Student-led classes at UCSB are bringing together different disciplines to study and recommend environmentally friendly construction and natural resource consumption policies to the University of California.

The Education for Sustainable Living Program (ESLP) offers classes where students research a specific environmental topic in groups of about 15 people. Participants work with university representatives to find solutions to a range of local and global problems, including how to improve a community’s living conditions and how to make UC building policies more sustainable through the use of environmentally friendly materials. Soumil Mehta, co-founder of the UCSB chapter of ESLP, said courses stem from different departments on campus, including Environmental Studies, Political Science, Sociology, Mechanical Engineering, Chicano Studies and Asian American Studies. Students enrolled in ESLP classes can earn four units of upper-division credit in one of these respective departments.

There are approximately 100 students currently enrolled in the ESLP action courses at UCSB and 21 student coordinators who lead the classes, Mehta said. In an ongoing weekly lecture series, ESLP course participants present research results and possible solutions every Thursday from 7 to 9 p.m. at Embarcadero Hall in Isla Vista.

“We are able to talk about issues that don’t come up in class discussions,” said Mehta, a fourth-year geography major. “It is important to gain that ecological wisdom. People are in denial about the issues. We’re writing solutions to these problems, instead of scaring people.”

Mehta said similar programs also exist at the UC Berkeley, UC Davis, UCLA and UC Santa Cruz campuses, but the other programs are not as extensive as the UCSB chapter.

“None of the other UCs have a year-round program like us at UCSB,” Mehta said. “We have the most active ESLP this spring, but Santa Cruz has a large contingent also.”

Some of the topics explored in previous ESLP courses have been the mass mobilization against the World Trade Organization, the creation of a global brain — the Internet — a loss of biodiversity, animal slaughter and securing food and basic needs for the most marginalized, impoverished communities worldwide. The theme for this spring’s lecture series is “Creating a Sustainable Future: Ecology, Ethics and Designs.”

ESLP was created to bring the ideals of environmental preservation into education at the University, and enable students to discuss and work on a broader range of topics not covered in regular classes, according to the program’s website. The program stems from a project of the California Student Sustainability Coalition (CSSC), an environmental advocacy group that lobbied the UC in the fall of 2002 to require all new buildings in the University to reduce energy usage, according to the CSSC’s website.

Mehta said the UCSB chapter of ESLP was founded in the fall of 2003 by a handful of students including himself, Katie Maynard, Tyler Richardson and Johann Sabbath. Maynard is a fourth-year College of Creative Studies biology major, Richardson is a fourth-year environmental studies major and Sabbath is a fourth-year global studies major.

“Designing Sustainable Campus Communities” is the topic for the next lecture on May 5. Renowned speakers Ernest Callenbach, author of Ecotopia and director of Campus Sustainability Office at the University of British Columbia and Freda Pagani, will be featured lecturers.

Maynard said ESLP is an evolving project at UCSB and is gaining more interest from students.

“In ESLP’s first quarter, there were only courses from Environmental Studies,” she said. “Each quarter, we reach out to new departments. By next year, we’ll probably be in every department on campus.”

The growing success of the program will require more financial backing from the Environmental Affairs Board (EAB) — which allots between $40,000 to $45,000 annually to the program, Maynard said.

“Next year there will be between 20 and 25 classes, so that money adds up quickly,” Maynard said. “We not only run a shoestring budget, but we also educate people on how to run a shoestring budget.”

By collaborating with the Walter H. Capps Foundation and other organizations, Mehta said EAB and ESLP members raised money to bring in guest speakers. It generally costs $500 or less to pay for a speaker at the lecture series, he said.

Leading the lectures, a panel of two speakers, one faculty or community member and one student, address certain topics and answer questions from the audience, Mehta said. A blend of UCSB students, SBCC Continuing Education Division students and people from the community attend the ESLP lectures, he said.

Maynard said approximately 200 people regularly attend the lectures, but there has been a noticeable increase of spectators each week. She said the organization is anticipating new student interest.

“We’re really open to new projects,” Maynard said. “We want people to challenge us, we want to see what others’ definitions of sustainability are. We want to be a resource to you. We want to meet community needs. We invite people to come forward and tell us what they need.”