As it approaches the 10-year anniversary of its founding in 2012, Pitzer College’s Robert Redford Conservancy for Southern California Sustainability has a vision for its next phase—and the future of the planet. For the sake of that future, we need to act fast, says Conservancy Director Susan Phillips.
“We’re on a very short timeframe to change our practices,” says Phillips, who is also a professor of environmental analysis and associate dean at Pitzer. “We know that the harms of climate change will not be shared equally among populations. Some will suffer more than others. It’s our job to create the strongest communities we can in order to build climate resilience in places and among peoples that will be hit the hardest.”
The Conservancy is uniquely positioned—literally and figuratively—to help meet a global challenge by focusing on regional issues, Phillips says. Located on the ancestral land of the Tongva community, it sits at the edge of Los Angeles and San Bernardino Counties and lives at an interdisciplinary intersection where academics meet action and theory meets practice.
“Our students are some of the most passionate environmentalists anywhere,” Phillips says. “We have excellent faculty at all five of The Claremont Colleges who can do everything from flying drones for surveys to soil testing to art and poetry. Harnessing our collective intellectual energy toward change is what we do best.”
Pitzer Trustee Harold A. Brown says the alchemy of those elements makes the Conservancy a great asset—one that makes Pitzer stand out among its outstanding peers.
“Pitzer often leads the way—it was one of the first colleges to establish an environmental studies program in the ’70s and one of the first to divest from fossil fuels in 2014,” said Brown, who chaired Pitzer’s Board from 2017 to 2021 and is a partner at the law firm of Gang, Tyre, Ramer, Brown, and Passman. “The Redford Conservancy is both part of that tradition and something new—an invaluable, innovative resource for Pitzer students and a wonderful selling point for the College.”
Inspired by the program and Pitzer’s vision, Brown and his wife, Eileen, donated half a million dollars to the Conservancy last year. Ultimately, Brown says, the couple’s decision to give came down to this:
“We could help,” he said. “And we hope our gift will inspire others to do the same. As I have said before, I passionately believe that as a trustee and as a supporter, I am not only contributing to a college but to a better world.”
Phillips called Eileen and Harold Brown’s gift “transformational.” Beyond the programs and plans the Browns’ donation makes possible, it has a less tangible but equally vital impact.
“The gift is energizing,” she says. “It makes us know that someone believes in us; to know that someone has our back. That is the most important thing of all.”
With such support, the Conservancy can continue and expand its programming. Over the past year, the Conservancy has helped produce two climate-action policies for the City of Riverside and co-hosted a farmer training with the nonprofit Huerta del Valle, located in nearby Ontario, Calif. It expanded the Conservancy’s K-12 work with a newly developed curriculum to reach 4th and 5th graders in under-resourced schools and collaborated with the Claremont Colleges Intercollegiate Media Studies Program to create six short eco-documentaries. The Conservancy also funded new courses or projects in six disciplines, including at the Keck Science Department, with plans to fund more.
The Browns’ gift will allow the Conservancy to create a sustainability dashboard for three counties in our California region, Phillips said.
“This will teach our students and us new skills that will increase their critical thinking as well as providing them with the applied experience that is invaluable to students after they graduate,” Phillips said. “The Browns’ gift will also allow us flexibility as we engage in our day-to-day work of connecting students and faculty with community-based environmental challenges in our region.”
In the Conservancy, Pitzer President Melvin L. Oliver sees the combined power of the Pitzer community on full display—an academic program rooted in the College’s core values, engaged with the surrounding community, and energized by Pitzer supporters.
“This is an example of Pitzer doing what Pitzer does best,” Oliver said. “Bringing people and resources together to teach, to learn, and to change the world in our region and beyond.”