By Alessandra Carreon, AmeriCorps Member, Green School Coordinator for DPS Go Green program
On the evening of March 26, WARM Training Center’s Detroit Youth Energy Squad (DYES) held a panel discussion highlighting what “green” and sustainability in Detroit mean from a variety of perspectives. The panel was organized to enrich and contextualize the experience of students participating in DYES after-school programs across the city. The after-school program supports students’ completion of a community project and will select 36 students to take on green summer jobs in weatherization and energy auditing. These 36 selected students will also receive an AmeriCorps scholarship.
The student leaders of the U.S. Green Building Council Student Group at WSU welcomed the audience to campus, highlighting the importance of sustainability across all disciplines and explaining that sustainability principles can be applied to virtually any major. Bob Chapman, Executive Director of WARM Training Center, kicked off the evening’s focus on sustainability in the city by reminding the audience that for too long, “green cities” were considered an oxymoron. The public either cared about cities, or cared about the environment – but not the two combined. The message of “Green in the City” unraveled that notion.
Panelists were introduced by Cass Technical High School senior, Elayne Elliott, an experienced emcee through her own involvement in other local events and organizations, such as through her membership with East Michigan Environmental Action Council’s Young Educators Alliance (YEA).
The first panelist to speak was Council Member Ken Cockrel, Jr. with the City of Detroit. Council Member Cockrel highlighted some of the city’s initiatives to assume more sustainable practices, specifically through the Green Task Force he assembled, such as instituting a green purchasing ordinance. He said, on the concept of green jobs, “Green jobs don’t all need to include a ray gun, but can include a caulk gun.”
Kimberly Hill Knott, Senior Policy Manager with Detroiters Working for Environmental Justice (DWEJ), emphasized the role of policy in curbing greenhouse gas emissions that aggravate global warming through climate change, as well as the emission of toxic pollutants that cause health problems. Kimberly asked the audience how many students knew people with asthma? How about lung cancer or pancreatic cancer? A jolt of hands went up in the air with each question. Kimberly explained the cause for these ailments can oftentimes be traced back to environmental issues. “Many of these health challenges are related to the environment.”
Marcus Jones, Director of Detroit Training Center, explained how sustainability is ubiquitous in any discipline, and how his own construction training company champions green construction across the board, not uniquely to “green projects.” What does sustainability mean to him? “Sustainability equals long-term savings.”
Finally, architect Amy Swift, founder of Building Hugger and lecturer at Lawrence Technological University, shared her career journey from Detroit to Chicago to New York City, eventually returning to her hometown to create greener communities from the existing and reliable, historic building stock of the city.
Students were encouraged to mingle with each other, speakers and other sustainability professionals, sharing tips and resources for their respective community projects. Following the panel, each student wrote a single action or lesson learned to engage in sustainable practices on a piece of recycled scrap paper. Green School Coordinators, part of Detroit Public Schools’ Go Green program, working at the students’ schools will hold students accountable to their written and committed green practice.
Students responded enthusiastically to the event, some sharing that they plan to use less energy, or would like to start composting to reduce their waste impacts. Other students explained that to them, sustainability means maintaining a healthy lifestyle and planet, while others declared that they would one day take college classes on green energy to incorporate into their future business efforts.
This event was closed to students participating in the DYES after school program and the many volunteers at WSU, WARM and across the city who are contributing to youth development and sustainability progress. Students in attendance represented the Detroit Institute of Technology (DIT) at Cody, Martin Luther King, Jr. High School, East English Village Preparatory Academy, and Cass Technical High School.