Santa Barbara High School students promoted their environmentally friendly business on December 19 at the reopening of the Dons Net Cafe. Their efforts to reduce the consumption of resources by distributing reusable bags were endorsed by world-famous environmentalist and filmmaker Jean-Michel Cousteau who delivered the event’s keynote speech.
The Dons Net Cafe is a business started by SBHS students in 2001. Its focuses are unique, at least when considered as a pair: Dons Net Cafe helps low-income Santa Barbara residents file their tax returns but also sells healthy snacks to SBHS students. The cafe’ faculty advisor, Lee Knodel helped students start the business as part of her virtual enterprise class. “[The re-opening] has been the culmination of a lot of years of hard work,” Knodel said.
Cousteau spoke for 10 minutes at the reopening and focused on the responsibility that business has to conduct itself so the environment can be maintained and how the Dons Net Cafe is a model for this type of business. “We are living in a time of great awakening not just for a few but for the country and the world,” said Cousteau, “This communication revolution is an indication of change.”
The awakening that Cousteau spoke of is people’s newfound ability to use instant communication technology to see that the manner in which they treat the environment affects every other person on the planet. For example, an understanding of the threat to coral reefs has culminated in a preserve PapahÄnaumokuÄkea Marine National Monument in the Hawaiian Islands. In June 2006 President Bush signed a proclamation setting aside almost 140,000 square miles for the monument as conservation space – more than all other national parks added together. Cousteau said that people have finally put it together that the pollution-driven destruction of the coral reefs is leading to economic collapse in nations that largely depend on environmental tourism. “Why would you go to those islands if the coral reefs are dead?” Cousteau asked.
SBHS senior Maria Vallejo explained that the Dons Net Cafe was able to bring Cousteau to speak as a result of the business’s participation in Ambassadors of the Environment – a program run by the Ocean Futures Society, a Santa Barbara organization that Cousteau founded in order to protect the ocean and educate people about their connection with nature.
Karen Keltner, Ocean Futures Society director, explained that the Ambassadors of the Environment education program empowers students in area high schools to help educate other youth about how choices they make every day affect the environment. The students from the Dons’ cafe were recognized as Ambassadors of the Environment because its members organized beach cleanups and distributed reusable shopping bags, Keltner said. “Since their message is environmentally sound and green and more than just a business, we decided to make them ambassadors,” Keltner said.
In addition to the business aspect of the Dons Net Cafe – which includes selling snacks, tea, coffee, and merchandise with the cafe’s logo – the students also provide free services to the public, Vallejo said.
Its latest venture to help the local community and the environment was distributing 1,300 reusable shopping bags as a part of the statewide event “A Day Without a Bag” on December 18. Keltner said the Ocean Futures Society helped sponsor the Santa Barbara County portion of the event to encourage the use of products that can be reused and behavior that doesn’t adversely affect the environment.
Cousteau was not the only big name who attended the re-opening of the Dons Net Cafe. Knodel measured the success of the reopening in the number of supporters who attended including Congressmember Lois Capps and Mayor Marty Blum. Capps spoke directly to the students who work at the cafe during her speech at the re-opening. “You are role models for the community and I daresay role models for the business world,” Capps said. She said the cafe a exemplified the type of change that is taking place across the country, including President-elect Obama’s plan to create jobs in environmentally friendly technology.
Cousteau left an inspiring message to the aspiring businessmen and women about the power to change people’s perspectives on the environment by reaching out to the heart instead of confronting people in an aggressive way. “For many of you, the job starts now,” Cousteau said.