Local Heroes 2011 – Megan Tolbert
Because eco dynamics touch every aspect of life.
Thursday, June 30, 2011
Toss an organic apple at a local environmental issue, and you’ll probably hit Megan Tolbert. The 34-year-old can be sighted digging in Monterey’s community garden, sitting in on Electric Vehicle Alliance meetings, teaching Monterey Peninsula College students how to eco-lobby, screening eco-themed movies at East Village Cafe, designing bike paths through CSU-Monterey Bay, and generally motoring the county in a green direction.
“I get my fingers in pretty much everywhere,” she says.
In 2007 she launched the activist group Monterey Green Action, and immediately set to work convincing city leadership to sign the United Nations Urban Environmental Accords and the U.S. Mayors Climate Protection Agreement. On the heels of that victory, they successfully lobbied for a ban on polystyrene take-out containers and turned a blighted city-owned yard into a community organic garden dubbed the Urban Food Forest.
For a while, Tolbert helped coordinate a composting program that transformed food waste from local restaurants into nutrition for the garden. It’s on pause for now, but she still spends a few hours every Wednesday cultivating native, edible and medicinal plants.
Another of Tolbert’s brainchildren: MGA’s Fourth Thursday Film Cafe, featuring speakers and crunchy-themed movies at East Village Cafe.
Andreas Baer, who co-directed MGA with Tolbert for the first few years, says she’s done the group’s heavy lifting.
“Most people are aware of environmental problems, but don’t realize how imminent they are,” he says. “She sees them as real problems that need to be addressed now, and she’s not willing to ignore them.”
Her energy impressed Monterey officials so much, they hired her as a contract sustainability planner. She promptly got to work reducing energy use in public buildings, analyzing the cost and benefits of the city’s polystyrene law, and putting up eco-education displays in City Hall. She steered a pilot program to collect used grease from local restaurants and recycle it into a 20-percent biodiesel blend for the city fleet. And though a change in the state’s biodiesel storage law later put that program on hold, Tolbert wasn’t fazed. She was too busy laying the groundwork for three public electric vehicle charging stations in Monterey.
“She sees a goal and powers through until it’s accomplished,” says Angela Brantley, the city’s solid waste program manager. “She has an incredible array of friends and co-collaborators who are really able to get things done.”
Some of Tolbert’s babies, including programs to inspire greener daily habits among Monterey staff and put solar panels on city buildings under a progressive financing model, never came to fruition.
But she cruised along on to the next thing: a gig as transportation director for CSU-Monterey Bay.
With CSUMB TRIPWise (csumb.edu/trip), Tolbert provided the university community with a transportation version of Cliffsnotes. The site is a portal into the easiest, cheapest and greenest ways to get around on campus, like the Free Unlimited Transit Plan, which allows students and faculty onto MST buses for an $80-per-year fee. (The public version runs about $150 per month.)
And she’s not burnt out yet: She just finished a new community bike map, and she’s working to put four more miles of bicycle trails through campus. She also organizes barbecues and beach rides for campus bikers, rewarding them with free stuff like food and safety gear.
Perhaps most striking about Tolbert is the sunniness she shines on the planet’s depressing prognosis.
That’s no contradiction, Baer says: “It’s the result of doing the right thing, feeling good about it, and doing it with people she respects.”