Berkeley’s current construction boom is bringing thousands of new units to this city, including many in the Downtown area. While our city’s housing policy focuses growth along transit corridors, we also need to balance our land use policies with green building policies to encourage energy efficient and sustainable construction. According to City staff, Berkeley is not on track to meet its Climate Action Plan goals. In order to meet our greenhouse gas emission targets, we need to reduce vehicle trips AND reduce building energy emissions. In order to promote truly “green” building, we must look at the way buildings are constructed and how it uses energy. That is why I am honored to have worked with a group of building professionals, the Zero Net Energy Working Group, to introduce a groundbreaking proposal to incentivize Zero Net Energy buildings in Berkeley. The Berkeley Deep Green Building Initiative is an incentive-based program to encourage sustainable construction, materials, to promote energy efficiency and to reduce the carbon footprint of buildings. This initiative when implemented will put Berkeley ahead of cities in California to encourage truly green construction and will help advance our Climate Action Plan. This proposal will be voted on by the Berkeley City Council on July 19th.
In addition to reducing the environmental footprint of buildings, I am also introducing an item that will expand urban agriculture in the city. On July 12th, Council will vote on an Urban Agriculture Package, which will revise zoning laws to promote and make it easier to create community gardens and urban farms. By growing healthy food locally, we can significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions caused by the transport of food from farm to plate. This proposal expands upon earlier urban agriculture reforms that I proposed in 2012 by increasing the locations urban agriculture can take place ‘by right’, beyond residential areas. Urban agriculture is a valuable asset for our City because it helps strengthen the health and social fabric of communities while creating economic opportunities for farmers and neighborhoods.
On June 3, 2016, Berkeley High School was officially certified as the 23rd Fair Trade School in the United States. This honor was awarded by Fair Trade Campaigns, a project of the nonprofit Fair Trade USA. It made BHS an official affiliate of Fair Trade, the grassroots movement dedicated to promoting sustainable production and community empowerment for farmers and workers across the globe.
The certification came after over a year of advocacy by the BHS Fair Trade Committee. Following the standards set out by Fair Trade Campaigns, this student club worked through three objectives: build a team, present fair trade education and events to the student body, and source fair trade products on campus.
Founded in spring of 2015 by Camila Rice-Aguilar, then a BHS sophomore, the committee began with less than ten members. However, as the group began to work towards certification, membership grew, reaching nearly 20 students. Describing her motivation to form the club, Rice-Aguilar said, “[Fair Trade] is something that I really believe in. I thought that our school would benefit from having a committee that could teach the student body about fair trade and bring that ideology to campus.”
True to Rice-Aguilar’s word, education was a major focus of the committee’s activities this year, with members spreading awareness about Fair Trade at every opportunity. They sold baked goods made with Fair Trade ingredients, distributed information flyers, talked to their peers, and arranged class teach-ins.
Sidra Pierson, BHS senior and committee vice president, explained the essential role that teach-ins played in the group’s mission. “I think it’s really important that people understand what Fair Trade is,” she said. According to Pierson, many people have heard the term but view it abstractly as something akin to organic. While Fair Trade USA encourages organic farming, she explained, the movement stands for much more.
In order to receive Fair Trade certification, businesses must meet over 200 standards ensuring that workers’ rights are respected and that production is ethical and sustainable. For instance, they cannot use child labor, must provide workers protective gear, avoid chemicals that harm the environment, and guarantee women paid maternity leave. After a business is certified, producers receive a Fair Trade premium and decide democratically how to use it to the benefit of their community. Premiums are used to fund education, healthcare, infrastructure, and more, helping to meet whatever needs workers identify.
One of the concepts that the Fair Trade Committee emphasizes at BHS is conscious consumerism. The key takeaway, Pierson said, “is recognizing the incredible amount of power that you have in your everyday purchasing actions, and that you should not just be mindlessly pulling things off shelves.” She likened the impact of conscious purchases to a vote. “You’re saying to the industry ‘This is a value of mine, this is something that matters to me,’” she said.
Moving forward, the committee’s primary goal is to establish a permanent outlet for Fair Trade goods on campus. They hope to source items in the cafeteria and morning cafe, and are considering making Fair Trade clothing items available for sale. The committee also plans to invite a Fair Trade representative to speak at BHS. However, perhaps the group’s most urgent objective is to recruit new members. In order to accomplish the goals that lie ahead, the committee needs to be a long-term student presence at BHS.
School may not be in session over the summer, but the message of the Fair Trade Committee remains essential every time BHS students and Berkeley residents go shopping. “I think that Fair Trade provides a solution for an individual to make a difference... by just knowing where to buy something,” Rice-Aguilar closed.
Berkeley City Councilmember Jesse Arreguin