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Red Cross, Solvang Senior Center and Ty Warner Sea Center Are Models of Sustainability

The local nonprofits are working to minimize their impact on the environment

In addition to businesses and restaurants, local nonprofit organizations are partnering with the Green Business Program of Santa Barbara County to optimize their day-to-day operations and reduce their impact on the environment. This article takes an in-depth look into some of the most successful strategies these local nonprofits are employing.

A recycling bin is displayed prominently at the entrance to the Ty Warner Sea Center.
A recycling bin is displayed prominently at the entrance to the Ty Warner Sea Center. (Green Business Program of Santa Barbara County photo)

The dedicated staff of American Red Cross-Santa Barbara County has become passionate about sustainability, and they have used this passion to update their office to serve as a model for others in the community. The impetus was Karyn Boenker, an AmeriCorps volunteer, who took on the project of Green Business Certification for the chapter and made some impressive changes.

When you walk through the American Red Cross offices in Santa Barbara and Santa Maria, signs pointing out how to save electricity and encouraging double-sided printing, recycling and composting are ubiquitous. This is evidence of how dedicated the staff is to minimizing their impact on the environment.

Additionally, a new purchasing policy requires the purchase of recycled content office supplies and locally produced materials. Disposable containers have been removed from the employee break room, replaced with ceramic mugs, plates and real silverware. Cleaning supplies have been replaced with less-toxic options, and a certified Green Gardener is employed to maintain the landscape around the office building. Office windows were tinted to reduce heat gain from the sun and subsequently minimize cooling loads — saving energy and improving employee comfort indoors.

To reduce the vehicle miles traveled by its employees, the American Red Cross developed a ride-sharing program that encourages and rewards employees. Working closely with Traffic Solutions, the Red Cross put together a plan that includes vacation incentive time, carpool matching and a calendar tool that makes it easier for Santa Barbara staff to carpool to chapter offices in Santa Maria.

Another nonprofit organization, the Solvang Senior Center, also has been working hard to tackle issues of sustainability. Located in the heart of the Santa Ynez Valley, the Solvang Senior Center strives to enhance the lives of community members age 55 or older by providing resources and opportunities for growth in mind, body and spirit.

In addition to serving as a home away from home for many seniors, this small nonprofit is dedicated to minimizing its impact on the environment and in 2010 became the first senior center in Santa Barbara County to be certified through the Green Business Program.

Center staff and volunteers are actively working to transform the center into an example of how to reduce energy and water use. Working with PG&E’s Energy Watch program, the center upgraded more than 21 older inefficient light fixtures both inside and outside the building. Over time, this efficiency improvement is projected to save the center nearly $700 per year on its electric bill.

It also has updated its purchasing policies for office supplies, and now uses recycled-content supplies throughout. To guarantee the continued success of the center’s efforts, volunteers are involved in center-wide recycling efforts and in the center’s Green Program.

The Solvang Senior Center installed a rain sensor on the roof to reduce irrigation use during the rainy season.
The Solvang Senior Center installed a rain sensor on the roof to reduce irrigation use during the rainy season. (Green Business Program of Santa Barbara County photo)

Like the Red Cross and the Solvang Senior Center, another local nonprofit, the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History’s Ty Warner Sea Center has also made sustainability a priority.

The center is a local treasure on Stearns Wharf in Santa Barbara. Its main goal is to inspire passion and stewardship for the marine environment. It raises awareness for sustainability through exhibits and its Sustainable Seafood Program, which encourages restaurants in the area to use local and sustainably harvested seafood.

Due to the nature of its mission, the Sea Center operates with the environment in mind. As such, the museum recently developed a master plan with sustainability as one of its top five goals and formed a Green Team to help realize these goals. The Green Team adopted the Green Business Program to guide them in their sustainability efforts. The Sea Center has worked hard during the past year to meet the criteria of the program to become the first museum certified as a Green Business in the county.

Using its Intranet system, the center now provides information to staff on recycling and reuse of paper, batteries and other office materials. It also has instituted a policy requiring all office equipment be turned off at the end of the day, including computers, monitors and printers. Energy-efficient lighting is used throughout the center. The staff is encouraged to use reusable containers for their lunches, and the center has set up a system for buying fresh organic vegetables from Plow to Porch.

These nonprofit organizations taking the time and energy to go green are commendable. Importantly, their actions will also reduce operating costs in the long term, ensuring that they can operate in the community for years to come. To learn more about these businesses or how to make your business more sustainable, click here to check out the Green Business Program website.

— Megan Birney serves on the Steering Committee of the Green Business Program of Santa Barbara County on behalf of the Community Environmental Council. Crissy Haley is an intern with the Green Business Program and a master’s degree candidate at the UCSB Bren School of Environmental Science & Management.

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