It Takes A Village: Maricopa Community Colleges Sustainability Symposium

By Stephanie Funk

The aphorism “it takes a village” was first invoked by Chancellor Rufus Glasper at Maricopa County Community College District’s (MCCCD) Sustainability Symposium last Friday, and after that, the words became the unofficial theme of the event.
Pandora Thomas

The purpose of the Sustainability Symposium was to highlight the Maricopa Community Colleges’ efforts towards sustainability – and there was a lot of good to report. Many of the colleges now have education programs in Sustainability, which are transferable to Arizona State University. Directors take a “One Maricopa” approach to solutions in areas such as waste management, energy conservation and water conservation. Community partnerships are helping to form solutions in other areas, also. For example, ASU’s Sustainable Cities Network is helping MCCCD solve transportation problems.

Even in the wake of these exciting endeavors, President of South Mountain Community College Sherry Olsen insisted, “Sustainability isn’t just about these projects – it’s about trying to change the culture.”

No one is a better example of using community and culture to promote green living than the keynote speaker Pandora Thomas (pictured above). Thomas is the co-founder of Earthseeds Consulting, an eco-consulting firm that helps businesses and homes adopt sustainable practices. She has also co-founded many projects to engage communities of her native Bay Area in California such as Grind for the Green, a program that helps youth of color participate in the environmental movement, and Pathways to Resilience, a training program that helps to reintegrate men and women returning home from incarceration back into the community. Thomas is an advocate of permaculture, meaning that she combines social and agricultural systems in mutually beneficial ways.

“We are biological systems,” asserted Thomas. “The world is ripe and ready for cross-cultural relationships to be built.” Those relationships will, in turn, “heal our relationship with the earth.”

Alberto Olivas sustainability symposium 2015

Alberto Olivas (pictured right), the director of MCCCD Center for Civic Participation, buttressed Thomas’ speech in his breakout session about Civic Engagement Skills. Participants were urged to take inventory of the communities to which we already belong (book clubs, church groups, neighborhoods, schools, etc.) and to consider: “How can I connect these groups to sustainability issues?”

Sustainability’s “Triple Bottom Line” – People, Profit, Planet – can be an overwhelming goal. This year’s Sustainability Symposium was a powerful reminder that “People” is the best place to start. “It takes a village,” after all.

“The ‘People’ piece is at the core,” Pandora Thomas encouraged. “We are nature working!”

Get involved next year by attending Maricopa Community College District’s Sustainability Summit on March 8, 2016.

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