In the early 1990s, Jill Buck was serving as a naval officer in San Diego when she got a new assignment.
She was to serve as the command inspection officer, responsible for getting her command ready for an admiral's inspection that occurred once every three years. Just preparing for the inspection was a yearlong process, and it meant going from space to space making sure classified materials, weapons and other sensitive items were securely stowed.
Part of the job, Buck says, was also making sure any paper fellow officers were using was recycled content, and that they were recycling paper. President Bill Clinton had just signed an executive order implementing such recycling mandates across the federal government.
"Oftentimes sailors wanted to know why we were doing this, and I educated them about it," Buck said in a recent interview.
Fast forward to the summer of 2002, by which point Buck was a civilian settled down in Pleasanton and raising a family. Then a Parent-Teacher Association president, she was dismayed by a lack of environmental education resources at Walnut Grove Elementary where her older daughter attended school.
"I was shocked to see even though here in the Navy we were teaching 18-year-old sailors to recycle paper, that wasn't happening at her school," Buck said. "I saw a number of different things we were doing in the Navy that were environmentally responsible that weren't happening at her school, and I wanted to help rectify that situation."
Buck sought a comprehensive program that she could bring to Walnut Grove. Finding none, she started Go Green Initiative, a nonprofit that provides training and resources for schools to help them evaluate their environmental impact and create a culture of conservation.
Since being piloted at Walnut Grove Elementary, the Pleasanton organization's reach has grown to all 50 states and 73 countries, with over 1.5 million students and teachers currently in registered Go Green schools.
Now, nearly 15 years after founding Go Green Initiative, Buck is taking on another pilot project. At the start of last year she first introduced the Local Leaders of the 21st Century program, bringing it to Amador Valley High students with the help of social studies teacher Brian Ladd.
"There is a real void in this industry for programs for high school students that provide meaningful leadership opportunities that impact change in their communities," Buck said. "There was nothing out there that allowed high school students to dig deep into the energy, water, food and waste systems of their local community, interact with local policymakers and get out in the community to make change themselves."
That's where Local Leaders comes in. Around 50 Amador students convene once or twice a month at lunchtime to hear from guest speakers that have included city and PUSD leaders, PG&E representatives and others (attendees, of course, recycle and compost their food scraps).
Members also meet separately in small work groups to tackle club initiatives, and once a semester the group ventures out on a field trip. With fall semester's focus on Pleasanton's waste system, students visited the Vasco Road Landfill in Livermore and Pleasanton Garbage Service transfer station in Pleasanton.
"A big part of our club is being able to see what policy changes we can enact within our community and the state, so I think that really appealed to us that even as students we could impact the environment around us," Local Leaders vice-president Megan Shih, a senior at Amador, said in a recent interview with fellow members.
The students found an opportunity to make a difference soon after the club's inception. In 2012 the Alameda County Waste Management Authority had approved a mandatory recycling ordinance requiring businesses, institutions and applicable multi-family properties in participating cities to sort their recyclables from trash. It included a second phase that would later require entities like restaurants and grocery stores to sort compostables from their trash.
The city of Pleasanton was among those that adopted the ordinance, initiating Phase 2 on Jan. 1. A couple weeks beforehand, several Local Leaders gave a presentation at the Pleasanton school board meeting where they informed trustees and administrators about the new rules taking effect and their interest in getting funding for new trash cans and compost bins at Amador.
"After that, the school board actually came up to us and was like, 'We need to enact this policy and make sure we're up to code on it,' so they decided they were going to fund the project for the entire school district," said Local Leaders president Sahil Sagar, calling the development one of the club's biggest accomplishments so far.
"We were aware of all the policy changes before a lot of our administrators were, so we like being able to bring that to the table," added Shih.
The students' efforts to educate community members about the new policy have extended beyond PUSD. In February, they gave a presentation at an informational meeting for businesses about the mandatory recycling ordinance hosted by the city of Pleasanton at the Firehouse Arts Center.
"They got a very warm reception," Buck said.
This semester the environmental focus has shifted to energy, and as part of that the Local Leaders will head down to San Luis Obispo in May for a trip to the Diablo Canyon Power Plant.
With the end of the school year near, Local Leaders are working to recruit more members to replace graduating peers. Seniors like Shih are also reflecting on what they can take with them from the club.
"Through this experience we've all realized that even though we might be students, it's really important for us to still be able to speak out because we were able to enact more change than any of us thought we'd be able to," she said. "I definitely plan to continue this kind of environmentally conscious mindset in college."
Buck, meanwhile is working to expand Local Leaders beyond Pleasanton. Next school year, the program will start at high schools in Newark and Atlanta among other cities.
"Wherever (these students) go, I hope they take that confidence to engage in local public policy because it's so important," she said. "These smart, talented students are part of the solutions we will so desperately need in the 21st century as these systems are stressed by climate change."
For more information about the Local Leaders program, visit localleaders.gogreeninitiative.org.
Earth Day around the Tri-Valley
There will be happenings all around the Tri-Valley for Earth Day this Saturday. Here are just a few:
* Earth Day at the Pleasanton Library, 200 Old Bernal Road in Pleasanton: 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. The Pleasanton Youth Commission is hosting this free event, which will feature a resource fair with vendors such as Go Green Initiative, Pleasanton Garbage Service and Zone 7. There will also be educational activities and crafts for kids, as well as free document shredding from 9 a.m. to noon at 123 Main St. Shredding is limited to three banker boxes, and residents are asked to enter the parking area from Bernal Ave. between Main Street and the Pleasanton Police Department. Contact recreation supervisor Nicole Thomas with questions, firstname.lastname@example.org.
* Earth Day Walk and Talk, Las Trampas Regional Wilderness Bollinger Trail Loop, 18012 Bollinger Canyon Road in San Ramon: 10-11 a.m. Join Assemblywoman Catharine Baker and East Bay Regional Park District to celebrate Earth Day and learn about what the Legislature is doing to protect the environment.
* City of Pleasanton Earth Day creek cleanup, Bernal Community Park, 7001 Pleasanton Ave. in Pleasanton: 9 a.m. to noon. Join the Alviso Adobe staff at Bernal Community Park to help remove trash and improve the habitats in our creek. Wear old sneakers, and bring a bucket and gloves if you have them. Materials will be supplied for those that need them. Register at pleasantonfun.com with code 64255 or call 931-3481 for more information.
* Earth Day at the Danville Library, 400 Front Street in Danville: 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. The Danville Library and Town of Danville Clean Water Program present the free 7th annual Earth Day celebration, featuring a creek walk, family activities, exhibits and more. Visit danville.ca.gov to learn more.