Award in the Energy Efficiency and Sustainability Competition, which attracts entries from campuses of the University of California, California State University, community colleges, and private and independent colleges.

The Best Practice Award is the highest honor in the field of higher education sustainability in the state. It will be presented during the California Higher Education Sustainability Conference June 26–29 at UC Santa Barbara.

The People of Color Sustainability Collective (PoCSC) was founded in 2014 to highlight the contributions of diverse members of the sustainability movement.

The collective’s mission is to raise awareness of the contributions of people of color to the sustainability movement; to make the movement more inclusive of underrepresented populations by reexamining the movement’s definitions and values; and to foster dialogue about environmental justice through discussions, caucuses with students of color, social media campaigns, workshops, and public events.

“It’s been incredible to interact and engage with the students who come to our events. The stories students share are the stories that are often left out of the mainstream environmental conversation,” said Adriana Renteria, the initiative’s coordinator. “The community that is fostered at our events is a reminder of the importance of creating spaces on our campus that validate and celebrate students diverse experiences and connections with culture, identity, and the environment.”

Broadening the platform of engagement around sustainability is good for everyone, as collective members gain a voice and an outlet to share their experiences and influence campus policy, and sustainability programs become more inclusive of different cultural perspectives. The collective’s concept of “inclusive sustainability” supports student success and retention, and builds community, by empowering students of color, recognizing their contributions, and shifting typical power dynamics.

Best practices that could be replicated on other campuses include:

  • Annual sustainability and social justice retreats;
  • Events and workshops addressing topics such as environmental racism; decolonizing the food system; and reimagining the environmentalist;
  • Academic research to gauge participation in sustainability programs, perceptions of campus priorities, and in-class learning experiences;
  • Identification of opportunities to educate staff, faculty, and administrators to support building a culture of inclusive sustainability through existing and new programs.

PoCSC is part of the campus’s Ethnic Resource Centers, housed under the American Indian Resource Center, and overseen by its director, Rebecca Hernandez Rosser. Partnerships with College Nine, College Ten, and the Campus Sustainability Office, as well as support from the vice chancellor of Business and Administrative Services and the campus provost/executive vice chancellor, increased the visibility of the collective’s work and broadened its impact across campus.

“The hard work of developing a truly inclusive culture of sustainability is ongoing,” Sustainability Director Elida Erickson said. “Education, dialogue, and continued collaboration with faculty, staff, student, and community organizations are key to keeping conversations about justice, equity, and inclusion at the forefront of the campus environmental movement.”

In its 16th year, the conference is jointly organized by participating schools to provide a forum for dialogue across institutions. The gathering highlights cutting-edge research, as well as case studies with proven success in curriculum development, operational programs, and community partnerships.

The competition, in its 13th year, is conducted in coordination with the Higher Education Energy Efficiency Partnership to highlight achievements and to showcase specific projects as models for other campuses.