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Sustainable Claremont works for the city’s future

Among the assortment of dedicated service groups and nonprofits throughout the city, Sustainable Claremont’s tireless community advocacy has earned special recognition amid the fanfare at this year’s Independence Day Celebration.

Sustainable Claremont will proudly bear the event’s coveted title of 2012 Honored Group, recognition for outstanding service to the Claremont community. The local nonprofit, only in its third year, is already gaining widespread attention for its leadership in partnering with local government, schools and others toward preserving the city’s charm and progressive nature.

“Sustainable Claremont is a fantastic organization that wants to be able to educate people and show them how they can take action. That is really what all of our passion is about,” said board member Devon Hartman. “It is said that Claremont is the City of Trees and PhDs. Well, I think in some ways the trees help attract the PhDs, and now the PhDs are all trying to preserve the trees. Sustainable Claremont is an extraordinary group of people who want to educate and to act.”

The group, completely comprised of volunteers, has worked enthusiastically since its implementation in 2008 to advocate that mission of environmental, economic and social sustainability in Claremont and beyond. Their efforts seem almost endless, from monthly sustainability lectures to annual Earth Day events. Sustainable Claremont offers an internship program to students of the Claremont Colleges and participates in a variety of affiliate action groups and committees. One of the organization’s latest hefty undertakings includes helping to update the Claremont Sustainable City Plan, which will be reviewed for adoption in October.

“None of this is planned, it just happens,” said co-chair Freeman Allen of the group’s vast undertakings and achievements. 

But that is exactly what the organization intends.

“When Sustainable Claremont was formed, one of the things we decided was that we didn’t have a particular goal. What we wanted to do was to provide information, give opportunities and see where people’s interests took us,” said fellow co-chair Susan Schenk. “We try not to direct people too much, but try and find out what people’s interests are and then move from that starting point.”

The idea for a community group like Sustainable Claremont was introduced as part of the city’s general plan in 2006. 

“There are lots of things we [the city] want to do to make this a more sustainable community that aren’t necessarily within the role of government. It is not always appropriate,” said Chris Veirs, senior planner and sustainability coordinator with the city of Claremont. “It made sense to create a group of interested citizens that wanted to go out and do advocacy and involve the broader community.” 

The community-based nonprofit exceeded the expectations envisioned, according to Mr. Veirs. One of the group’s crowning achievements is the implementation of CHERP, or the Claremont Home Energy Retrofit Project. CHERP is dedicated to encouraging homeowners to perform cost-effective retrofits that cut back on utility bills and energy use. The city of Claremont liked the project so much that they actually partnered with CHERP, lending energy efficiency grant money from the government to the program. To date, Claremont has about 59 CHERP homes, resulting in an estimated $840,000 of investment in the local housing stock and nearly $275,000 in utility rebates.

“It’s a success story and this group of people here has a lot to do with that,” Mr. Veirs said.

However, the group is not restricted to energy. The organization’s programs and interests are as diverse as the members themselves, which number over 100. Bob Traer has led Pilgrim Place in the creation of its own sustainability plan. Ron Mittino remains a strong advocate for teaching sustainability to the schools. Ms. Schenk is passionate about preserving natural areas and shares a keen interest in plants, fostered in her childhood. Ms. Schenk felt it was important to leave no area of sustainability unturned in the implementation of a Sustainable Claremont action group. 

“I’ve always thought it was very important that Sustainable Claremont maintain a broad focus,” she said. “All of these things are connected. If you use sustainable methods of gardening, you reduce the environmental damage from pesticides and you reduce water.”

Sustainable Claremont hopes the group and its vast endeavors and accomplishments will become a model for other cities across the county and beyond.

“A lot of what we are creating here, we are doing with the idea of prototyping so that not only are we creating the actual benefits, but we’re going back and trying to package that in a way that can be leveraged and reproduced throughout Los Angeles,” Mr. Hartman said. “That’s part of our mission: trying to educate and duplicate what we achieve here.”

For more on Sustainable Claremont, visit their booth at this year’s Fourth of July celebration or check out their website, www.sustainableclaremont.com.

—Beth Hartnett

news@claremont-courier.com

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