South Bay’s Grades of Green
Inspiring the Next Generation of Global Environmental Champions
Written by Laura Roe Stevens
In 2006 Lisa Coppedge, a Manhattan Beach mother of two young children, quit her corporate high-tech job in search of balance. She began volunteering at Grand View Elementary School where her son was in prekindergarten.
Coppedge was also taking a personal development course with Landmark Education and was asked a pivotal question: “What is your personal charter?” Inspired by the movie An Inconvenient Truth, Coppedge recalls stating: “My personal charter is the possibility of a clean and sustainable earth.”
She laughs today when thinking back on that moment, as she quickly points out she had zero environmental experience. But baby steps often lead to powerful journeys, which was the case for Coppedge. After the Landmark course, she and friend Inga Middleton met with the Grand View PTA president Paki Wolfe, who asked them to chair a hands-on environmental education program for students.
Coppedge met with other South Bay moms—Shaya Kirkpatrick, Suzanne Kretschmer and Kim Lewand Martin—who felt similarly and wanted to get involved. Kretschmer was motivated after an article in the Los Angeles Times revealed the “perilous state” of the world’s oceans. Lewand Martin was an environmental attorney, and Kirkpatrick was raised by a mom who instilled environmental stewardship.
“We’d meet in a different kitchen each week to brainstorm for (school) programs and a business idea,” laughs Coppedge. “It all started rolling very quickly.”
Within a couple years, these four moms had a nonprofit designation, a name (Grades of Green), a mission/vision, a website, a business plan and were operating more than 40 environmental activities in South Bay schools as well as a waste-reduction contest among all Los Angeles County schools and a kids board.
Today Grades of Green has operated in schools in 47 states and 27 countries and has engaged 670,000+ students. All programs are free, yet the mission has shifted somewhat since it began, explains Kirkpatrick. The organization now creates programs to empower, educate and mentor students to lead environmental change in areas where they are passionate. In fact, since 2009 Grades of Green student leaders have made 300+ city presentations and successfully introduced and passed 12 environmental resolutions.
Some recent student-led environmental campaigns have included water conservation and waste reduction. And who better to convince adults to enact school rules or city ordinances to protect the environment than the next generation?
“It’s powerful when a child stands before a city council or a PTA and explains how something damages [the environment]. Students have made plastic bag waste and idling car pollution presentations with proposed solutions,” says Kirkpatrick. “Adults truly listen to children more closely than they do their peers.”
To get involved or donate, go to gradesofgreen.org.
Grade Your Environmental Savvy
True or False:
- Paper coffee cups, such as those at Starbucks or Peet’s, are recyclable.
- Plastic bottle caps can be recycled.
- Plastic sandwich bags must be cleaned before being recycled.
- You must cut off the zipper of a ziplock bag to recycle it.
- 84% of donated clothes end up in landfills.
- Going meatless one day a week might lower your cholesterol and slim your waistline, but it has no impact on the environment.
- Plastic grocery store bags can be recycled.
- The most common gallon trash bags for your kitchen are biodegradable.
- Americans use 100 billion plastic bags a year, which require 12 million barrels of oil to manufacture.
- False; however, the plastic lid and paper sleeve generally are recyclable.
- True, at your grocery store drop-off bin
- Sometimes true, sometimes false. Only plastic trash bags marked “7” are biodegradable.