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ECOSLO: 45 Years of Advocacy, Education and Action

The Environmental Center for San Luis Obispo County (ECOSLO) recently celebrated its 45th anniversary. Formed in 1972 the organization created a recycling program for the county and has gone on to participate in such projects as Coastal Cleanup Day and advocating causes such as preserving the SLO greenbelt.

For the past two years, Mary Ciesinski has been the executive director of the non-profit. Originally from San Jose, Ciesinski was introduced to SLO through her brother who attended Cal Poly. She attainted degrees in business management and marketing from Saint John Fisher College in Rochester, NY. Ciesinski said environmentalism was not thrust upon her by her parents, but she says that she has always had a passion for non-profits.

Ciesinski said that her desire is to steer the organization back to its origins.

“We really have gone back to our roots,” she said. The three prongs of the root are education, advocacy and action. The recycling program ended in 1997, but ECOCLO is still striving to engage and educate people.

“It’s said that people won’t care for the environment, if they aren’t connected to the environment,” said Ciesinski. “We try to get you out from behind the computer and get you out into some dirt.”

ECOSLO holds volunteer projects every month that can bring in 15 to 50 volunteers from around the area and the annual Coast Cleanup has an estimated 1,200 participants. “Coastal Clean-up last year picked up 6500 lbs. in one morning, that’s from 30 sites from San Simeon to Oceano.”

There are a couple of new programs that Ciesinski is trying to kick start this year.

“In March we launched Eco-networking,” said Ciesinski. “That is for leaders of environmental groups or organizations to come together…folks really feel we need to talk face to face.”

The overall goal is to bring ECOSLO to the environmental center again. Another program Ciesinski is working on is called Green Drinks. Geared toward the public, Green Drinks will be a “fun and informative season on something relevant going on with the environment,” according to Ciesinski.

The casual meetings will meet at various wine bars or restaurants after work and will allow the public to make connections or learn more about environmental aspects that concern them.

Being an advocacy group, the non-profit often thrusts itself into controversial topics that concern the development of the county. Most recently, ECOSLO was involved in opposing the Phillips 66 Proposed Rail Spur Project that would have brought oil trains through San Luis Obispo County. ECOSLO has also approached the city on banning the use of plastic water bottles within city limits.

“We along with other groups went to SLO city council to ask for a plastic ban,” said Ciesinski, “not only are the plastic bottles bad for the environment, but the bottle caps themselves.” The city is currently looking into a plastic bottle reduction plan.

When asked about the current US administration’s view on the environment and conservation the word challenging came to Ciesinski’s mind.

“It’s challenging because the environment is so political,” Ciesinski said. “And when we step back, the environment is really our home, and it’s become such a political topic.” Ciesinski said that she has seen a change in the community recently. “I really do believe that people are getting more involved in their community,” said Ciesinski.

A March Gallup poll asking people, “Right now, do you think the quality of the environment in the country as a whole is getting better or getting worse?” Fifty-seven % of those asked answered that they felt things were getting worse, while 36% choose ‘getting better’ as their answer.

For more information, visit; http://ecoslo.org/

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