This land is your land, this land is my land: In honor of Earth Day this Wednesday, check out 50 cool eco-friendly things Americans are doing, from the redwood forests to the Gulf Stream waters.
Alison Gwinn April 17, 2015
At Munford Elementary School (a U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon School), it’s easy being green: Kids enter the school through a “cave,” complete with stalactites, trees “grow” from the walls and one wing is dubbed “Where the Wild Things Are” while another is “The Main Stream.” The cafeteria walls are painted with murals of the surrounding Talladega National Forest, and students can look at local fish inside a 250-gallon aquarium.
Art students at Kodiak High School have created a massive octopus sculpture, dubbed “Ophelia,” out of marine debris (from plastic bottles and grocery bags to fishing nets and cigarette lighters). The goal: to generate public awareness of the hazardous debris, which collects on beaches and in huge floating whirlpools in the middle of oceans.
Talk about taking one for the team: The National League’s Arizona Diamondbacks have a 17,000-square-foot solar canopy at Phoenix’s Chase Field that generates enough electricity to power the lights for 11 games. The team also has a “Break a Bat, Plant a Tree” initiative providing desert-adapted shade trees in area parks, uses recyclable and compostable cutlery and plates and team members and concessions staff wear shirts made from recycled plastic bottles. The team also closes its retractable roof during the day to keep its electric costs down and distributes its media guides on digital thumb drives.
In response to the devastating April 2013 tornadoes, the towns of Vilonia and Mayflower each distributed 5,000 new trees—redbud, white oak, pecan, hickory, white oak, crabapple, red mulberry, pin oak, cherry-bark oak and willow oak— under a multi-year campaign sponsored by the Arbor Day Foundation and the Arkansas Forestry Commission.
Bea Johnson of Mill Valley, Calif, and her family live a no-waste life. Follow how they only produce a quart of waste a year at zerowastehome.blogspot.com. And read more here.
Fort Collins has ratified the most ambitious eco-plan of any city in the country. Under the city’s Climate Action Plan, approved in March, this Front Range city, home to Colorado State University, would reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 80 percent in 15 years and would be totally carbon neutral by 2050.
The USDA estimates that 70 percent of food products sold in supermarkets contain genetically modified (GMO) ingredients. Connecticut’s legislature made food history when it signed the nation’s first GMO labeling bill in 2013; the only catch: It won’t take effect until a combination of Northeastern states adding up to 20 million residents pass similar legislation.
When Washington’s troops crossed the Delaware, little could they have imagined that 240 years later, 94 percent of Delaware’s waterways would be too polluted to support fish and wildlife, and 86 percent of the state’s rivers would be unswimmable. But now, through the Delaware Nature Society’s Stream Watch program, everyday citizens of the First State are fighting back by helping test water samples throughout the state.
This puts a whole new spin on NASCAR: Not only does the Daytona Beach-based sport work out of two LEED-certified office buildings, its cars also use a renewable fuel (blended with 15 percent ethanol made from American-grown corn) that emits 20 percent less greenhouse gases than unleaded gas, plants 10 trees for each green flag that drops during races and recycles about 121,000 tires each year.
As a farmer, Eric Wagoner questioned how to get locally grown food to customers. His solution: because he was also a web developer, in 2002 he whipped up a website for Atlanta-area customers. Called Locally Grown (locallygrown.net), it became the world’s first online farmers’ market, and has since spread to more than 100 communities throughout the country
Bird call: The Audubon Society has declared the islands’ birds to be among the most endangered in the world. In fact, of the 10 most endangered birds in the U.S., seven were from Hawaii. That’s where the Hawaii Wildlife Center comes in: It cares for all injured native seabirds, shorebirds, waterbirds, forest birds and birds of prey. Last fall, for example, it helped relocate 28 critically endangered Laysan Ducks (the rarest duck in the Northern Hemisphere) to a rehabilitated habitat.
Amazingly, every species of animal that existed in Idaho when Lewis and Clark arrived in 1805—including Chinook salmon, elk, and giant salamanders—is still there. But because of global warming, researchers forecast that by the year 2100, 20 to 30 percent of the species will change in abundance or distribution. So a team of Nature Conservancy scientists is working to pinpoint the most climate-resilient areas of the state to help protect lands, waters and, ultimately, species.
Already get a charge out of Route 66? Well, now the state of Illinois has spent $1 million to install electric vehicle recharging stations along the iconic highway from Chicago to St. Louis by this summer.
Indianapolis’s new Eskenazi Hospital is the first hospital in the U.S. to be LEED Silver certified. Local and recycled material was used in construction, rainwater is collected from the roof and used in toilets and the roof coating reflects up to 90 percent of sunlight, saving energy in hot months. Eskenazi also has a sky farm on its roof, where it grows organic, healthy food for its patients.
In a state where 85 percent of the land is farmed, mostly in corn and soybeans, a few farmers are trying out a new, more environmentally friendly method of planting called STRIPS, in which 10 percent of their farmland is replanted with indigenous prairie plants. Researchers have found that the technique reduces soil loss by 90 percent, nutrient loss by 85 percent and water runoff by 44 percent.
Pull up a hay bale and take a seat: The Prairie Festival, held every fall in Salina, is sponsored by the Land Institute, a 30-year-old nonprofit whose mission is no less lofty than to develop an ecologically stable agricultural system that doesn’t erode or degrade the soil or contribute to climate changes. Everyone’s welcome at this “intellectual hootenanny,” which draws speakers from across the country.
Something to whinny about: Claiborne Farm, the Paris-based horse farm once home to Secretariat (it’s so famous in thoroughbred circles that Queen Elizabeth has visited it—twice), has donated 3,000 acres to the Bluegrass Conservancy, guaranteeing that the farm will remain undeveloped and upping the conservancy’s protected land to 17,000 acres.
The Big Easy can become the Big Dirty after Mardi Gras revelers depart—and one of the biggest problems is discarded cigarette butts. So last summer New Orleans launched a pilot program to install 50 permanent cigarette butt-recycling receptacles, each labeled: “Recycle Your Butts Here,” where they will be collected and shipped off to be recycled, including ridding the filters of biotoxins and melting them down to make plastic pellets.
Lobstermen, unite! Through the Gear Grab program of the Gulf of Maine Lobster Foundation, lobstermen become voluntary stewards of the environment, retrieving abandoned “ghost gear”—traps, ropes, nets and buoys, so it’s disposed of properly.
Honey, they shrunk the house: In 2012, husband-and-wife building team Bill and Sue Thomas launched a tiny-house business called Hobbitat that builds energy-efficient houses out of reclaimed materials. Want to see for yourself? The Blue Moon Rising Center for Sustainable Education, an eco-tourism retreat, is a Hobbitat model community, with 13 custom-built Hobbitat houses.
Whether it’s good old Yankee ingenuity or not, the Bay State comes in No. 1 as the most energy-efficient state in the union. Why? Primarily because of the 2008 Green Communities Act, which requires electric utilities in the state to save a larger percentage of energy every year through efficiency measures.
Moving experience: When the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor decided to expand its business school building, there was a little problem standing in its way. Actually, a big one: A gorgeous 250-year-old Bur oak, with a 44-foot-diameter root ball. It would have been easier (and cheaper) just to chop the tree down, but the school just couldn’t do that. So the big fellow was moved 500 feet — at a cost of $400,000.
Minnesota’s Blue Earth County Justice Center (jail, plus office and courts) is kept warm by a geothermal heating system that consists of 48 miles of tubes under the facility. In the middle of the Minnesota winter, water in the tubes absorbs ground heat, which can be converted to air that heats the prison.
State native Charlie Munford learned to farm from his grandfather, went off to get a master’s at Yale, then returned to run a farm on his home turf. Two Run Farm in Vaughn, Miss., now provides artisanal, pasture-raised, organic beef and lamb for restaurants from Jackson to New Orleans, but Munford raises his meats the same way it’s been done for generations: no antibiotics, no hormones, just as his grandfather did.
Powell Gardens in Kingsville, about 30 miles east of Kansas City, is home to the 12-acre Heartland Harvest Garden, the nation’s largest edible garden. The garden, which features edible varieties from heirloom to futuristic, offers cooking demonstrations (with just-picked ingredients!), as well as a Barn Dinner Series with star chefs.
Where the buffalo roam: By purchasing private lands from willing sellers in northeastern Montana, the Bozeman-based American Prairie Reserve is working to assemble a 3.5-million-acre park of species-rich grasslands so wildlife like the pronghorn sheep can range unimpeded; it is also working to reintroduce genetically pure bison (those not crossbred with cattle) to the Upper Plains.
The “Greenest Restaurant in America” is the Grey Plume—whose chef and co-owner is Omaha native Clayton Chapman—has received that honor from the Green Restaurant Association. Not only does it source its ingredients locally from sustainable growers, but the restaurant itself is built of recycled drywall, flooring and steel framing, uses low-flow water aerators—and even bread plates and breadboards are made of recycled materials.
All that sunshine helps: Nevada leads the nation in solar energy jobs per capita.
If you loved On Golden Pond, then you know that the loon’s haunting wail is one of the most beautiful birdcalls around. That’s why New Hampshire’s Loon Preservation Committee is working to make sure that sound never dies out, monitoring loons’ numbers and breeding, rescuing and rehabilitating sick loons and building nesting rafts.
New Jersey-based TerraCycle, one of the world’s fastest-growing green companies, works with more than 100 big brands around the world to collect used packaging and upcycle the waste into new products: messenger bags made from Colgate toothpaste tubes, totes made from used Target shopping bags or iPod cases made from repurposed mail bags.
The Greater World Earthship Community, a 633-acre development in Cerros de Taos, is filled with what it calls “radically sustainable buildings”: passive solar houses made of natural materials like adobe and recycled tires, cans, and other discarded materials. The community grows much of its own food, harvests its own water, treats its own sewage and makes its own bio-diesel fuel. Want to rent one of these funky houses? Go to earthship.com.
Wall Street banker George Pakenham, aka “the Verdant Vigilante,” is no idle threat when it comes to idling cars. His role as an activist started when he saw a stretch limo idling on the street while the passengers were dining at a restaurant. Pakenham got the driver to turn off his engine—and that’s when he found his cause: After researching the laws, he has continued to approach thousands of idlers. His script: “Excuse me for bothering you… but are you aware that it’s against the law to idle your car engine in NYC for more then 3 minutes?” As he asks them to shut off the engine, he reminds them that the move is not only good for the environment, it’s also good for the pocketbook.
Are you a short-distance commuter? Then check out Organic Transit, a Durham-based company that has created a cross between a bicycle and a car called the ELF. A bug-like contraption with an enclosed cab, it has three wheels, pedals, a solar panel and a rechargeable battery (the ELF does not use gasoline). A standard ELF seats one (like a bike) and can go 14 miles without pedaling.
Potholes on the Prairie? Yessiree. And they’re a goodthing, too. When the glaciers melted 10,000 years ago, they left behind millions of shallow depressions; those “Prairie Potholes” are now wetlands that make up one of the world’s best waterfowl nesting habitats, supporting millions of birds each year. But they are being drained and degraded—and that’s where Ducks Unlimited comes in. Through its Preserve Our Prairies program, it is working with landowners and farmers to voluntarily restore ant protect 1 million acres of the wetlands.
Last year, the huge Russells Point, Ohio, Honda plant became the first major automotive facility in the U.S. to receive a substantial amount of its power from on-site wind turbines. The two turbines are part of Honda’s voluntary goals of reducing the environmental impact of its manufacturing by the year 2020.
Under a program from the Oklahoma Conservation Commission, state residents can buy ECOpasses (for $5 to $200), with the money going to farmers and ranchers in the state who adopt no-till crop systems to stem erosion (remember, this is Dust Bowl country), fence off streams and rivers and convert some cropland back to grass.
Almost a quarter of the garbage that Americans throw away is food and yard waste. But under the four-year-old Portland Composts! program, residents of Oregon’s largest city can put yard debris and food scraps—eggs and eggshells, bread, pasta, beans, coffee grounds, table scraps, spoiled food—out on the curb for weekly pickup, vastly cutting down on landfill waste.
At tiny (but very green!) Dickinson College in Carlisle, students grow organic vegetables and raise free-range livestock on the 50-acre, USDA-certified organic farm. The food they raise is then served in the dining hall, sold at a local farmers’ market and donated to a community food bank. And each day, 800 pounds of food waste is sent back to the farm to be compost, cutting in half the volume of waste sent from the dining hall to landfills.
Pedal power: Sol Chariots Pedicab Cooperative in Providence, the brainchild of twin sisters (and avid bicyclists) Ashley and Ally Trull, was launched in 2012, giving carbon-free, pedal-powered taxi rides, making deliveries (UPS has even hired them), and offering tours of Rhode Island’s capital city.
Working to buck the trend of aging American farmers (whose average age is 57), the Dirt Works Incubator Farm near Charleston offers a three-year training program for aspiring farmers. The apprentices get help developing a business plan, and all the produce they grow goes to local food banks.
At the Pine Ridge Reservation, home to about 40,000 members of the Oglala Sioux tribe, students from Oglala Lakota College and others are building sustainable prototype housing as part of the Native American Sustainable Housing Initiative. The buildings will help solve a consistent problem on tribal lands: the lack of well-designed, affordable housing.
Starting in 2014, the annual four-day Bonnaroo Music Festival launched Refill Revolution, installing water-refill stations where “sustainable Bonnaroovians” could refill their bottles for free from clean, on-site wells, saving 400,000 plastic water bottles from the landfill. They also offer $5 stainless-steel reusable water bottles and cups at concession stands—including discounted beer refills.
The year of living sustainably: Professor Dumpster (aka Jeff Wilson of Huston-Tillotson University in Austin) made his home in a dumpster for a year, moving out in February. The goal: to shed light on how much Americans use (and waste) every day. To wit: The average American home is 2,480 square feet; the dumpster is 33 square feet; the average American uses 4.5 pounds of trash a day; Professor Dumpster, zero; the average American home uses 400 gallons of water a day; the dumpster, 4 gallons; the average American home burns 11,000 kilowatt hours of electricity; the dumpster: zero.
The Utah-based startup Saffron has invented an LED light bulb that is not only energy saving but, at the flick of a switch, mimics the setting sun. Put the Drift bulb into Midnight Mode, and an auto-dimming function will gradually dim the bulb over the next 37 minutes, the average amount of time it takes the sun to set.
The 2014 Locavore Index ranks the Green Mountain State first, based on the number of farmers’ markets, consumer-supported agriculture operations (CSAs) and food hubs per-capita, plus percentage of each state’s school districts with active Farm-to-School programs.
The Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s newly opened Brock Environmental Center is one of the greenest buildings in the world. Its location is significant, as the region where it sits has the third highest percentage of land below sea level, so it is particularly vulnerable to hurricanes. It’s the only building in the continental U.S. certified to treat and drink the rainwater collected on the roof, and its energy use will be totally offset by rooftop solar panels and two on-site wind turbines.
Aptly nicknamed the Evergreen State, it ranked No. 1 in 2014 (and 2013) as the most bicycle-friendly state in the country by the League of American Bicyclists.
In 2009, the small Appalachian coal-mining community of Williamson was plagued with a 9.7 percent unemployment rate, a high poverty level, and a life expectancy of only 67.7 years. So local residents banded together to create Sustainable Williamson. It includes a free primary-care clinic and, because the closest grocery store was a half-hour’s drive away and 12 percent of residents lack cars, the Williamson Farmers Market and community garden, which grows produce year-round and includes a mobile market. Also, local workers are being hired to build affordable housing with a focus on reclaimed materials and energy-efficient construction, including solar panels.
The college town of Madison has been dubbed “the Greenest City in America”: Its 12.7 parks per 10,000 residents make for the highest ratio in the U.S. It also has more than 15,000 acres of lakes, more than 200 miles of biking and hiking trails (in fact, Madison has more bikes than cars) and 38 percent of its residents work from home, or walk, bike, carpool or take public transportation to work.
If a robotic vacuum mated with an old-fashioned bird decoy, you might get something like this: A remote-controlled robotic female sage grouse that has been deployed to try to monitor how members of her species, well, “hook up.” And in this state, that is important: 40 percent of all sage grouse live in Wyoming, and a consortium of scientists and oil and gas businesses are working together to make sure the bird keeps multiplying so it stays off the Endangered Species List.
Source: Parade Magazine
.What else does your area do for Earth Day? What do you do EVERYDAY?