Some think of sustainability — humanity's ability to preserve biodiverse and natural ecosystems for future generations — as a science.
Here, it's an art form.
At the Pinellas Technical Education Center's interior decorating services program, students are learning the art and design of green living by turning curbside trash, dollar store finds and donated items into decorative room dioramas and clever holiday crafts.
On Tuesday, the fledgling designers were rushing around their classroom — HGTV-style — putting the finishing touches on a variety of projects they've been working on for months.
Thursday, they'll host an open house from 8:30 a.m. until 1 p.m., when they'll be on hand to discuss their eco-designing ways. They dubbed the expo, Decorating through the Decades: Going Green.
"About 95 percent of what the students used (in the holiday extravaganza) came from recycled, refurbished or repurposed items," said Rhonda Eyring, the teacher and founder of the program. "Today's designers are focused on reusing items in new ways."
The 17 students enrolled in the program, now in its third year, have built six room dioramas from the 1930s to the present and created a walkway into the future — all for about $500.
The exercise teaches not only concepts in sustainability, Eyring said, but teamwork, staging, problem-solving, design and building skills. And it prepares students, many of whom are looking for a midlife change in careers, to become nationally certified interior decorators.
Students began planning the exhibit in September and have been sewing, painting, cutting, stapling and gluing ever since.
With a creative eye and artistic touch, the pages of telephone books were folded into Christmas trees; fallen branches from a Norfolk pine tree were shaped into a trendy peace wreath.
A chandelier in an art deco bathroom was created from wine corks and beads.
"We've learned to be innovative," said Susi Crawford, 50, of Dunedin.
She and her design partner, Debra Hibbs, plan to specialize in sustainable design.
Together the pair created the Fabric Express, a train with boxcars made from salvaged cardboard boxes. It's functional, too, as the boxcars hide computer terminals in the classroom. Window treatments for the train are made from wallpaper, napkins and fabric.
Gwen Cole, 53, of Largo oversaw the Kwanzaa exhibit, which she said was "too bland at first."
She e-mailed pictures to African-American friends for their input.
"They thought it lacked the warmth of the holiday," she said, "so we added rich, earthy colors, natural elements, handwoven baskets and fans, and corn and fruits of the harvest."
Terri Bryce Reeves can be reached at email@example.com.