From Ford Model to Role Model

While her career may have started on the catwalk, then blossomed into acting in award-winning films, Suzy Amis Cameron now dedicates her life’s work to a bigger endeavor – even bigger than the massive cruise line her husband based a blockbuster movie on (that would be James Cameron’s Titanic for those of you just tuning in…). I’ve shone the spotlight on Suzy before, as she is the founder of Red Carpet Green Dress, challenging celebrities to wear positive fashion – sustainably made formal wear – while in front of the camera for the world to see. Now Suzy is walking the red carpet herself as she accepts a prestigious award for environmental education from the non-profit organization Grades of Green.

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Suzy Amis Cameron, photo courtesy of Red Carpet Green Dress

Remember when you were a child and everyday – after school – you’d retreat to your hobbies and playtime? Drawing, acting, cooking, singing, playing sports, writing, exploring the woods – these were all activities I participated in from daycare through college, once class was out. While doing so I felt free; I felt like my success was measured by my own standards, and that usually just meant fulfillment. In the classroom, though, there was pressure and forced direction, stifled creativity. I’d grown up in such a conventional system that I never considered that maybe the two worlds could merge. Well they can, and Suzy proved this when she started the MUSE School in California, an alternative educational institution where the curriculum is personalized for each student, with a focus on sustainability – sustaining the human spirit and character, sustaining community, and, consequently, sustaining the environment.

At MUSE students are encouraged to express and embrace their passions, and to recognize that what drives us as individuals can be and should be what is stressed in the classroom. Of course, the school abides by all educational standards held by the state of California, but this curriculum merely serves as a starting point. From early childhood through high school, students receive the necessary lessons in math, science, and language arts but via specialized lessons – in groups, in individual study sessions, and with one-on-one mentor programs – that cater to their personalities and interests. There is just as much emphasis on relationships and respect as there is on textbook lessons. The campus is a community where self-expression and respect combine to create a hub where students are seen as individuals, and where everyone wants to learn.

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Photo courtesy of the MUSE School

What sets this innovative school apart even more is its focus on environmental stewardship. The sustainable measures taken to physically construct the campus, then to create a safe and hands-on classroom environment, and then to still shape new goals to strive towards, are why we consider Suzy so admirable. She ensured that every material used to build the school was diverted from landfills, reclaimed, free of toxic finishes, structured to maximize natural light and energy, and aesthetically pleasing. Once up and running, the LEED certified campus was required not only to have a zero carbon footprint, but also to generate just as much, if not more, energy than it consumed. This kind of system is called a Living Building, and getting to the point of zero waste, zero emission, with energy production trumping energy consumption, is known as the Living Building Challenge.

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The MUSE campus, photo courtesy of the MUSE School

As an LBC school, MUSE’s efforts hone in on food – it’s production, consumption, and waste. The gardens on the property, which provide most of the meals that students and faculty eat, are manned by the students themselves, as are the kitchens. Allowing children to harvest and cook their own food creates a sense of respect for the earth and for their bodies. A new awareness of what they are putting on their plates comes from witnessing the food chain from plant to harvest. It also creates a sense of excitement and eagerness to eat healthier foods that can be grown naturally, because the foods are a product of the students’ own hard work.

With this Seed-to-Table approach that MUSE uses, the discussion of animals as food inevitably comes up. It is Suzy’s goal to eventually make the campus a plant-based only one – where all meals are vegan. From a sustainability standpoint, even small-scale operations producing animal products contribute to issues of water availability and potability, greenhouse gas emissions, and land use. For the huge factories – where practices for animal harvesting are inhumane and even unsanitary – the amount of land, water, and feed it takes to keep the animals alive long enough to be considered edible, plus the carbon and methane emissions from the factories and the animals, comprise what is arguably the world’s greatest environmental threat. MUSE teaches its students about animal consumption in a transparent way and allows them to realize how a vegan diet is not only practical but vital. Suzy hopes the school will soon be completely self-sufficient for food and that the food will all be plant-based. It’s impressive that after achieving so much Suzy wants to take her project one step further, but then again it’s this kind of commitment and drive that comprise a role model, an innovator, and someone who will truly change the world.

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Zoe Saldana honored Suzy Amis Cameron with her award at the Grades of Green ceremony, photo courtesy of Red Carpet Green Dress

You can learn more about MUSE here, whether you know a prospective student, you’d like to donate to the school, or you’d just like to stay in the know. Also, Lux & Eco has a line of gluten-free organic snacks whose proceeds go straight to MUSE. Have you reached your full potential? We all need a little improvement, but now is your chance to join Suzy and help a child find theirs.

 “You can’t really call yourself an environmentalist if you’re still consuming animals. You just can’t.” – Suzy Amis Cameron on NPR

Allison Beauregard

Allison is a New York City based writer with a focus on sustainability. Her work demonstrates how it is possible to have the “things” that make us happy without compromising the resources that provide these goods. With this vision, Allison sees a future where environmental degradation is reversed and the quality of human life is equally distributed. She is the Category Editor of The Franklin Report and was among the top 5 contributors for Elephant Journal in October 2014.

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