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UC Berkeley alum Sage Lenier turns successful DeCal into nonprofit

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Lenier's nonprofit seeks to expand upon the DeCal by making accessible solution-oriented environmental justice education.


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Lead Environment and Climate Beat Reporter

APRIL 23, 2023

Sage Lenier, a 2020 graduate from UC Berkeley’s department of Conservation and Resource Studies is creating a nonprofit after the success of the DeCal she started in 2018 called “Zero Waste: Solutions for a Sustainable and Just Future.”

The nonprofit, Sustainable & Just Future, seeks to expand upon the DeCal by making accessible solution-oriented environmental justice education, whether in universities, high schools, elementary classrooms or businesses.

Lenier’s introduction to environmental justice came from a personal place, she noted. She came from a low-income household and had to drop out of high school for a time, before eventually going back to finish her diploma and attend UC Berkeley, where she was on her own financially.

“There are no human rights on a dead planet,” Lenier said. “I was a very social justice-oriented teenager. I came to environmentalism realizing, like, this is the one movement to encapsulate them all. Also, the issue of access and equity: how many barriers in my life I’ve come across that would have been solved if the solution being proposed was environmental justice oriented rather than just environmental.”

To exemplify this, Lenier pointed to electric cars, which are lauded as a solution to the nation’s auto emissions problem.

She reflected on a time her family’s only car was totaled and they could not afford to get it replaced. Lenier said this problem forced her to drop out of high school.

“In America, you can’t get anywhere without a car, so (environmental justice) has always been immediately relevant to me through my identities. I don’t want a green system that’s based on exploitation and oppression,” Lenier said.

At UC Berkeley, Lenier was unsatisfied with the state of the environmental curriculum. She noted that many of her friends were even switching out of the College of Natural Resources due to climate “doomism” rhetoric that left them feeling hopeless.

Shortly after, Lenier designed a DeCal with the goal to introduce students to solution-oriented environmental education that focused on tangible action, she said.

“The answer is not to give up and lay down and die,” Lenier said. “There has to be systems that can work moving forward, that are climate resilient and adaptable.”

Since its creation, 1800 students have participated in the DeCal, according to co-facilitator and campus junior Ellinor Arzbaecher. Currently, the DeCal enrolls *a maximum of* 150 students and is also co-facilitated by seniors Hamsavardhini Thirunarayanan and Lovisa Lagercrantz. The DeCal also consists of three teacher’s assistants, sophomores Nicole Parker, Isabel Cabrera and Nadia Ramirez-Davila.

The DeCal is essentially a “crash course” in environmental issues, Arzbaecher said. Topics covered include the science behind climate change, circular economies, food systems and especially environmental justice.

“As someone who took the class and now teaches it, I can say with full conviction that the curriculum the DeCal offers is nothing short of revolutionary,” Arzbaecher said. “We’ve had multiple students tell us they’ve changed their entire academic and professional trajectories as a result of what they learned in our course, and to me that’s what it’s all about. Motivating young people and helping them find their passion within environmentalism, because we need all hands on deck.”

According to Arzbaecher, the DeCal presents the facts of the climate crisis while maintaining that people can still promote change through tangible actions such as eating local food, composting and zero waste practices.

Lenier’s nonprofit seeks to expand these goals, whether by helping students advocate for better environmental education, educating students herself through TikTok, forming partnerships with various companies, writing op-eds or, of course, the DeCal.

“We’re basically saying: We have this program at Berkeley. We have our number to prove that people feel much more equipped and capable of understanding the problem, and actually addressing it with their career after the program,” Lenier said. “So, you need to work with us on revising your curriculum. It’s ambitious, but it’s happening.”

Contact Amber X. Chen at  or on Twitter


APRIL 23, 2023