Saving Money by Going Green

The one light in every building that is always left on. Photo: © dwags_Fotolia.com

Rob Rafson, P.E., is V.P. Engineering of Full Circle, a Chicago-based sustainability management solutions firm. He is also co-author, with Harold J. Rafson, of Brownfields: Redeveloping Environmentally Distressed Properties (1999). Blue Planet Green Living (BPGL) spoke with Rafson from his Chicago office. What follows is Part 4 of a four-part interview. — Julia Wasson, Publisher


BPGL: Give an example of a design-positive economic driver to going green.

RAFSON: There’s one light in every building that’s on 24 hours a day: the exit sign. It’s the least paid-attention-to light in every building, and probably the most expensive.

Businesses need to look at their supply chain and other factors. Photo: © Penelope Berger_Fotolia.com

There are two 30-Watt light bulbs in an exit sign. Replace those with two 1.2 Watt light-emitting diode [LED] bulbs. Now, you replace the LED bulbs every 10 years instead of every year, which has a financial impact on its own. Incandescent light bulbs cost about $2 each, and LEDS are down to $7.50 each now. The energy savings per exit sign is around $60 year. So, the ROI is three months, if you look at simple payback of the energy savings.

You can save in other ways, too. In rough numbers, the air conditioning cost to cool the energy created by the light bulbs is about 20 percent [of your air conditioning bill]. You will pay for the LEDs in 1 1/2 years just by saving air conditioning costs — and that’s on top of the electrical savings.

If you add together the electrical energy savings, reduced labor savings of having a 10-year bulb, and reduced air condition cost, the total payback is in about two months.

This is a great example of people focusing on the business they’re in. In a building managed by an outside firm, they pay attention to things like exit signs, because that’s their job. It’s their job to make the building more profitable. But, if the building owner is in the business of manufacturing an item, they’re very unlikely to focus on a little thing like an exit sign. They need to pay attention to things outside and inside their business that affect their economic opportunities. There are real opportunities to save and, therefore, to make money by going green.

The key thing is that you have to look around at the things that are both inside and outside of your business that affect the economic viability of your business. If you focus only on your product or service, you miss the large-scale opportunities and the most important parts of a sustainable strategy. Looking at your supply chain and other factors… you really have to look at your core business. And when you have a solid understanding of your core impact, look outside your business at ancillary impact points. The results can be enlightening and create opportunity.

BPGL: What other green strategies will you be implementing in projects by Full Circle?

RAFSON: We are really covering a wide berth in Full Circle’s customers. In some cases we’re combining solar PV and lighting programs, in others we’re doing a wholesale re-engineering of a national waste program. Ultimately, after we complete a sustainability analysis, we offer a customer a range of projects from simple and immediate ROI to long-term changes that take investment and patience to realize return. All of these are worthwhile, but sometimes you have to walk before you run.

Look at green roofs, as an example. I’m not a fan of green roofs; they’re not economical. I believe it’s a great strategy in some situations, but not as a general rule. Now, if you’re growing vegetables on your roof, that might be worth doing. In Chicago, there’s a health food store that makes its own spices and grows them on a green roof. A coffee shop grows produce for their sandwiches on their roof. Both are great uses of space and make economic sense.

Green roofs are generally not economical, according to Rafson. Photo: © webax.it_Fotolia.com

But to do it to offset carbon is ridiculous. Economically, the costs of doing that — as opposed to putting trees on the sidewalk or parkways — are skewed terribly. You have to build a building that supports the extra weight, then provide the maintenance and the infrastructure. It doesn’t balance out. But to my earlier point about doing the strategies with the best payback, you could have the opportunity to look at a green roof as a strategy, if you look at the things that make economic sense first.

BPGL: Give an example of a strategy that would make economic sense for most businesses.

RAFSON: Anyone who hasn’t done extensive energy efficiency work can save — from day one — 30% on their electricity bill. At one building recently, they had nearly 40% too much light, and employees were getting headaches and complaining because it was too bright. We calculated the proper light density for all the offices and warehouse space. — You could do surgery in the washroom. — They saved 38% on lighting alone. All they did was de-lamp.

That was one savings, but that wasn’t the big thing. They already had very efficient lighting fixtures, just too many of them for [a building use that required] less light density than originally planned. The problem was partly too much design, but they also left too many lights on.

Now they’ve got motion sensors in the individual offices. It’s more convenient once you get used to it, to walk into an office, and the light turns on. They have motion-sensor power strips that turn the monitor and stereo on, things that actually would annoy the person next door if they were running with no one in that space.

BPGL: So, you’re saying that pretty much everyone can realize savings with a little self-examination.

RAFSON: If the general population, property owners, and business managers would just grasp the opportunity, they could change the way they look at everything. Opportunities to make a cultural change can also have a positive economic and environmental impact.

Julia Wasson

Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)

Related Posts


Part 1: The Positive Economics of Going Green

Part 2: Tax Incentives Boost Green ROI

Part 3: Going Green Requires a Cultural Change

Part 4: Saving Money By Going Green (Top of Page)

Tailgating for a Common Green Purpose

Going Green Requires a Cultural Change

LEED-certified buildings supply economic benefits. Photo: © Sergo_Fotolia.com

Rob Rafson, P.E., is VP Engineering of Full Circle, a Chicago-based sustainability management solutions firm. He is also co-author, with Harold J. Rafson, of Brownfields: Redeveloping Environmentally Distressed Properties (1999). Blue Planet Green Living (BPGL) interviewed Rafson by phone from his Chicago office. What follows is Part 2 of our four-part interview. — Julia Wasson, Publisher


BPGL: You mentioned that making changes in the way companies do business isn’t just a matter of changing the equipment, it also requires a cultural change. Tell us more about how that looks to you.

RAFSON: The biggest thing to my mind is that the cultural change has to happen on all levels. Consumers need to look for green businesses, and there need to be watchdog organizations on the alert for “green washing” — companies proclaiming they’re environmentally responsible just for show.

There also needs to be a cultural change in the business community — to take the time to understand the opportunities created by our changing financial, economic, and technological worlds. These changes are happening so rapidly, and they offer opportunities for telecommuting and other cost-saving strategies.

Telecommuting is an attractive option for some companies and workers. Photo: © Monkey Business_Fotolia.com

For example, Johnson & Johnson has implemented a lot of wonderful strategies to decrease their carbon footprint. A friend of mine works for them, and because of their no-travel policy, he’s visiting with clients more, spending more time on their accounts, and creating more information for his clients. He can look up more information and actually get more work done, because he’s not transporting himself. He saves money and resources by not traveling. And he’s got more free time for himself, because he’s not spending all his time on the road.

BPGL: How do you see the movement toward sustainability changing?

RAFSON: The interesting thing is that there is a social conscience component to going green. That is not a new thing, but a growing portion of the change in corporate culture. It’s also something that becomes part of this sea change that must happen, a way of thinking that is happening and must happen.

BPGL: Do you believe the change is consumer driven?

RAFSON: Partially. In my opinion, the big improvements and changes need to happen on a higher level, up the corporate chain. These ideas in cultural change have to come from corporate management, in that the driver is on the consumer side to push the corporate managers into understanding that there are economic consequences.

BPGL: What are some of the economic consequences of going green?

RAFSON: Real Estate management company, Jones Lange LaSalle did a study on the economic differences between LEED-certified versus non LEED-certified properties. They estimated that a LEED-certified office building would be able to charge $11 more per square foot, per year, over a non LEED-certified building. That’s a huge economic driver to go green and get LEED certified.

Employees who have healthy lifestyles might gain lower health insurance premiums. Photo: © microimages_Fotolia.com

Another study showed that as a company goes green, or starts to move in that direction, employees are happier, work longer hours, and are healthier. Blue Cross Blue Shield [health insurance provider] is starting to look at reduced claims at companies that have gone green. And therefore they’re may reduce pricing for companies that have gone green.

So, as support for going green grows and is sustained, roots of this change start to reach into other industries and feed back to the main corporations that started the process. They’ve planted the seedlings and, as it reaches their suppliers and vendors, they gain benefits because of the strategies they’ve implemented.

BPGL: So companies benefit from the investment they make in being green. If they pay more upfront on renting a green space, for example, they pay less on their insurance plan?

RAFSON: The strategy of deciding to put your business in a LEED building is a component of going green. If the business itself looks more at the LEED certification and the strategies it takes to get there, my belief is you’ll see positive ROI just doing that. Making the building more energy efficient, reducing waste, recycling, and all the stuff that goes into LEED certification have their own paybacks. And, you’ll have additional, subsequent benefits by gaining increased market share and providing increased product and service value to your customers. It’s hard to define those numbers, but there are other opportunities to increase value like the example of decreased sick days and potentially decreased medical insurance costs.

I’m not sure they’ve come to the numbers yet, but there are a lot of health providers that believe companies that do green strategies have healthier employees. Take a look at the idea of bicycle commuting; I’m sure some bike federation is studying now what the health impacts of bike commuting are. This is an obvious one; biking is healthier than driving. How much that affects the premiums of an employee who is healthier and has fewer claims is an interesting question. It’s exciting that the insurance companies are entertaining the idea of figuring it out.

From my perspective, there’s a huge gap in knowledge and understanding of the idea that there is an economic driver to going green, and a quite design-positive one at that.

Julia Wasson

Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)

Related Posts


Part 1: The Positive Economics of Going Green

Part 2: Tax Incentives Boost Green ROI

Part 3: Going Green Requires a Cultural Change (Top of Page)

Part 4: Saving Money By Going Green

Tailgating for a Common Green Purpose

Tax Incentives Boost Green ROI

Engineer Rob Rafson on roof of a renovated brownfield that now uses solar power. Photo: Full Circle

Rob Rafson, P.E., is V.P. Engineering of Full Circle, a Chicago-based sustainability management solutions firm. He is also co-author, with Harold J. Rafson, of Brownfields: Redeveloping Environmentally Distressed Properties (1999). Blue Planet Green Living (BPGL) interviewed Rafson by phone from his Chicago office. What follows is Part 2 of our four-part interview. — Julia Wasson, Publisher


A former paint factory brownfield site. Photo: Full Circle

A former paint factory brownfield site. Photo: Full Circle

BPGL: You’re known in Chicago for the largest rooftop solar installation in the city, on top of a brownfield redevelopment project. But people say solar technology has a long payback. Is solar economically viable?

RAFSON: It’s an interesting time in both the financing and in the technology of solar thermal and solar photovoltaic [solar PV]. The economics of solar PV are changing rapidly. In 2008, Nanosolar came out with their first panels at 99 cents a Watt.

At the same time, the supply of pure silica production has tripled, with three new plants coming online. Now the raw materials cost has decreased dramatically, and we have a rapidly decreasing solar PV price.

On one brownfield redevelopment project, a former paint factory property, we installed the largest solar thermal in the City of Chicago. The results have been very nice except for a year like last year. In Illinois, last year, we had only 11 hours of sunshine from January 1, 2008 through February 15, 2008. It was a very depressing winter! Yet we only lost 10 percent efficiency compared to prior years. You have to average your results annually and not focus on a cloudy day.

BPGL: Are you seeing a lot of companies making the leap to install solar technology?

RAFSON: Organizations like schools and hospitals — even government agencies —don’t have the wherewithal or desire to borrow money for what is still considered by some to be “frivolous pursuits.” But there are plenty of ESCOs (energy service companies) created around the world to capitalize on that market.

The same paint factory after redevelopment. Photo: Full Circle

There aren’t that many people like me. Even my partners look at me like, “We spent $600,000 on that project!” But we got state, federal, and local tax credits, as well as grants. Then subtract any favorable tax treatments, and roll all of that back in. With the interest rates as low as they are now, we financed the expense 100 percent. We anticipate $40,000 in savings, and our mortgage payment is only $18,000 per year. They call that “day-one ROI.” So for us, the building becomes $22,000 more profitable than before we put the solar panels in.

BPGL: Tell a bit more about the tax breaks and grants you got.

RAFSON: I was lucky. We got matching funds from the state and 35 solar panels from the city of Chicago to match the federal tax incentives. In Illinois, we’re at 30% matching grants for solar technology. Cook County has an ordinance that any additional renewable energy added to the property doesn’t increase the basis of the property; so, they don’t increase property taxes for added renewable energy. It seems obvious, but it isn’t. If you do $600,000 of improvements on a building, you’d expect that the value of the building would increase by $600,000, and that your property taxes would go up accordingly. This [property tax policy] is very forward thinking and does not penalize property owners for investing in green technologies.

Solar panels sit on the rooftop of the brownfield development. Photo: Full Circle

Solar panels sit on the rooftop of the brownfield development. Photo: Full Circle

BPGL: Were you concerned about renovating a brownfield site for reuse?

RAFSON: This project is on a private property (it’s my fourth paint factory cleanup). Yet, it has positive economics. I’m an environmental engineer, for me environmental problems on a property are just a construction item; you simply have to be a little more careful about your management of the materials and construction. And include that in your pro forma when you purchase. We were able to purchase at a significant discount, with savings well above the cleanup cost.

BPGL: What help, if any, did you get from local sources?

RAFSON: We used many energy-saving technologies. Some were benefited by unusual and wonderful incentives that are available from time to time. For example, here in Illinois, the local power authority, Commonwealth Edison, is supporting energy efficiency. They created incentives called “Smart Ideas.” They’re funding energy efficiency projects for the next three years in their service areas for commercial and industrial customers. So I got a few dollars from them to change lights, and do a variable speed drive on my solar project instead of on/off motors. I got a bit more energy efficiency out of my equipment, funded by these types of grants.

BPGL: What about installing wind turbines? Are you doing that in Chicago?

Beautiful to some, but an eyesore to others.

Beautiful to some, but others say, "Not in my backyard!" Photo: © Dev_Fotolia.com

RAFSON: I want to try. The problem is, urban wind is very difficult, because of the surface roughness created by buildings. It makes a whole lot more sense to build wind turbines on Lake Michigan if you’re on the Michigan side of the lake. There, you’ve got 100 miles of water for the wind to get consistent and smooth, and that’s what a bladed turbine likes. The more consistent the wind, the more power you can produce.

BPGL: In some communities, there are regulations against installing wind turbines because it “spoils the scenic views.”

RAFSON: It’s a cultural change to get people to accept and understand. The “not-in-my-backyard” people don’t want wind turbines, because they don’t like the look of them. But not everyone thinks that way. A friend of mine in Montana put up a 3 kW wind turbine on his house. Before, no one came around. Now at least two times a week, people come by to watch the turbine spinning.

I believe it’s important to retain the historical and scenic views. But I think we need to have harmony between renewable energy strategies and the lives that we live.

Julia Wasson

Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)

Related Posts

Part 1: The Positive Economics of Going Green

Part 2: Tax Incentives Boost Green ROI (Top of Page)

Part 3: Going Green Requires a Culture Change

Part 4: Saving Money By Going Green

Tailgating for a Common Green Purpose

The Positive Economics of Going Green

United Airlines cut their carbon footprint and their costs. © bilderbox_Fotolia.com

“The only way the Green Revolution will be achieved is through economic opportunity, not through regulation,” says Rob Rafson. A world-renowned environmental engineer and author of the highly regarded book, Brownfields: Redeveloping Environmentally Distressed Properties (1999), Rafson has cleaned up and redeveloped 17 brownfields — including four Superfund projects. He’s on a mission to teach sustainability management to businesses. “Once they see the economic benefits of going green, the transition is easy to sell to shareholders and management,” he tells us.

“In our opinion,” Rafson says, referring to Full Circle, his Chicago-based Sustainability Management Solutions firm, “any business interested in going green should do a cost benefit analysis of tactical opportunities that support their overall strategy and simply look at the return on investment (ROI). Whether it’s through renovating to make a building LEED certified, going to solar power, reducing waste stream, etc. — if you filter all the tactics by ROI, the steps become obvious. If you execute on the projects that have immediate and real economic impact, you can stair-step toward more complex projects with longer term ROI.”

Blue Planet Green Living (BPGL) spoke with Rafson from his Chicago office to find out more about how he is teaching businesses to go green — and how well it’s working. This is Part 1 of a four-part interview. — Julia Wasson, Publisher


BPGL: If it’s economically beneficial to go green, why aren’t more businesses doing it?

RAFSON: In my mind, the problem of gaining traction with the business world is that they get bombarded by all these great strategies. Any one of them may be good for the environment, but there are so many strategies that the business managers get lost. One company had a 250-page sustainability strategy. They hadn’t implemented any of it, simply because it was so overwhelming.

A CD collection takes up space that a electronic downloads do not. © Elenathewise_Fotolia.com

BPGL: How do you convince a business to get started, when it seems such a huge task?

RAFSON: Our focus is that you can make money doing it. It’s not just about creating a better image, but about the economy of becoming more energy efficient, material efficient, transportation efficient, and more efficient in packaging. When you start to talk about cradle-to-grave, you can make real change. Look at WAL-MART; they changed their national waste program and saved $33 Million in the first year. It’s not just good for the earth, its good business.

Think about iTunes, for example. Eventually, a hard physical recording of media, theoretically, will no longer be needed. You can get all your music through electronic media. They’re selling pure information — intellectual property — as opposed to taking oil and aluminum, creating a CD, shipping it, putting it on a shelf, having to heat that space that you put the CD in, and so on.

There are many industries stuck in old technologies. The transition companies are starting to make is in realizing there are big economic advantages to doing things differently.

Checking tire pressure every day saved thousands of dollars for a garbage hauler. © Robert Pernell_Fotolia.com

BPGL: How about an example of a company that can’t deliver its goods electronically?

RAFSON: Republic Services (which recently merged with Allied Waste Industries) is one of the largest waste hauling companies in the world. They’re making incremental transitions in all sorts of ways, but changing the entire way they do business? That’s huge. It may take a decade or two to get there. So, they’re making little steps.

For example, no driver is allowed to get in the truck till they check that they’ve got the correct tire pressure. With this simple action, they’re saving between 1 and 1 ½ percent on fuel.

When you think about the fact that a fleet of 1,000 urban trucks will spend about $18-25 Million on fuel in one year, and you realize a company like Republic has 15,000 trucks…. Do the math. Tire pressure checks and maintenance become vastly more important than just keeping the trucks rolling. They’ll eventually have an impact on the company’s carbon footprint and help prepare them for cap and trade.

BPGL: That’s a significant savings for a trucking company, especially when fuel prices are high. What can other companies do?

RAFSON: Basically, every industry needs to look at how they can save fuel. In November, United Airlines flew to Australia. They did lots of strategizing and, without changing the plane at all, they saved 1,600 gallons of fuel. They flew at the same altitude, but slower. They reduced the amount of water on the plane and did everything they could to reduce weight.

It’s all about looking at what you’re carrying to reduce your drag. They avoided wind turbulence. They calculated the amount of fuel they needed more accurately, and used a constant descent vector on approach. They could have saved 2,600 gallons of fuel, if they hadn’t had to fly around a storm.

What usually happens is that a company focuses on their core business, and they’re already making transitions there. They don’t always look at other parts of their business. The reality for the airline industry is that 95 to 98% of their carbon footprint is the plane. But that’s leaving out the discussion of what to do with the ground equipment, anything outside of the plane.

United Airlines is committed to switching their ground gear to electric. Already, almost 100 percent of their pushback equipment is diesel electric or pure electric. They have other equipment they still need to transition.

A lot of airlines that don’t have electric equipment have gone to no-idle policies: If it’s not moving, it’s off. We may think that’s a simple idea, but it’s changing the way of thinking. Drivers don’t like to restart diesel engines when it’s cold outside. They used to turn the baggage trucks on in the morning and off at night. The trucks would run all day. Turning them off when not in use requires a cultural change, a change in the way of thinking.

BPGL: You mentioned that real change wouldn’t happen through regulation, but through realization of the economic benefits. Tell us a little more about that.

RAFSON: It’s so obvious and mind-blowing that people don’t think of it that way. In the past, most industries focused only on the strategies with regulatory pressure on them: air, water, CAFE [corporate average fuel economy] standards — whatever. Obviously when they quit changing the CAFE standards, all U.S.-based automakers quit thinking they needed to do anything more in terms of increased efficiency.

Changing from diesel to electric vehicles is economical, but requires a change of mindset.

Changing from diesel to electric vehicles is economical, but requires a change of mindset. © Pix by Marti_Fotolia.com

Now, we’re not only dealing with greenhouse gases, but with terrorism and hugely high oil prices (not today, but they’ll be back again) as the economic drivers. U.S. automakers are losing out, because they didn’t think people really cared. When the price of gas was around $3.75/gallon, I estimated a Prius driven the average 12,000 miles per year saves $1,200 or $1,300. That’s assuming the Prius gets 55 miles per gallon (mpg), and that the average US car gets 22 mpg.

The average American keeps a car for 9 1/2 or 10 years, so the saving is about $12,000. Subtract that from the actual price of a car, and it’s a whole lot cheaper than anything else Americans have on the market.

If you look at it that way, selling a “cheap” car isn’t necessarily selling a cheap car. You have to look at the life cycle and operating cost for the vehicle, and then focus on additional strategies.

BPGL: What do you mean by “additional strategies”?

RAFSON: Somebody had a great idea for the Prius: Plug it into your business or home. Drain the battery during peak power and fill it up during non-peak power. In Chicago, the ROI for doing that with a Prius is something over $1,000 year. This is especially true during the summer, when the cost of electricity doubles in the daytime while air conditioning is running. You’re basically reducing the peak load demand.

Conceptually, one vehicle doesn’t matter; 100 doesn’t matter. But when you start to get to millions of vehicles, you start to change the structure of power distribution. You change the structure of demand. Then, if you add solar PV to the grid along with other inconsistent power generation devices, like wind, you can actually stabilize the power grid using strategies like this.

Julia Wasson

Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)

Related Posts


Part 1: The Positive Economics of Going Green (Top of Page)

Part 2: Tax Incentives Boost Green ROI

Part 3: Going Green Requires a Cultural Change

Part 4: Saving Money By Going Green

Tailgating for a Common Green Purpose

Tailgating for A Common Green Purpose

Heading to the tailgate video shoot in frigid Chicago weather. Photo: Julia Wasson

Heading to the tailgate video shoot in frigid Chicago weather. Photo: Julia Wasson

Did you watch the Bears play the Packers yesterday from the warmth of your home? Maybe you were among the frozen fans braving 7-degree weather to root for your favorite team on the shores of Lake Michigan. Blue Planet Green Living was there, too, tailgating in the parking lot of the Adler Planetarium nearby.

Rob Rafson, environmental engineer and sustainability management consultant. Photo: Julia Wasson

Rob Rafson, environmental engineer and sustainability management consultant. Photo: Julia Wasson

So, go ahead, ask. What does the Bears/Packers game — or tailgating, for that matter — have to do with being green? It’s a fair question.

Our host yesterday was the Big Green Egg, the company that makes an ancient grilling system turned modern that we’ll tell more about another day. This was the kickoff filming for an upcoming television pilot featuring luminary chefs — like Dean Eliacostas from Carmichael’s Chicago Steakhouse — cooking Around the Grill in 80 Days on Big Green Egg grills. Despite the bitter weather, we kept warm and comfortable, in a beautiful motor coach provided for the video shoot by Liberty Coach.

The food was delicious — amazing, in fact — but the driver for our participation was the opportunity to meet with a few of the leaders in the green movement in the Chicago area. In coming weeks, we’ll share with you what we learned about how environmental engineers, architects, and grassroots organizers are planning for, and implementing, progressive projects in sustainability. We think you’ll be inspired by what each of these people has to say.

Lisa and Ron Elkins, green architects, 2 Point Perspective. Photo: Julia Wasson

Lisa and Ron Elkins, green architects, 2 Point Perspective. Photo: Julia Wasson

We’ll introduce you to environmental engineer, Rob Rafson, of Full Circle Sustainability Management Solutions. Full Circle’s “mission is to make ‘going green’ profitable, and show return on investment so that true sustainability is achievable.” And the company is doing just that.

Rob is responsible for the largest solar thermal rooftop installation in Chicago — at an overall cost savings. What’s more impressive, perhaps, is that the installation is part of a brownfield renovation. He’s cleaned up a formerly toxic paint manufacturing facility and created a healthy space that uses solar energy to heat the building. Joe and I recently interviewed Rafson and soon will share with you his thoughts on sustainable business practices.

Susan Roothan, founder of A Nurtured World. Photo: Julia Wasson

Susan Roothan, founder of A Nurtured World. Photo: Julia Wasson

Green architects Lisa and Ron Elkins designed the Green Exchange, an all-green office building created by renovating a former men’s underwear factory in downtown Chicago. Their firm, 2 Point Perspective Inc., also won the competition to design a zero-energy home. We’ll be telling you more as they prepare to break ground. Like Rafson, the Elkins team is involved in multiple projects worth our attention, and we will help spread the word.

We also had the privilege to meet face-to-face with Susan Roothaan, founder of A Nurtured World in Austin, Texas. Susan’s roots are in Hyde Park, where her parents still live, just two blocks from President-elect Obama’s home. On December 12, we introduced you to Rays of Hope and 1 House at a Time in Renewable Energy, A Tool for Social Equity, projects operating under the umbrella of Roothaan’s nonprofit.

Something quite wonderful is now happening, as community organizers in Hyde Park — including Susan’s 84-year-old mother, Judy Roothaan, and neighbor Sharon Klopner — work to implement a Rays of Hope-type of project in their own neighborhood.

They will be sharing with Mr. Obama ideas about retrofitting the older homes, rather than razing them. They want funding to put solar panels on roofs, like Rays of Hope and Rafson have done. And they want to use eco-friendly materials to make these buildings energy efficient, like Rafson, the Elkins team, and Roothaan’s team are doing. Support from grants and tax incentives will be key to making this happen, and both Roothaan and Rafson have extensive experience to share.

Sharon Klopner, Hyde Park grassroots activist and environmentalist. Photo: Julia Wasson

Sharon Klopner, Hyde Park grassroots activist and environmentalist. Photo: Julia Wasson

The interchange of ideas last night was electric. What it showed us all was the incredible power of people working independently toward a common purpose, and how much more effective that can be when we share our knowledge and visions with each other.

Yes, even a tailgate can be an inspirational green experience. Please stay tuned to find out more about what we learned and, especially, to hear about the important work happening in Chicago. Then let us know what’s going on in your city, so we can spread the word and build the kind of synergy we were privileged to be a part of last night.

Julia Wasson

Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)

Related Posts:

Renewable Energy, A Tool for Social Equity

Improve Quality of Life by Lowering Your Carbon Footprint