It’s the right time to bring an urban ecovillage to Akron, Ohio.

Look for these exciting sustainable elements to be included:  (1) Greenbuilding and rehabs, (2) urban farming, (3) Co-op retail businesses, (4) shared transit, and (5) ecoliving events, training and education.

Here are the TOP TEN reasons why the launch of an urban ecovillage in 2013 is sure to rock:

  1. The drive toward sustainable urban development: a greater focus on neighborhood efforts to integrate environmental, economic, and social responses to our current crises.   Urban Current:  A Project of the German Marshall Fund of the United States Urban & Regional Policy Program.
  2. Urban agricultural efforts have made common cause with groups concerned with healthy non-processed food.  The Nation
  3. The sustainability movement will stay on track to become the norm, rather than the exception, with greater efforts in the works to develop greener urban districts and more sustainable, low-tech urban design.  Greenbuilding Services
  4. Collaborative Consumption describes the rapid explosion in traditional sharing, bartering, lending, renting and swapping—including shared landscapes, transportation and meals.–TIME names Collaborative Consumption as one of the “10 Ideas That Will Change The World.” 
  5. With the uptick of sustainable building mandates and consumer demand for  sustainability, funding and incentives for sustainable structures are becoming more readily available.  Greenbuilding Services
  6. We are becoming a nation of overachievers.  Just saving energy is now not enough. The trend is to go all the way and make homes net-zero.  Most net-zero homes achieve this designation by combining a variety of passive and active design strategies.  Buildapedia
  7. Hundreds of “social enterprises” that use profits for environmental, social or community-serving goals are expanding rapidly. New Economics Institute
  8. At the cutting edge of experimentation are the growing number of egalitarian, and often green, worker-owned cooperatives.  New Economics Institute
  9. The number of bike commuters in the USA rose by 64 percent from 1990 to 2009. University Transportation Research Center   
  10. Companies are lining up to register as B Corporations (the “B” stands for “benefit”) allowing companies to subordinate profits to social and environmental goals.  The Nation
Advertisements

ROI needs  to be found because it’s the key to turning customers on to green.

It doesn’t matter if my clients are steeped in green or stepping into green, the challenge of providing clear and concise Return on Investment (ROI) for their customers seems an exercise in “blood, sweat and tears.”  The green industry does a fine job in spouting the “Save the Planet!” message for customers, which is a good thing, but when it comes to the message of “How Does Green Save Me Money?” — it’s often muddy or missing.

Take home remodeling.  According to the latest Professional Remodeler green research, energy-efficient products continue to grow in popularity while other green improvements are lagging.  In Housingzone.com’s recent special report on green remodeling, 45 percent of remodelers believe that green features help them sell remodeling projects. While up 33 percent from 2007, it remains flat from a year ago.  Take energy retrofits.  For some time, homeowners have been sold on the fact that they are good for the environment and save them money on utility bills; however, a recent article in CNNMoney.com points out that appraisers don’t recognize these features one iota when conducting their home appraisals.

Years back, Cleveland-based Buildings magazine stated that “thanks to programs such as the U.S. Green Building Council’s landmark LEED rating system for buildings, green facilities have crept into the mainstream.” But, the article went on to say that “despite the growing recognition of sustainable practices, green products, and high-performance technologies in building design and construction, concern within the facilities industry continues due to lack of accurate, thorough, and quantifiable information about the financial and economic impacts of high-performance buildings.”

These indicators tell me that this industry, among many others, is not doing its job in conveying the green ROI to its customers.

How can we develop this key green ROI message for customers?  It takes time and an investment.  Be persistent with your suppliers and manufacturers to pull ROI information out of them any way you can.  Set up a monitoring system with your past customers who have invested in your green products to get ROI stats first-hand.  Invest in a third party—university research department, local marketing firm—to assist in getting the information for you.   Comb the Internet for helpful product ROI information such as greenandsave.com and thedailygreen.com.  Develop your own ROI formulas and tables by using compound interest calculators. It can be done.

It’s well worth the time and investment to develop the ROI formula for your customers.  This will put the “green”  in your pocket as well as help save the planet.

Goin' Green Guy tackling frigid temps on bicycle

Actually, yes, you do sweat! Peddling all uphill 3 miles on West Market who knew it was -2F? Full wool mask under the helmet, long underwear, wool socks–you are not cold, just invigorated!

Hey, if I can survive bicycle commuting in frigid temps and icy roads, and feel great–anyone can. Good thing my transmission started going out on my ’99 Honda to encourage me to take it down to two wheels whenever possible.

Here’s my ROI on hoppin’ on the bike instead of getting behind the wheel this winter, vehicle cost not included (November-March):

Bike $: Wool face mask, Goodwill, $3; finger glove, Walmart, $5; Long Underwear, Gabriel Bros, $7; deluxe used backpack, Goodwill, $5; Schwinn combination bike lock, Target $15, lubrication, Walmart, $7. TOTAL: $ 42

Car $: Gas, $1000: oil change, $40; car wash, $150; avg. repairs, $300; license $75. TOTAL: $1565

SAVINGS: $1523

FACTS ABOUT BICYCLING AS A COMMUTE OPTION
· More than half of all American s live less than five miles from where they work
according to Bicycling magazine.
· Only 1.67% of Americans commute by bicycle.
· In Japan, 15% commute by bicycle; In China, bicycles outnumber cars 250 to 1.
· About 12 bicycles can be parked in the space required for one automobile.
· Traffic jams in the 29 major cities cost commuters an estimated $24.3 billion each year.
· 100 bicycles can be produced for the same energy/resources it takes to build
a medium automobile.
· The average cost of a new car in the U.S. is $13,532.
· The average cost of a new bicycle in the U.S. is $385.
· Commuting by bicycle produces zero pollution.

For a comparison on true cost savings, consider that you can drive your car to the grocery
store and spend 35 cents for a bar of soap, adding 7 cents for the gas, or you can ride your
bike to the corner convenience store and pay 41 cents, actually saving a penny and
getting some exercise at the same time.

The City of Akron is making great strides in encouraging bicycle commuting–seeing a lot more designated bike lanes popping up all the time. I am pleased to see the fledgling non-profit Summit Cycling Center gaining traction for reconditioning old bikes for resale and providing repair and safety riding instruction. I am still waiting for free bicycle kiosks downtown, more companies incentivizing employees and more bike racks in key locales. Akron, you’ve got a little more work to do to become a leading community for commuter and recreational bicycling–but you’re getting there. See Akron-Bicycle-Plan-5-2009 for a comprehensive look at bicycle planning and promotion for the region–very encouraging.

Earth Day is celebrating 40 years…and here in Northeast Ohio we’re festooned with TV documentaries, feature news stories in all the dailies and weeklies, community green exhibits and sustainability consumer shows up the whazzoo!  I’m not complaining. It’s beautiful to see the interest and awareness growing. 

In Northeast Ohio you can easily count a couple dozen major Earth Day events happening from the shores of Lake Erie to the hills of Wooster. I got to a few under my belt even last weekend, including the granddaddy of them all–EarthFest 2010 at Cleveland’s MetroParks Zoo.

The cooler weather and drizzle shouldn’t have been an excuse for the lack of participants who were able to hop on the RTA in downtown Cleveland’s Tower City for FREE and get into the zoo for FREE.  Although, typical for me, it ended up costing me $50 for illegally parking in a bus zone.

I appreciate all the exhibitor’s efforts to raise consciousness, draw in the kidlets with the green message and educate us all about saving the planet, but, hey, think folks, the greenwashing watchdogs are out there… and they’re teeth are growing sharper every day. 

Here’s a few Cleveland Zoo EarthFest green exhibitor “faux pas”  (among too many) that I found:  

  • A major city environmental agency handed me a classy, reusable aluminum portable water bottle stamped “Made in China.”
  • An organic food vendor was using styrofoam plates and encouraging everyone to throw their aluminum pop cans in with the styrofoam.
  • A school’s environmental class was stuffing canvas shopping bags (not plastic, good work there!) with up to six different high gloss pieces of literature on non-recycled paper to everyone who stopped by whether they wanted the literature or not.

Need I explain what’s wrong with these scenarios?  Don’t think so!  Just to let you know, in the monkey exhibit, the mountain gorilla got it right when he showed visitors how he eats recycled food: catching his excrement before it hit the ground and eating it!  He also showed us the art of eating local, fresh and organic, too.

Hey, I’m not a purist by any means, but I caution green vendors to dig a little deeper and think a little harder when planning their exhibits for next year’s 41st anniversary of Earth Day. ..

…and I will be using my classy aluminum water bottle for many months to come on bicycle outings, but I sure wish it was manufactured from recycled aluminum in one of Akron’s manufacturing plants.

I am proud and honored to be promoting the first Ecovillage in Akron, and the second Ecovillage to come to Ohio following the successful run of Cleveland’s Detroit Shoreway Ecovillage. 

Today’s Ecovillages are not the resurrection of the hippie communes of the ’60s and ’70s, rather they are designed for business professionals that believe in their community, care about their local economy and have a burgeoning consciousness about the condition of our planet.  It’s a way of life that turns the past “insular” way of living– inside out!

My goal is to educate, propogate and participate directly in the Ecovillage.  First, let’s get through the Ten Most FAQs about the Ecovillage of the new 2010 decade:

1. What is an Ecovillage?

 Ecovillages are intentionally-designed communities “intended” to be socially, economically and ecologically sustainable.  They can be urban or rural communities that strive to integrate a supportive social environment with a low-impact way of life. They most often adapt the co-housing model with a living arrangement that combines private living quarters with common dining and activity areas in a community whose residents share.

 2. What are the common principles of an Ecovillage?

 There are five:

 1. They are not government-sponsored projects, but grassroots initiatives.

2. Resident members value and practice community living.

3. Resident members are not overly dependent on government, corporate or other centralized sources for water, food, shelter, power and other basic necessities; rather, they attempt to provide these resources themselves.

4. Resident members have a strong sense of shared values, often characterized in spiritual terms.

5. They often serve as research and demonstration sites, offering educational experiences for others.

 3. What is the physical design structure unique to an Ecovillage?

 Ecovillages integrate various aspects of ecological design including ecological building, alternative energy, green manufacturing and production, permaculture and community building practices.

Typically, homes face each other across common courtyards and pedestrian walkways. Parking is kept to the periphery or basements so the automobile doesn’t interfere with social interaction. And a common house and common green are centrally-located.

4. What living space is shared vs. private?

 The common house, though owned by all, is used by the community members as an extension of their living space. It always includes a kitchen and dining room, and meals together with neighbors on a regular basis generally serving as “the glue” that holds the community together. Beyond that there are often shared laundry facilities, children’s playrooms, classrooms, workshops, music and crafts rooms, exercise facilities, a library, etc.

Private space is generally quite private, including kitchens, living rooms and bathrooms that you would expect in a single-family home; and when possible, some private outdoor space as well. There is often intermediate space like porches and entry courts that are semi-private, and gathering “nodes” where a few individuals can meet.

5. How much decision-making power do resident members have in their community?

With the “co-housing” model, community participation is critical in planning, design and ongoing management. This consists primarily of professionally-led design workshops where early members reach consensus on design programs for the site, common areas and private living space, budgets, covenants, bylaws, formal operating agreements and ongoing management and maintenance of both the social and the physical community after establishment.

A final structure is governance for community. All cohousing communities utilize some form of consensus decision making. Most also pay close attention to non-violent conflict resolution. As a practical matter, however, once a degree of trust has been established, committees are often empowered to make decisions in specific areas on behalf of the community so that coming to consensus does not become overly burdensome.

6. Isn’t Ecovillage just a code word for hippie commune?

To many, the blending of community and ecological principles brings to mind the hippie communes of the1960s-70s. These communes were known for their clothing optional policies; opium, marijuana and hemp agricultural crops; and demonstrations of free sexual escapades in common spaces.  The majority of today’s Ecovillages are for mainstream professionals seeking to build community, extend family relationships, provide a supportive social network, be productive and become more environmentally friendly and conscious. 

7. Are Ecovillages becoming a more acceptable living alternative?

Ecovillages emerged out of the intentional communities and cohousing movement originating in Denmark in the 1960s. It then spread to North America during the late 1970s. Modern-day Ecovillages are currently moving out of their embryonic grassroots stage, now recognized as one of the most promising trends in sustainable community living. And as they begin to enter the mainstream and become more accessible, Ecovillages are becoming an ideal more people can share.

According to the nonprofit Global Ecovillage Network, some 420 eco-villages exist in both urban and rural settings around the world today.  Today, an estimated 110 Ecovillages are either being planned or built in the U.S., evenly split between East and West.

 

EcoVillage at Ithaca

Ecovillage at Ithaca

8. Are there any Ecovillages that have proven to be successful? 

There are many successful models in the U.S. that are making money for developers and sponsorship organizations, improving their communities and hosting happy, satisfied residents. 

Examples include the Ecovillage at Ithaca in the Finger Lakes region of Upstate New York that includes two 30-home neighborhoods, an organic vegetable and berry farm, a nature area and two community houses where residents gather for shared meals. It is in its third phase. The Los Angeles Eco-Village, three miles west of downtown, operates Bicycle Kitchen, a nonprofit group that encourages cycling; gardens and fruit trees; beautification projects that use red-clay brick salvaged from the 1994 earthquake; and other eco-sensitive practices. Dancing Rabbit, set in the hills and prairie of northeastern Missouri, features buildings made of natural materials, 60 acres of woods, organic gardens and a food coop.

9. Is an Ecovillage affordable to the average person?

Cohousing communities in the U.S. have received most of HUD’s innovations in home ownership awards over the last 10 years, plus many other accolades, especially for green features. But the movement has failed so far to cross over into the affordable housing sector in a big way like it has in Europe.

Individual cohousing communities have had some success in attracting subsidies both from within their more affluent memberships and from government and philanthropic organizations to expand affordability of some units to a wider spectrum of incomes.

Most low to moderate-income housing in the U.S. is rental housing supported by low-income tax credit programs. As Ecovillages containing multiple cohousing communities are developed, new stimulus dollars are available to both lower costs and to enhance common features available to everyone, as well as to branch out into community-based mixed-income, mixed-use development.

10. Will Akron have the first Ecovillage in Ohio and when will it be built?

No.  Cleveland’s Detroit Shoreway Ecovillage, two miles west of downtown, is one of the most successful urban models in the U.S. The Cleveland Ecovillage was founded through an innovative partnership involving nonprofit organizations, the city, the regional transit authority, private developers, and neighborhood residents. It is a nationally recognized and celebrated demonstration project that showcases best practices in green building, transit-oriented design, urban agriculture and societal inter-dependence. Over the last ten years the Cleveland Ecovillage has proven that sustainability can be used as an organizing principle for urban redevelopment and community organizing.

Two others are found in the national Ecovillage directory—one in Pomeroy, the other in Cincinnati—but little is known about them. 

 It will be built in central Akron with a Passive House focus within the next two years.

food bank logoThe October meeting of the Greater Summit County Food Policy Coalition (SFPC), Akron’s new food policy council sprouted this year, led by Chris Norman, Director from Crown Point Ecology Center, brought its members to the Akron Canton Regional Food Bank (FB), a state-of-the-art 85,000 square foot warehouse facility on the western edge of downtown Akron.  

As reported by the Greater Akron Partnership for Sustainability: “Food policy councils (FPCs) are made up of a broad based group of dedicated individuals from both the public and the governmental sectors, each of which bring different talents and knowledge to the table. In the United States there are many cities beginning food policy councils, as the topics of healthy food access, school lunches, urban agriculture and farmland preservation continue to pop up in news across the nation.”

 Mark Mitchell, FB manager of marketing and communications, dished out some disheartening stats about the need for FB in the Akron-Canton area in light of the current economic snapshot for NE Ohio:

  • They distributed over 16 million lbs. of food in 2008
  • 25% increase over 2007
  • Projected 17.5 million lbs. of food for 2009
  • 900 volunteers putting in 18,000 hours
  • 23% of children under 5 are food insecure in Ohio, 3rd highest in nation

FoodBanksml[1] SFPC is forging ahead with active committees including:  Micro Enterprises, Health Food Access, Education/Marketing, Community Gardens and Networking. It’s another bright spot for Akron’s growing sustainability efforts.

zips-gameThe newly-formed University of Akron (UA) Student chapter of the GBDC may be the jumpstart UA needs to inject some true green into its sustainability  program.

Environmental Akron, an eco-friendly UA student organization has been around for a couple years, but it hasn’t been able to move the green barometer. Working with the Blue, Gold, & Green Committee (composed of UA administration and faculty), it has taken on some worthy environmental challenges including a formal on-campus recycling program.

But, according to The 2009 Green Report Card, recently published by the respected Sustainable Endowments Institute, a special project of Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors, when it comes to advancements in green and sustainability efforts for colleges, UA hit rock bottom, plunging from a D+ last year to a D- this year. It received flat out “Fs” in climate change & energy, food & recycling, green building, endowment transparency and shareholder engagement.

 Out of the 14 Ohio schools reported, only Oberlin College reached “A” status with an A-.  The only other Ohio school to perform as dismal as UA was Ohio Northern University in Ada. 

The Green Report Card calls itself  “the only independent sustainability evaluation of campus operations and endowment investments.” It assesses the 200 public and private universities with the largest endowments, ranging from $230 million to nearly $35 billion. (US News reported UA’s endowment at $52,973,840). UAs falling grade bucks the trend of two in three colleges that improved their performance on the annual College Sustainability Report Card this year.

There are so many reasons to raise the green grade, including assistance with recruitment.  Sixty-eight percent of 12,715 high school students applying to college and their parents, who were recently polled by the Princeton Review, said that they would value having information about a college’s commitment to the environment.7981027871_cc1[1]Here are some recommended action steps for UA college students to get the grade up from the Sustainable Endowments Institute :

  • Apply to the United Nations Foundation’s Climate Crews program to receive training on creating innovative sustainability initiatives.
  • Organize events to discuss various aspects of college sustainability.
  • Invite national sustainability leaders to speak on campus.
  • Attend relevant conferences 
  • Encourage the president to sign the Presidents Climate Commitment and/or Talloires Declaration.
  • Choose to reside in your school’s green dorm, if one exists. If not, ask your school to explore the possibility of creating a green dorm.

Sustainability experts say that if you are a school at the D- level, you need to be a bit more agressive.  Suggestions include  implementing a green purchasing policy, composting food service waste, serving farm-to-school meals and setting up a formal bicycle commuter program.  

The building boom on campus has obviously bypassed any significant  sustainable and green practices in new construction and rehabs. Incorporating such elements as greywater systems, rain gardens, green roofs, sustainable construction materials, passive HVAC into new construction and renovations need to be incorporated into new building designs.

200800[1]There’s no doubt that the recent UA green momentum emanating  from students to faculty to administrators together with University Park Alliance can work together to raise the grade. 

 

 

 

EXHIBIT A

UA’s Green Report Card from  C to F

Administration

The University of Akron’s Blue, Gold, and Green Committee is composed of faculty, staff, and students. It was formed in October 2006 to recommend ways to educate the community, increase recycling efforts, study water and energy use on campus, and review the use of renewable technologies and resources. The group has been instrumental in recent energy conservation campaigns and helped host campus-wide Earth Day events for the past three years.

Climate Change & Energy

The university regularly upgrades to high-efficiency equipment for various systems. Building temperatures are kept cooler in the winter and warmer in the summer to decrease energy usage, reducing carbon emissions by an estimated 300 tons per year. The university planted 2,800 trees throughout campus, absorbing 14 tons of carbon per year.

 Food & Recycling

The university runs a standard recycling program, accepting mixed paper, plastic, light metal, and printer cartridges. Increasing recycling is a stated goal of the Blue, Gold, and Green Initiative.

Green Building

 

New construction at the university has included some green building technology. Two new student housing facilities feature energy-saving equipment, recycled materials, and increased green space, which helps reduce heat islands. A new “smart” HVAC system in Guzetta Hall features motion sensing technology. Renovations at a campus cafe took advantage of natural light and cut electrical lighting use in half.

 Student Involvement

Members of the student organization Environmental Akron facilitated the university’s participation in RecycleMania 2009. The organization also worked with the Blue, Gold, and Green Initiative to host Earth Day 2009 events, including Lights Out Akron, a community-wide conservation awareness program.

 Transportation

The Roo Express Shuttle transports university community members to campus buildings in the downtown area, neighborhoods near campus, and from campus parking lots to campus buildings. The university, in partnership with the city of Akron, has launched an initiative in support of students using bicycles, and the University Park Cycle Shop, located in a campus residence hall, offers bike rentals.

 Endowment Transparency

The university has no known policy of disclosure of endowment holdings or its shareholder voting record.

 Investment Priorities

The university aims to optimize investment return and has not made any public statements about investigating or investing in renewable energy funds or community development loan funds.

Shareholder Engagement

The university has not made any public statements about active ownership or a proxy voting policy.

EXHIBIT B

Oh, and by the way, here’s who UA is hanging with:

In bad company:  The other 13 D- flunkies

Brigham Young University  Provo, UT

College of the Ozarks Point Lookout, MO

Duquesne University  Pittsburgh, PA

Howard University  Washington, DC

Ohio Northern University Ada, OH

Quinnipiac University Hamden, CT

Seton Hall University  South Orange, NJ

University of South Alabama Mobile, AL

Southern New Hampshire University Manchester, NH

Virginia Military Institute  Lexington, VA

Wabash College  Crawfordsville, IN

Wesley College Dover, DE

Wichita State University  Wichita, KS