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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.

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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

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

A chorus of G-men took center stage when Entrepreneurs for Sustainability (E4S) took its NEO “Start Up Showcase” to the Akron Business Accelerator. Rapid-fire five-minute elevator speeches including how many dollars were required to fund their ventures went head-to-head for whose sustainable products and services were best in creating new markets, building new industries and growing a sustainable regional economy.

Women and minorities were absent from the line-up (what’s up with that?) and easily half the green-E’s in my mind couldn’t spit out properly what amazing things they were really up to! My best bets lie with these Great Eight. Pick your favorites.

 Here we go with the line-up (in random order):  

  • Ed Shank/Lance Schmidt, F.G. Ayers is introducing the Passive House from Deutschland with the promise of slashing the heating energy consumption of buildings by an amazing 90%. Retrofits for Akron? No dumpsters necessary when these guys rehab a house.   
  • Jim Galvin, Legacy Polymers LLC  is your one-stop shop for companies’ plastic recycling that can even start generating new revenue streams.  
  • Jeff Guritza, REDUSA Enterprises hauls anything that’s consumer debris… from appliances to yard waste.
  • Joe Hensel/Jay Schabel, Polyflow are true social media guys. They twitter. They You tube. They Facebook. They’re taking plastic and rubber waste and converting it to solvents and gasoline blendstock.
  • Tony Lammers, Mars Systems LLC is the faster, cheaper and greener solution for the removal of heavy metal contaminants from water through its Sorbster™ media.
  • Timothy Madden, BioDynamicz LLC is a “bricks ‘n clicks” Cuyahoga Falls retail storefront and online e-commerce supplier of indoor organic produce gardening equipment and supplies renewable energy of organic produce; manufacture of greenhouses and hydroponics.
  • Dana Myers, Myers Motors is America’s only highway speed EV under $30K.  The goal is to get it under $20K and add a seat.  
  • Steven Spoonamore, Absorbent Materials Company LLC pumps those ABS by using reactive glass and sands for site-cleanups of toxic spills.  

 

Myers Motors rig was on display at E4S entrepreneurial showcase in Akron

Myers Motors drives away with one of the best pitches of the evening.

Monday, June 29

Gardeners gather 'round master gardener Nancy Clem (far right) for helpful advice.

Gardeners gather 'round master gardener Nancy Clem (foreground group right) for helpful advice.

Our assigned night to get green tips from the Ohio State University Master Gardeners (OSUMG).  It was a great excuse to gather the gardeners together.  At my Charles & Turner site, the gardeners came out in droves (a couple dozen) together with the surrounding neighborhood folks. 

Larry Parker, Akron Coop and manager of the Akron Community Garden project, was flipping over the turnout and community interaction. “This is as good as it gets!,” he said. “It’s exactly what community gardening is all about–bringing the community together.”

The Charles & Turner site is taking on a life of its own!  A couple of gardeners worked together to place spigots in selective locations around the garden plots.  This replaced the hassle of dragging around a single hose from one location where the hydrant stands.  The Youngs, whose home sits on the west end of the garden, placed a series of chairs and endtables on the sidewalk for all the weary gardeners to sit, relax and enjoy their gardens between workouts. 

P1010040Akron’s newest immigrant community, the Karens, are active participants at the Charles & Turner site. Master farmers from their homeland of Myanmar (Burma), they are the gardeners to watch. Oscar Baaye, a Karen leader who recently relocated to Akron from Seattle, serves as the official interpreter for the group. Wearing his native garb, he is an upbeat, delightful guy who is working hard to uplift his people settling in Akron.  His involvement with the plight of his Karen people, living most of their lives in refuge camps, victims of the cruel ongoing extremely violent civil strife, has enough compelling content for an epic Hollywood edu-tainment flick.   

Nancy Clem,  a volunteer with OSUMG Summit County, gave me the news I expected about my garden: “Gotta get the weeds out!”  So, between great conversation, I got my hoe in hand and started hacking.  Then Nancy told me how to lay down nothing but newspapers on the soil between plants acting as one of the best weed inhibitors. 

Oscar Baaye (left) relaxes on the sidewalk chairs with the Young family

Oscar Baaye (left) relaxes on the sidewalk chairs with the Young family

I am now finding myself heading over to the community garden as many evenings as possible, not just to tend my garden, but to meet up and chat the night away on the Young’s sidewalk chairs with my newfound friends–gardeners and neighbors alike–on these balmy Akron summer nights until the fireflies start flittin’ about.

The Crain gardeners: Tom (dad), Olivia (daughter #1), Cessily (daughter #2)

The Crain gardeners: Tom (dad), Olivia (daughter #1), Cessily (daughter #2)

June 17, 2009

As soon as the city tilled and mulched, the community gardeners were called in to plot and plant.  A deluge of rain that week ended up helping the new plants, but slowed down the city prep a bit for some of the other gardens.  

On Saturday morning, we drove on in to the community garden at Charles & Turner (near Howard & North) in the Elizabeth Park Valley neighborhood, shook hands with half a dozen of our new community garden friends and staked out our 10’ x 20’ plot. The garden is in an ideal spot situated in a scenic and secluded wooded valley surrounded by friendly neighbors in well-kept two-story homes willing to help when needed. A big and friendly watchdog and a working fire hydrant with attached hose were additional accessories.  What could be better?

The gardeners are already bonding—exchanging plants, helping each other out with staking and watering and even making plans together for the unclaimed dirt.  

 My crew (two daughters Olivia, 11, and Cessily, 8) laid down a variety of tomatoes, peppers and strawberries.  We got to bond with the resident watchdog (I believe there’s a wee bit of pit bull in him, so it’s important to win him over).  Who knows, maybe we can train him to bite the pants off of any tomato wranglers.  

 

The honeymoon period for gardening hasn’t worn off yet. Not enough time has passed for inevitable pesky weeds, chomped leaves from invading pests or drooping plants from lack of rain.  Ahhh…life is good.  Will it continue?  Stay tuned for the next steps in the growing season including getting to know the unique mix of fellow gardeners.

May 13, 2009

Larry Parker and Jerry EganMustard Seed Market and Cafe in Fairlawn stepped up as the new meeting site for the Entrepreneurs for Sustainability (E4S) networking events, now held regularly in Akron, alternating monthly with Cleveland. Apparently, Akron membership has grown too green for E4S to keep their events exclusively on the Big Lake.

The topic of the May meeting was all about the local food economy featuring Akron growing champs including Larry Parker of the Akron Cooperative and the new Akron Grows community garden project; Beth Knorr of the Countryside Conservancy; and Chris Norman, Akron Summit County Food Policy Coalition and director of Crown Pointe Farms.

Father and son, Phillip and Abe Nabors, were on hand to offer tours of their Mustard Seed Market, claimed to be NEO’s largest locally-owned natural and organic foods market. Phillip also spoke about his love for gardening and push to feature locally-grown food at his 28-year-old retail grocery.

NEO rarely sits in any Top 5 positive city rankings, but how about a stellar #2 for locally-grown foods second only to my hometown of Minneapolis? SustainLane, a popular national sustainability movement website came up with these rankings using data from the US Department of Agriculture for farmers’ markets and community gardens.

Many palatable ideas for sustainability in the Akron area are growing out of the local food movement.

Lance Schmidt

Lance Schmidt

May 28, 2009

When it comes to home building in Akron these days, efficient and passive is all the rage. So much so, that its local Home Builders Association showcased three trailblazing pioneers in sustainability for housing at their May 28th special “Going Green” homebuilding seminar .

Lance Schmidt, F.G. Ayers, Inc., synonymous with “The Passive House” who prides himself on being “that crazy environmental homebuilding rebel” is ushering in a German-born concept of a super-insulated, air tight, highly-efficient home that doesn’t need a conventional furnace and cuts winter monthly utility bills down to double digits only.

The great news about what Schmidt is up to is that he’s committed to bringing this cutting-edge concept to Akron’s urban core via retrofitting and hoping to build a demo house in the area.

Look out NEO homebuilders, he’s wielding some real power. He was recently elected VP of Summit-Portage County HBA and is getting known by Akron city officials for sitting on a key Board.

Joining Schmidt were Karl Balla, Energy Pros of Ohio, a certified Home Energy Rater, on how to get high marks on home energy audits, and Hallie Bowie, New Leaf Home Design, registered architect and certified Green Professional on Green Home Action Items for energy efficiency, indoor air quality and sustainability.

Kudos to Akron HBA. You are showing a bright shade of green these days when it comes to housing and remodeling.

home_builders_association

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