As climate change continues to affect our world, many organizations are looking at how to change up their policies, events, and organizing to create a more sustainable community. I was fortunate enough to interview Kahlil Kochiyama and William Morris of Sustainable Shifts. Sustainable Shifts is an organization of young leaders looking to bring sustainable and eco-friendly practices for our respective communities. Although still in the beginning stages, they have already worked with the Gardena Valley JCI and Faith United Methodist in Torrance. These two organizers shared some insight into how community organizations can begin the process of becoming more sustainable.
Tell me a bit about yourselves.
Kahlil (K): I am an organizer in training with Service Employees International Union. I went to UCSB and graduated in 2019 as an environmental studies major with a concentration in professional writing. As I looked more within the field, I found environmental justice, and I fell in love with that. In the future, I’d like to be an environmental justice organizer.
William (W): I am hapa, I grew up in Southern California (born and raised), and I went to Humboldt State college, way up north, and my degree is in environmental science with a focus on ecological restoration. That interest started in high school when I took an AP environmental science class. I was like “Wow, this is it. This is important.” I wanted to learn more, so I hopped in, but like every recent graduate I was like “Oh, I don’t know what to do now.” So, I was talking to some people at my church, and there was someone overseas who did faith-based nonprofit environmental work. I went and did that for a bit. I went to Kenya, Uganda, and earlier this year I was in Chad, a country most at-risk for climate change. In between these trips, I would talk to other Christians, and they were like “Wait a minute, that's a thing we do?” They hadn't heard of that especially when our elected leaders who call themselves Christian are voting against these things. I got involved in staying here and talking with faith-based communities about climate justice because it is in line with our values. I am currently a field organizer with Young Evangelicals for Climate Action.
How did Sustainable Shifts come up with or think about helping the Gardena Valley Japanese Cultural Institute/community orgs to go more eco-friendly?
K: We conceptualized what our organization would look like, and what our work would look like, and we focused first on the local community. We looked within our own reach and asked who we knew. Naturally, my mom’s connection to GVJCI and knowing the staff, members, and community would make it an easier transition. We also had conversations with folks at the GVJCI. We saw their bingo cards, something they reuse each matsuri, and learned their full history. These organizations, whether it is GVJCI or others, already have sustainable practices in place, whether they are framed as such or not. So, we asked how do we celebrate that history, as well as help work with them to carve a better future?
W: An important thing Kahlil touched on is that relationship aspect in community. How a lot of this initial work was done was through seeing the connections in our communities. We think this is also why these organizations have been so open to making changes, they’ve already been thinking about it, and they want someone they trust who is knowledgeable to help guide them. This is also how it happened with Faith United Methodist. I was helping with different stuff and attending there, so we got into this conversation about how we can make their matsuri more sustainable as well, too. I didn’t even bring it up, it came from them. We have our own spheres of influence that we can connect to. That is a big thing in Sustainable Shifts: our community, how can we reach out to our own communities, and what we know.
Tanoshii Fun Camp Participants learning Bokashi (Japanese form of composting). Photo Credit: GVJCI
Now, Some Tips for You!
After spending some time talking to Kahlil and William, I felt there are some tips that organizers and members can use to help move towards more sustainable programs or events:
1. Start with who you know
Sustainable Shifts worked with organizations (Gardena Valley JCI and Faith United Methodist) that were in their spheres. It is much easier to bring about lasting change with small steps, and with people that trust you, and vice versa. If you’re in a large organization or group, start with your small circle of friends, or a smaller club or group. If you bring up the idea of bringing small hand towels and doing your best to use those instead of paper towels, you can slowly make an impact that lasts.
I would say this piece of advice works for any change in policy or within the organization. Start with those that you have a great rapport with, and build up! Word will get around, and more people will want to join your movement this way.
2. Make small changes, slowly
During my interview with Kahlil and William, it was most impactful to hear about how sustainability is a lifestyle, not just a fleeting trend. In order to create a better world for the next generation, and in some cases for ourselves (those wildfires are VERY close), it is important to make small, lasting changes to our own routines.
One thing I noticed more and more organizations doing is encouraging reusable water bottles are various programs and events. I saw this as a slow, but necessary change at various organizations. While organizing Tanoshii Fun Camp at the GVJCI, we encouraged campers to bring their own water bottles every day (we sent notices before and during camp to gently remind parents and guardians). Although we still bought some plastic water bottles (it was the first year of us implementing this act, so we anticipated some campers forgetting or misplacing their bottles), we rarely had to use them. Our hope is to continue this every year, so it becomes a lasting change. and we do not need to ever buy plastic water bottles!
We had so many Hydro Flasks at Tanoshii Fun Camp, but it was such an easy transition! Photo Credit: GVJCI
3. Most folks want to be more environmentally friendly: mottainai!
Both Kahlil and William told me about how most folks they talked to were already on board to make more eco-friendly changes to their organizations. William said that most people within the organization have been wanting to commit to more sustainable practices, but need more help. Because both Kahlil and William stepped up in their respective organizations, more people were on board and ready to do the work, together.
Both organizers also mentioned how older generations are already used to a sustainable lifestyle. A specific reference for Kahlil was reusable bingo cards he saw at various matsuris. For William, he discussed how older generations remember using a milkman that brought milk in glass bottles, instead of buying single-use plastic containers. We all already know these sustainable practices; it’s just about bringing these practices back.
4. Ask for help!
The biggest challenges for most organizations will be cost and capacity. Many times we use styrofoam or single-use containers during festivals, programs, or events, and all of those are fundraisers! Recyclable items are more expensive, and finding the right ones, or which booths to switch over to recyclable materials, can be overwhelming. Additionally, the amount of time, energy, and people to recycle correctly, purchase the right materials, and enforce eco-friendly policies can be more than organizations have. For these challenges and others you may face, we can turn to the community. Asking folks who are already practicing a sustainable lifestyle, researching on your own, or turning to organizations like Sustainable Shifts are great ways to learn, grow, and practice a sustainable lifestyle.
At Tanoshii Fun Camp, we also asked parents to reuse cardboard boxes for a Nebuta Parade activity. It was an easy way for us to use items that folks had, without having to purchase more boxes. Photo Credit: GVJCI
5. Every little thing helps, don’t give up!
Although we may feel overwhelmed and burdened, eco-friendly practices are most impactful when we commit to them for life. Don’t overstretch yourself or your organization and burnout. Rather, take small steps, and grow slowly. Every little change helps, and the longer we commit to them, the better our world will be.
Sustainable Shifts is still growing, and if you’re interested you can reach out to us at Yo! Zine, and we can connect you to their leaders. Organizations looking to learn more can also gain from working with Sustainable Shifts. If your organization is looking to make some eco-friendly changes, we can connect you!
Many thanks to Kahlil Kochiyama and William Morris of Sustainable Shifts for their time and knowledge!