Surfer and environmental activist Kyle Thiermann has grown in many ways since he first made waves in Good Times. Back in 2009, Thiermann was a wide-eyed 19-year-old kid, living the dream. He was a pro boarder, sponsored by Patagonia and Sector 9, and just beginning his university studies at Gaia University—a college that offers students accredited degrees for pursuing social change projects of their own design.
He landed on the cover of GT in September 2009 for his first Gaia project, Claim Your Change, a short video which explored how banking locally was a simple way to support the local community—and at the same time casting a no vote on environmentally damaging projects, such as coal mining and oil drilling, which are often financed by major banks.
Fast forward to 2011, and the 21-year-old Thiermann will soon graduate with a bachelor’s degree in green business. In the time between Claim Your Change and his latest Gaia video, Where is Away?, Thiermann has surfed some of the most epic waves on the planet and generated loads of environmental awareness in the meantime.
“It’s been a pretty fun adventure,” Thiermann says, reflecting on the places he’s been, the things he’s learned and the people he has met as a result of his environmental projects.
Where is Away?, Thiermann’s fourth short film, focuses on the damage caused by single-use plastic products—specifically plastic bags and water bottles. The project took him to Oahu, Hawaii, where he met up with musician and fellow surfing environmentalist Jack Johnson.
Johnson took Thiermann and his video crew to the east side of the island where plastic debris, carried on ocean currents from Asia and North America, washes up on the shore. Besides gunking up beaches, plastic debris gets caught in the intestines of marine wildlife, killing the animals in many instances.
“I used to throw a plastic bottle into the blue bin and thought it magically turned into a new bottle,” Thiermann says.
Unfortunately, as both Johnson and environmentalist Annie Leonard say, it isn’t as simple as that.
Leonard, who created The Story of Stuff, a 20-minute documentary which explains how much single-use plastic junk ends up in the landfill year after year, pulls back the curtain in Thiermann’s video, revealing a not-so-wizardly story behind the plastic recycling veil.
“The little recycling symbol on the bottom of plastics doesn’t mean it has been recycled or will be recycled,” Leonard explains.
Furthermore, Thiermann, who took a trip to Oahu’s recycling plant, discovered that all the recyclables that make it there are simply shipped to a recycling plant in China or elsewhere in Asia.
“Recycling is an incredibly energy-intensive process,” Thiermann says. And often, as Leonard pointed out, not all products with a recycling symbol on them can even be recycled.
Fortunately, according to Thiermann, “there is such a simple way to use less plastic in our lives.” Sure, he says, you should definitely recycle your plastic bottle, “but why even have a plastic bottle in the first place?”
Thiermann’s video, which was uploaded on March 12, has been viewed more than 6,500 times. He says that being a pro surfer and the success of his previous videos, which all together have more than 24,000 views, helped get Johnson and Leonard on board, and he is grateful that they were willing to give their time. “It adds credibility,” he says.
However, while Johnson and Leonard may have varying degrees of star power backing what they say, Thiermann insists that “they’re just like anyone else. They just want to get the word out about the plastic issue.”
The growth of social media has helped his cause, as well. Facebook has grown exponentially since 2009, and Thiermann couldn’t be happier about it. The types of people Thiermann sees commenting on his Surfing for Change page on Facebook often aren’t the environmentalist type.
Thiermann believes, that when it comes to the issue of single-use plastic, getting the word out is really the only hurdle between the state of things today and what he hopes will be a much cleaner tomorrow. “You don’t have to be an environmentalist,” he says.
There are many environmental issues people feel powerless about, he explains. But with plastic bottles and bags, the solution is simple. “It doesn’t get much easier. All you have to do is say no to the plastic bag and stop buying bottled water.”
Thiermann plans on making a career out of his environmental activism, and hopes that he can convince people to make meaningful changes in their lives.
“More than anything, whatever issue I cover, I want to get out the message that we as citizens have the power to effect change on a local and global scale,” he says.
Learn more at surfingforchange.com. | Nick Vernon
Is There a Green Solution to Bad Traffic?
You can use green techniques in building and you can use green techniques in landscaping, but how do you make an entire transportation system green?
That’s the question the Santa Cruz County Regional Transportation Agency and its executive director, George Dondero, are trying to answer.
Think of all those cars lined up in traffic on Highway 1. It’s not only an inconvenience—but also there’s a lot of carbon being spewed into our Santa Cruz atmosphere.
Is there a solution?
Dondero thinks there might be, even in a small county like Santa Cruz, which doesn’t have the kind of mass transit that more populated areas have. After all, even the car capital of Los Angeles has light-rail by now.
Dondero’s proposed solution goes by the acronym STARS— Sustainable Transportation Analysis and Rating System. Conceived by transportation experts in Portland, it’s a kind of LEEDS certification for transportation. The local Regional Transportation Commission has quietly embarked on this STARS plan as part of its planning strategy for the future. The development of STARS is so slow that it hasn’t received much publicity—but it also might end up being the most significant development in years when it comes to the question of how people get around Santa Cruz County.
Till now, political battles over transportation here have centered on cars versus alternatives—bus, rail, bicycles. The debate has been long, loud and mostly unproductive. Dondero wants to change that.
“There are two goals, to STARS,” says Dondero. “One is to reduce carbon emissions. The second is similar—reduce fuel consumption.”
Here’s where an admittedly bureaucratic program like STARS differs from business as usual: “It’s fact-based, and it’s mode-neutral.” In other words, it’s about how people get around efficiently. It’s not about putting grandma on a bicycle.
Dondero heard about the STARS program in early 2009. It was conceived by transportation experts in Portland—home to a number of innovative transportation projects. It was inspired by LEEDS—the U.S. Green Building Council’s “Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design” system of standards. STARS is an attempt to establish something similar—a voluntary, point-based system that would allow transportation professionals to evaluate and design projects and programs.
It’s not a one-size fits all standard. What works in, say, Santa Clara County may not work here.
Here’s the problem. It’s one thing to have a fact-based, organized program to help decide this area’s transportation issues. It will be another thing when specific projects are discussed.
Take, for example, Highway 1. The gridlock there affects anyone who has to travel from Santa Cruz to points south or back. When the highway is jammed, so are the surface streets. And, buses are sitting in traffic, right along with the cars. It’s not a pretty picture, either for transportation efficiency or for clean air.
Still, there are opponents who look at the situation and oppose any widening of the highway, even if it were the construction of carpool and bus lanes.
Nevertheless, as part of STARS, the RTC staff and commissioners have been moving forward. A group called the Technical Advisory Committee recently concluded a series of meetings and went so far as to select 12 “credits”—standards that could be applied to any Highway 1 improvement plan. That plan involves construction of a High-Occupancy Vehicle lane for much of Highway 1 between Santa Cruz and Aptos. The HOV lane would accommodate carpools, vanpools, buses and emergency vehicles.
There would also be design features to encourage express buses and other alternatives. It would include additional overpasses to facilitate pedestrian and bike travel from one side of the freeway to the other. And, it encourages green construction techniques.
“We need to give people choices,” says Dondero. And that includes alternatives to driving alone in internal-combusiton engine vehicles.”
Finally, there’s more to STARS than simply building better roads—or even finding better avenues of mass transit. It also involves land use. Dondero says that land-use decisions ought to factor in in transportation issues. One example of that is locating housing near main transportation lines. Another is more subtle—some neighborhoods have no stores or restaurants nearby, and that kind of land-use
planning has led to more and more car trips.
Will this plan actually be enacted?
Dondero says he’s confident. “Watch what we do. That’ll be the test.”
Learn more at sccrtc.org. | Tom Honig
Set in Stone
5 Feet From the Moon delivers a bold (and green) alternative
When you are “5 feet from the moon,” succulents grow out of concrete hung from walls, thistles bloom from metal in rusted silhouettes, and a harrow disk from a tractor becomes a flower blossom.
Here dwell Dominic Boinich and Katrina King, owners of the two-year-old custom metal and concrete fabrication shop, 5 Feet From the Moon.
Boinich specializes in concrete fabrication while King’s main focus is custom metal, but they share an interest in beauty inspirited with nature.
“It seems to be a general trend that we’re all kind of looking back to nature these days,” says Boinich. “We are trying to purvey that through our work, keep nature in people’s minds.”
Just about every piece of art crafted at 5 Feet From the Moon blossoms from reused, refurbished scraps. For example, Dominic fashioned a glistening metal wine decanter of discarded pieces from the Bonny Doon Winery when the venue downsized.
“We looted a lot of the stuff around here that you see,” says Dominic, pointing out a wheel that serves as a table base, which came from the local landfill. “I got a lot of metal that was donated by [UC Santa Cruz] when we first moved into this spot, too.”
Even the sea green color on the walls of the Westside shop is a recycled blend of leftover paints donated by a Craigslister just around the corner.
The low-environmental impact of their business model springs both from a shared appreciation for nature, and sheer lack of funds.
“When we opened up the place we had no money,” says Dominic. “We had nothing.”
“Nothing” forced the two to get creative with their art supplies. When they were opening up their shop two years ago, Bionich and King took frequent trips to the dump, where they exchanged loads of trash from remodeling for even larger loads of scrap metal they took back with them.
“As much as we can we try to get materials that people are throwing away, because it’s cheaper and someone ought to use it,” King says.
The reused supplies are just one way King and Boinich chisel an ode to nature. Another is the product. The organic shapes and designs of each piece, as well as elemental blues, greens, and ambers, pay homage to our planet.
“I grew up gardening, and I’ve always been inspired by nature,” says King, who focused in college on color on metal
One can spot 5 Feet From the Moon pieces suspended around town like pieces of the cosmos. For example, they designed the sign for the Penny Ice Creamery, work quite a bit with DIG Gardens and most recently fashioned a carefully weighted, movable concrete counter top at the new Westside butcher shop, El Salchichero. Around the corner at the Santa Cruz Mountain Brewery, a 5 Feet From the Moon concrete counter top billows like a skirt.
Dominic says he is excited about working with other burgeoning businesses.
“We’re all kind of growing together, it’s a cool thing,” says Boinich. “There are a lot of people around the same age as us starting businesses around here. It’s really fun to be a part of that.”
Their unique succulent tables, concrete wall planters, metal patina and concrete wall hangings decorate homes, and their rust-colored plasma-cut fire pits with custom designs heat up local patios. | April M. Short
Spreading the Seeds
Boinich and King want to share their trade with others. Beginning in autumn, they have a plan in the works to teach students at Soquel High School.
Boinich’s lingering dream has been to teach art to others.
“I think everyone has some kind of creative bug they are dying to let out, and [King] and I know enough about planning, going all the way through with a public art project,” he says.
Indeed, King and Boinich have vast experience in public art from their previous construction and art installation jobs over the hill. Their plan is to teach the high school students how to take a project from a cocktail napkin concept, pass it through the processes of approval by city boards, and then build the piece.
“You don’t want to go to school if it’s just academics— you’re gonna be so freaked out,” says Boinich. “Art programs are falling apart in schools, so I want to do more than just yell at the radio about how I hate politics. So we’re going to go in and work on a project that they can install at the school, and maybe add onto every year.”
A public workshop is also brewing in the back of Boinich and King’s minds, awaiting proper time and equipment.
Katrina and Dominic say one of the most gratifying components of their work is the chance to “stoke” people on nature, beauty and art.
“People are in awe sometimes,” says Katrina. “To be able to have them tell us what they want, and then to be able to make it while still keeping that nature element is great. We do furniture, gates, everything … whatever people want. We’ll brainstorm with them, and come up with a concept. It’s great to see them stoke out on it.”
Learn more at fivefeetfromthemoon.com. | April M. Short
Wine for the Green-Minded
Santa Cruz’s Silver Mountain Vineyard is a model of sustainable winemaking
“In wine is truth,” or so professes the Latin proverb. And if truth in 2011 means facing up to our environmental reality—and taking responsibility for changing it—then Silver Mountain Vineyard wines are certainly chock-full of truth.
This year marks the winery’s 33rd harvest at its estate in the Santa Cruz Mountains, where winemaker Jerold O’Brien has been growing organic grapes since 1980. “I was farming organically before I’d ever heard of the term ‘organic farming,’” he says, recalling that it wasn’t until eight years into his operation that someone used the phrase in his presence. (He immediately contacted CCOF, the Santa Cruz-based organic certification nonprofit, and got certified.) Both the vineyard and winery are certified organic—“which means that no chemical herbicides, insecticides, fungicides or synthetic fertilizers are used in our vineyard,” reads the winery’s website. But O’Brien’s green efforts don’t stop there.
After the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake destroyed the original winery, O’Brien hatched a plan for rebuilding it that called for environmentally innovative thinking. The final result was an entirely sustainable winemaking operation. Take for example the winery’s barrel room, which is designed as an artificial cave. “It has natural temperature control, natural humidity control, and it’s also three different levels—starting from the roof to a mid-level terrace and then down—so we use gravity to move all of our fruit and wine,” explains O’Brien. “We don’t use pumps. If we get to the bottom level and we have to move the wine again somewhere, we take it to the top and start gravity-feeding down again.”
But O’Brien’s “crowning glory” of sustainability is the Triple Canopy Roof, a 6,000-square foot steel roof that casts perpetual shade over the entire winery (barrel room, equipment, etc). The product of 15 years of dreaming and scheming on O’Brien’s part, the canopy greatly reduces refrigeration requirements and wear and tear on equipment. But there’s more; it’s called “Triple Green” because it is “environmentally positive in three ways,” explains O’Brien. The roof is covered in 264 solar panels (the largest photovoltaic system in the Santa Cruz Mountains, says O’Brien) and also acts as a fruitful rainwater catchment, or cistern, system. As a result, Silver Mountain is able to produce more than enough energy to power its winery, offices and residences, and still have some left for the grid. They use the collected rainwater for irrigation, barrel cleaning and more.
More recently, O’Brien brought the magic of Silver Mountain to town, opening a tasting room in Santa Cruz’s flourishing Westside neighborhood. He is one of 12 wineries that have banded together to form the Surf City Vintners, a group of wineries that call the Westside home. Their influx into the area over the last several years has resulted in a tight cluster of wineries and unintentionally created a very walkable—and thus very “green”—wine tasting haven.
Visit Silver Mountain at its new Westside location, 402 Ingalls St. Ste. 29, Santa Cruz, or visit silvermtn.com for directions to their Santa Cruz Mountains winery, where you can marvel at the Triple Green project firsthand. | Elizabeth Limbach
10 Easy Ways To Live A More Sustainable Life
RECYCLE! Please. It’s 2011. Get your game on and avoid adding to the landfill by recycling everything you can.
REUSE! Start with re-usable grocery bags. Local grocery stores like New Leaf Community Markets and Staff of Life sell them now and home stores sell them in designer colors and patterns ( Chefworks, Bunny’s, Trader Joe’s and many others in Downtown Santa Cruz.) Start thinking about other things you can reuse.
COMPOST! Vegetable waste in your garbage releases methane gas from landfills into the atmosphere. Consider a rotating composter. Add all your yard cuttings, old flower arrangements, and cooking scraps (no meat) and make fresh soil every 27 days. Egg shells, coffee grounds and tea leaves are especially great for composting. compostore.com/originalct.html
GROW YOUR OWN. Growing vegetables is possible all year round in these parts. Reduce your food bill, and enjoy the benefits of your labor.
SWITCH out the majority of your light bulbs to CFL’s (compact fluorescents). No brainer. And don’t forget to TURN OFF THE LIGHTS! when you leave a room. And … PULL THE PLUG on appliances when you’re not using them. It saves more energy than you think.
WATER WATCH: Consider sensor faucets in the bathroom—a tremendous water savings. And then … keep a bucket (yes, a bucket) in your shower—you can nearly fill it before the hot water comes on. Use the water for containers or other plants outside. Do this every day. It’s very efficient and you’ll avoid wasting hose water outside.
CLEAN GREEN. Avoid putting pollutants and chemicals into the water system by using “green” cleaning products. Products like Method and Seventh Generation smell good and clean well for a healthy house. Green Space in Santa Cruz (greenspacecompany.com) is an ideal spot to nab any number of eco-friendly products and supplies.
BUY LOCAL We are fortunate to have several fabulous farmers’ markets every week, and great local natural food stores that make it their business to provide us with local goods.
GET SMART The more you find out about ways to live green, the more attractive and beneficial it becomes. Santa Cruz is blessed with many, many extraordinary people making sustainable practice and living happen. NextSpace in Santa Cruz is a hotbed of resources and people you want to get to know. oclc.org/nextspace/default.htm
HAVE SOME GREEN FUN. It’s doing everything you already do, but doing it better. Living (blue)green is living better. Every little change and effort makes a big difference. Santa Cruz County is an inspiring place to be right now.
One To Watch: UC Santa Cruz Carbon Fund
What it is: A unique organization that uses money raised by the student-approved Measure 44 ($3-per-quarter student fee) to create an eco footprint. The UCSC Carbon Fund began though the collaborative efforts of the Office of Sustainability and student activists. Back in 2006 UCSC students passed Measure 26, taxing themselves to buy Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs) in order to offset the climate impact of campus electricity purchases. Last year, UCSC students changed the use of the funds through the passage of Measure 44. As a result, the Carbon Fund generated big buzz about reducing UCSC’s carbon footprint.
What it does: The fund has awarded nearly $100,000 (out of $180,000) to fund nine student, staff and faculty-led projects that will work to reduce the overall carbon footprint of Santa Cruz. It supports the Santa Cruz Community and UCSC as an operationally carbon neutral zone while providing faculty with an opportunity for research, and students with the tools they need to move toward a more sustainable future.
Gotta Be Green: Greenspace Shows Us How
With 4,000 square feet of space, Greenspace Company is filled to the brim with every green product imaginable to decorate, improve and maintain a home. There is everything from cleaning products, paints and office supplies to gifts, bedding and baby products. Things to know: the staff at Greenspace prescreens all of its products before they hit the shelves to ensure that the item is eco-friendly. GT connected with owner, manager and creator Lydia Corser to discover the Top Seven green products we need to use right now.
Organic Cotton Linens
Using organic cotton sheets, pillowcases and comforters will allow you sleep well at night knowing that your bedding is produced in a way that replenishes and maintains soil fertility, reduces the use of pesticides, and builds biologically diverse agriculture. Purchasing organic linens helps increase demand, keeps field workers safer, and significantly lessens the amount of toxic chemicals poisoning water, air, land, and wildlife. Although they cost more, they are made of higher quality materials and last longer than conventionally made sheets.
In addition to carrying reusable water bottles, thermal cups should be used to reduce waste build-up in landfills. Thermal cups keep coffee and tea hot for up to 4 to 6 hours. As Corser states, “It doesn’t make sense to use a cup for the few minutes it takes to consume these beverages and then throw it away.” By using thermal cups, we can enjoy our delicious beverages for a longer period of time without cluttering the earth we live on.
For the same cost as a morning cup of coffee, a bamboo spork (a utensil of spoon and fork) is an inexpensive and easy way to reduce the amount of plastic spoons and forks that pile up in the world. Corser says that bamboo sporks are a necessary investment so “you never have to use another plastic, disposable or supposedly biodegradable spoon or fork again.” Other eco-friendly household products include special occasion dishware made of 100 percent recycled glass and napkins, and aprons made
The vinyl flooring industry has skewed the term for linoleum to mean plastic vinyl flooring—that can be found in many bathrooms and kitchens. Natural linoleum is the real product and is made from linseed oil, where linoleum gets its name, in addition to cork and wood flour, mineral pigments, and jute backing. Natural linoleum can be used in homes and businesses, lasts longer than vinyl, is inexpensive, and is available in an array of colors and patterns. Compared to other types of flooring, the performance of natural linoleum improves over time because exposure to air makes it harder and more durable.
Paints which make a room smell like chemicals for the first few days are full of VOC, or volatile organic compounds. VOCs are known carcinogens that are emitted as gas from certain solids and liquids such as paint, permanent markers, and glue. The products at Green Space Company are colored with only non-toxic and VOC-free paints. Paints that are free of VOC cost the same as conventional paint from mainstream brands and look just as great, or even better.
Cork and Bamboo Flooring
To keep floors eco-friendly, a redecorator should use cork or bamboo flooring because these materials are sustainably harvested, renewable and recyclable. Cork floors are comfortable to walk on and are ideal for homes with children because they are soft and resilient, resistant to fire, insects and moisture and are able to dampen sound. Bamboo is also a great material for floors and the environment because it is grown without pesticides and herbicides.
Anyone who has ever tried to compost kitchen waste for their home garden knows that the process is odorous and complicated. Indoor composters make composting easy and fun. By removing composting restrictions and allowing meats, cheeses and other previously non-compostable products to be included, indoor composters take out the guesswork for beginners and simply make the job easier.