O.C. Sustainability Decathlon, coming to fairgrounds Oct. 5, proves it is easy being green

Colleges and universities across California and the U.S. have been assembling homes for the O.C. Sustainability Decathlon.
Representatives from colleges and universities across California and the U.S. have been assembling sustainable homes that will be showcased during the O.C. Sustainability Decathlon.
(Courtesy of OCSD)

It’s not easy being green — but it could be. At least that’s the hope of a new event, years in the making and due to open next Thursday at the county fairgrounds in Costa Mesa.

The first-ever Orange County Sustainability Decathlon is a simple concept that hopes to make a big impact in the way people understand, talk about and respond to climate change, according to Fred Smoller, co-founder of the event and Chapman University associate professor.

“What I’ve been arguing for years is if you’re going to spend hundreds of millions of dollars transforming the economy, which we are [in California], you’d better raise people’s comfort levels,” said Smoller, who teaches political science courses at the Orange campus.


The event, which runs Thursday through Sunday before breaking for three days and reopening Oct. 12 through 15, will feature a model sustainability village of prototype homes built largely by college students, an Oct. 13 green job and school fair, guest speakers and vendors, activities for children as well as a sustainable beer and wine garden.

Mike Moodian, a Chapman University lecturer, speaks about the Orange County Sustainability in a June 2022 press conference.
Mike Moodian, a Chapman University lecturer, speaks about the Orange County Sustainability during a June 2022 press conference at the OC Fair & Event Center.
(File Photo)

Smoller and Chapman colleague Mike Moodian have been stumping area school districts, colleges and the offices of elected officials to raise interest and participation in the exposition.

State Sen. Dave Min (D-Irvine) secured a $5-million allocation from California’s 2021-22 budget to make the effort — modeled after the U.S. Department of Energy’s Solar Decathlon, which Smoller helped bring to the city of Irvine in 2013 — a reality.

The main event at the Decathlon is a guided tour of model homes designed and built for a competition that challenged 14 teams of collegiate and postsecondary researchers, architects, builders and innovators to create sustainable, ultra-efficient homes that can be easily and affordably replicated.

Each team was provided with $100,000 in seed money to plan, execute and transport their finished product to the Costa Mesa fairgrounds, where crews have been assembling the dwellings in a Green Village ahead of the decathlon’s Oct. 5 start.

A build team from CSU Long Beach poses in front of a sustainable model home.
Members of a build team from CSU Long Beach pose in front of a sustainable model home at the O.C. fairgrounds.
(Courtesy of OCSD)

Competitors will be judged on parameters such as energy savings, size and cost that will allow teams to collect a total score for a trophy win. But more than the result of any contest, the real goal is to get people thinking about what might be doable in their own lives.

“One of the things we’re trying to tap into is this tremendous passion among young people regarding the environment,” Smoller said Friday. “I’ve been teaching for 40 years and there has never been an issue that has animated young people as much as climate change.”

Special days focused toward youth and science, technology, engineering, arts and math (STEAM) activities were built into the Decathlon, including an open invitation for area schools to join in an Oct. 6 Education Day, and mobile creativity and science labs.

Min said in a statement green innovation will be crucial for reversing troubling climate trends and that there’s no better place to serve as the epicenter for that innovation than Orange County.

“The Sustainability Decathlon is our chance to show the world that Orange County can and should be a green hub for research, technology and high-tech jobs,” the senator said.

Sen. Dave Min presents a $5-million check at a news conference.
Sen. Dave Min (D-Irvine), center, presents a $5-million check at a June 2022 news conference representing the state budget allocation he secured for the hosting of the O.C. Sustainability Decathlon.
(File Photo)

“Hosted at the iconic OC Fair & Event Center, next week’s event is the product of direct investments by the state of California and will not only be a huge tourism draw for our region, but I hope, will also result in important innovations in green housing that we can use to help speed up the transition to a zero emissions economy,” Min said.

Orange County Sustainability Decathlon takes place Oct. 5 through 8 and from Oct. 12 through 15, from 3 to 9 p.m. on Thursdays and Fridays, and from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays. Admission to the fairgrounds, located at 88 Fair Drive, Costa Mesa, is free, but parking costs $12. For more, visit