Los Angeles Times

City Lights: Working toward 'green'er pastures

One of the perks of being a reporter is that it sometimes pushes you to become a better citizen. That's because, in the course of covering stories (and occasionally uncovering wrongdoing), you find yourself repeatedly coming face to face with social ills. And it makes them that much harder to ignore.

Case in point: Two years ago, I wrote a profile on Tom Jones, a Huntington Beach resident who planned to paddleboard from Florida to New York to spread awareness about plastic in the ocean. During our interview, he told me about the perils of plastic, and I nodded dutifully — after all, I had already given up meat and sworn off the thermostat, and someday, environmentalist that I was, I would stop packing my drawer with all those Ralphs bags too.

Then Jones came home from his journey, and I wrote an adoring feature. The bags stayed in the drawer. A few months later, when Jones launched a drive to remove plastic from Huntington Harbour, he invited me to kayak around the harbor with him and pluck out pieces of trash — and then the message sank in, as I bought reusable bags at Trader Joe's and started asking for paper when I needed an extra.

With the comfortable (and convenient) life we enjoy in Orange County, it's all too easy to get blasé. Sometimes, changing our habits requires multiple reminders, or even a structured regimen. So when I heard about the Huntington Beach Chamber of Commerce's Sustainable Surf City program, which launched this month, I gave it a solid chance at success.

The program, run by the chamber in partnership with Village Green Global and the Rancho Santiago Community College District's Business & Entrepreneurship Center, challenges 15 small businesses and two schools to undergo a 12-month program to reduce energy, water, transportation and waste.

The organizers started this month by auditing each school's and business' equipment and will follow with a second audit after the year is up. In between, the 17 participants — which include Huntington Beach High School, the International Surfing Museum and the Howard Johnson Express Inn & Suites — will attend monthly workshops at the chamber headquarters on how to reduce their environmental footprint.

This week, I spoke to some of the business owners who signed up for the program, and it turns out they're far from novices in terms of eco-friendly practices. Bob Hoxsie, owner of Mangiamo Gelato Caffe, uses biodegradable plastic cups instead of Styrofoam. Suzanne Beukema, owner of Suzanne's Catering, said her staff tries to be as green as possible — carpooling, stocking reusable bags and turning off appliances when they leave the kitchen.

According to Maricela Sandoval, director of the Business & Entrepreneurship Center, the program sought participants who had already taken steps to "green" themselves, so to speak.

"The great thing about our program is that we get to identify groups that are moving forward with a vision and an effort," she said. "We get to come in and be a part of that."

The bottom line is: No matter how eco-friendly your lifestyle, there are still a great many ways to improve. When the Sustainable Surf City program ends, it may inspire others around town to amend their own habits. As Trader Joe's is my witness, I may be capable of learning too.

City Editor MICHAEL MILLER can be reached at (714) 966-4617 or at michael.miller@latimes.com.

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