My 5: Susan Roothan, A Nurtured World

January 1, 2009 by  
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BPGL: What are the five most important things we can do to save the planet?

1. Slow down — inside and out. Pay attention to your families. Educate your kids. Don’t rush to the store every five minutes. Don’t run out when you’re bored.

Susan Roothaan, A Nurtured World

Susan Roothaan, A Nurtured World

2. Be accountable. Do something measurable. Quit talking about it and do it. There’s a lot of talking and not a lot of This is what I’m going to do and by when.

3. Contribute to others. Engage others in taking action. Give your knowledge away.

4. Hit the big ones: Driving, energy, and food. That’s what’s going to make a difference.

5. Think. Use your brain. It’s a great way to reduce your footprint.

Susan Roothaan

Executive Director, A Nurtured World

Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)

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People at all income levels can make changes to save energy and reduce their footprint.

People at all income levels can make changes to save energy and reduce their footprint.Photo: Courtesy A Nurtured Worl

“It doesn’t matter if you think you’re an environmentalist,” says Susan Roothaan, executive director of A Nurtured World, “your footprint isn’t proportional to your opinions and views, but to your income level. I’ve seen some conservatives with lower carbon footprints than radical leftists. People’s actions don’t always follow their opinions.”

Roothaan’s nonprofit provides workshops for both high- and low-income families, to help them reduce expenses by reducing their carbon footprints. What follows is part two of a two-part interview with Roothan, where we continue the discussion about A Nurtured World. — Publisher


BPGL: The Rays of Hope project (see Renewable Energy, a Tool for Social Equity), which is under the umbrella of your 501(c)3, focuses on families with limited incomes. Are you having as great an effect with upper-income families?

ROOTHAN: The people who need to drop their footprint the most are the upper-income people, so we started with a focus on them. And it’s working.

The family living in this home reduced their footprint by 2.1 tons each year.

The family living in this home reduced their footprint by 2.1 tons each year.

I’m a chemical engineer and a measurement nut. I talk to 15 percent of our workshop participants afterward to find out what they’ve done, so I have detailed knowledge of their actions. Measuring not only tells us how our programs are doing, but it also makes an impact on the workshop participant. When they see that their actions cause measurable results, it motivates more action.

BPGL: What caused you to add workshops for people in lower income groups?

ROOTHAAN: We began to work with people in lower-income groups to help them save money. There are a couple of reasons that we became excited about working with them. One is how much of a difference we’re making in their lives. For example, our partners in Meals on Wheels tell us that some of these families are forced to choose between energy and food. Our program has made it easier for them to meet their expenses.

The hope in this country is that everyone can become upper income. What A Nurtured World provides is a way to increase fulfillment without increasing your footprint. As people improve their economic position in society, we teach them how to do it in a way that adds a lot of fulfillment but not a lot of carbon footprint.

BPGL: Give an example of how that works.

Repairing duct leaks reduces home energy bills.

Repairing duct leaks reduces home energy bills.

ROOTHAAN: One thing we work on is helping people cut back how much money they spend. When people spend money, they usually think, I’m spending $10, not I had to work x amount of time to earn the money to pay for this. We teach people to shift how they look at money, to think of it as time. We ask them, “When you spend $10 at a fast food place, how long do you have to work to earn that?”

We show people that they don’t just have to work long enough to earn $10; they also have to pay tax on the money they earn. So, if they earn $10 an hour, they really work longer than an hour to pay for the item. When you spend, you need to ask, Is it worth the time I gave for that thing?

As Vicki Robin says in Your Money or Your Life, spending is not just giving away money, it’s giving away your life energy.

BPGL: That’s an important lesson that every kid should learn.

ROOTHAAN: I agree. One of my attendees suggested we take what we teach to adults and correlate it to the school system in Texas, so we’ve started a professional development program to train teachers on how to teach their students these concepts.

BPGL: How do you translate the workshop information to something meaningful for kids?

ROOTHAAN: We took a look at the Texas state standards, which are very prescriptive, and adapted our curriculum to middle school. We kept the heart of it, but shored it up to show the connections that make it relevant to the kids.

Check the energy rating on new appliances before you buy.

Check the energy rating on new appliances before you buy.

We adapt the money versus time issue to kids by asking, If you buy a CD for $14, how many times do you have to mow the lawn to pay for it? And we teach this in a way that meets an algebra standard. We look at what the kids are learning and figure out an activity to connect it to.

BPGL: How widespread is your teacher-training program?

ROOTHAAN: We’re working with 6th- through 8th-grade teachers of math, science, and English. Right now we’re only in Texas, but we’ll soon be doing programs in Oklahoma and Arizona.

We’ve also started to develop a program for second-grade teachers. I’m interested in science and environment being real for people, so it’s not this environment OUT THERE, like a nature preserve, but right here, right now, where it makes a difference. When you’re little and see a picture of a bird, that picture isn’t part of you. It’s “out there”; it isn’t real to you.

In second grade, the kids learn through hands-on experience about the effort it takes to move things. So the teachers have the kids load up little trucks with something heavy, like gravel, and something light, like cotton balls. We let them push the little trucks to see which takes more effort to move. Then we take the students outside to look at real trucks and get them to think about which ones require more gas to move. We get them to see it firsthand so it becomes real to them.

BPGL: How are the school programs funded?

ROOTHAAN: We have support from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The EPA has been our lifeblood in many ways. One of the first people at EPA who believed in us and saw what we could do was Joy Campbell.

Installing an attic fan can cut your home energy bills and your carbon footprint.

Installing an attic fan can cut your home energy bills and your carbon footprint.

BPGL: It seems that what you’re doing is as much about clarifying one’s values as it is about environmentalism.

ROOTHAAN: An interesting question that we raise — primarily with middle and upper-income groups — is, “How much of what I spend goes to fulfillment versus waste? In over 1,000 people so far, we’re hearing that it’s roughly 50 percent before the workshop. This is a huge place where most environmental groups are not working.

By rethinking before we spend, and spending only for things that provide actual fulfillment, we also reduce our ecological footprint. Mathis Wakernagel and William Rees first put forth the concept of the ecological footprint in 1992. In 2003, experts calculated that the earth’s carrying capacity was about 1.8 global hectares (4.4 acres) per person. Meanwhile, the average American’s ecological footprint is about 9.6 global hectares (23.7 acres) per person for resource use and waste absorption.

BPGL: We’re very out of balance. Certainly, we all need to make changes in our lifestyles.

ROOTHAAN: The good news is that giving up a fair portion of our footprint isn’t much of a hardship for many people. If what we give up isn’t providing us with fulfillment, then giving it up is actually a freedom.

Installing the right amount of insulation is a wise investment.

Installing the right amount of insulation is a wise investment that will lower your home energy use. Photo: Courtesy A Nurtured World

However, when you start looking at lower income groups, reducing your footprint can be a hardship, especially if it means giving up food. That’s why the Rays of Hope/One House project is so exciting. We help people lower their energy footprint so they have that extra money for food. Dropping your footprint when you can’t eat isn’t something you want to think about. Many people in lower income groups say, “Listen, I don’t want to give anything up.” Yet, for a lot of people in middle- and upper income groups, it’s freeing. If you can give up the clutter before you’re forced to, you’re ahead of the game.

BPGL: What would you say to our readers if they were in your workshop today?

ROOTHAN: I would ask each of your readers — and you — to commit to a specific change right now. So if you liked what you learned from this article, commit to and implement something to save money, drop your footprint, and improve your level of fulfillment. I encourage you all to email me with your commitment at susan.roothaan@nurturedworld.org. Make it your New Year’s resolution.

Part 1: Improve Quality of Life by Lowering Your Carbon Footprint
Part 2: Save the Planet (and Money) by Living Your Values (Top of Page)

Julia Wasson

Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)

Related Posts:

Tailgating for a Common Green Purpose

Renewable Energy, a Tool for Social Equity

Your Money or Your Life: 9 Steps to Transforming Your Relationship with Money and Achieving Financial Independence: Revised and Updated for the 21st Century

Improve Quality of Life by Lowering Your Carbon Footprint

Roothaan demonstrates that reducing your footprint can be as easy as composting leftovers from a backyard barbecue. Photo: Courtesy Susan Roothaan

Roothaan demonstrates that reducing your footprint can be as easy as composting leftovers from a backyard barbecue. Photo: Courtesy Susan Roothaan

Of the three terms most associated with environmentalism at the consumer level — Rethink, Reuse, Recycle — the first one is probably the most overlooked. Yet, according to Susan Roothaan, founder and executive director of A Nurtured World, rethinking how we spend our money can have a huge impact on the environment. It can also increase our quality of life.

It might be surprising to learn how easily the average person in an industrialized nation can make changes to reduce our carbon footprints. Want to learn how to reduce yours? Roothaan’s workshop teaches how to improve your quality of life and save money all while reducing your impact on the planet.

Blue Planet Green Living (BPGL) talked with Roothaan from her home office in Austin, Texas, and later met her at the Bears/Packers tailgate I wrote about yesterday (see Tailgating for a Common Green Purpose). What follows is part one of a two-part series. — Publisher


BPGL: Your environmental work combines ecology and economy. How did you get interested in the combination of the two?

ROOTHAAN: For 20 years, I worked to help businesses, industries, and the military reduce their waste output. They call it “pollution prevention.” You’re reducing something at its source versus cleaning up at the end. This is also being a good businessperson.

So I did a lot of thinking about how this would apply to the consumer sector. When I first started this nonprofit, consumer environmentalism was in its infancy. I realized that the model of environmentalism for the consumer is that it’s saving money. Most people think it’s just going and buying a more expensive product [to reduce energy use]. But if you’re really going to be green, it’s about being frugal — how to get more fulfillment out of fewer resources and less waste.

Then I started to think about what was the mission, or product, of an individual. One of the things we do — and this is what started A Nurtured World — we developed a workshop that caused people to fundamentally change their behavior. It caused them to look at what’s important to them, as well as how they’re spending their money.

BPGL: What do participants learn in your workshops?

ROOTHAAN: In the workshops, we teach that the top three consumer impacts on the environment are transportation, food consumption, and home energy use. If you’re going to change your behavior, it’s good to know what the big impacts are. And, according to the US Consumer Bureau Statistics, the top areas of spending are transportation, home, and eating. So, if you want to protect the environment, then be cheap.

Workshop participants checking in.

Workshop participants checking in.

We partnered with the military and gave a series of three workshops at Fort Hood with the soldiers and their spouses. Most of the people were not environmentalists, but it was really great. We measured the results of our workshop, and the average participant is saving $1,500 per year.

On average, Americans produce about 20 tons of carbon per person per year. If you remember, a couple years ago, Sting did a concert to raise awareness and tried to get everyone to reduce their carbon footprints by a ton and a half a year. Our workshop participants each reduced their footprint by two tons per year.

BPGL: How do you get people to make such a big shift in behavior?

ROOTHAAN: A lot of the footprint reduction we see is the result of being more conscious about what you’re choosing to do and asking if it’s leading to what you really want in life. It’s all about cost vs. payoff. We look at what’s important to them. Mostly we hear them say family and religion, God, and faith. These are two areas that are really important to people.

We get them to look at how they spend their money. A lot of spending is not done consciously. We work with people to let go of things that don’t lead to fulfillment.

It’s moving to me to see the results some of these people make. I’ve heard comments like, “I’m saving $50 a month now, and I wasn’t saving anything before.” That kind of money makes a difference to soldiers. Another attendee remarked, “Things are much more harmonious [in my home].” She indicated that her family was finally paying off debt and had money now for family vacations.

We didn’t start with the intention to help people save money, but that really is very meaningful for people on a day-to-day basis.

BPGL: That’s interesting, to approach environmentalism through personal finances. It sounds like a very positive way to make behavioral change.

ROOTHAAN: In 2002, when I started this, we hadn’t had [Hurricane] Katrina or Al Gore’s movie. Now the consciousness is changing; people really care about the environment. But they were always pushed back by [environmental leaders] saying, “You’re bad and wrong.” There was not a lot of space for someone who had never done anything to start doing something about the environment. People may not know what to do, but the desire to do something is really strong.

Roothaan asks participants to consider their purpose, then make changes accordingly.

Roothaan asks participants to consider their purpose, then make changes accordingly.

BPGL: So, your approach requires people to look at the way they spend money. Anything else?

ROOTHAAN: We’re hitting on three things: commitment to the environment, saving money, and having a life that’s more fulfilling. Different people are motivated by different things. If we’re teaching a higher-income person, money may not be their motivation. Their motivation might be that they want to leave a better place for their kids. Or they may decide that harming the environment is inconsistent with their faith.

BPGL: Recently, we ran an article about Rays of Hope (see Renewable Energy, a Tool for Social Equity), which is one of the projects under the umbrella of A Nurtured World. How does the Rays of Hope project tie in with your workshops?

ROOTHAAN: In Rays of Hope, we upgrade low-income homes. What we’ve done is to take ideas from the workshop and build them into the retrofit. We’re not doing just a physical retrofit, but also teaching the homeowners to make behavioral changes with information from our workshop.

My interest is in shifting behavior for all people in a way that gives them great lives. Months to years after the workshop, some of the participants have told me, “I’m spending more time with my family than I did before.” Because they’ve got their money under control, they now have more time for what matters to them.

In some cases, they realize that instead of spending their time working for the money to acquire things, then spending time maintaining those things, they’re now spending time “being” with their family. It could be that, through the workshop, they got clear on what’s most important to them: their family, not their stuff.

Part 1: Improve Quality of Life by Lowering Your Carbon Footprint (Top of Page)
Part 2: Save the Planet (and Money) by Living Your Values

Julia Wasson

Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)

Related Posts:

Tailgating for a Common Green Purpose

Renewable Energy, a Tool for Social Equity

Your Money or Your Life: 9 Steps to Transforming Your Relationship with Money and Achieving Financial Independence: Revised and Updated for the 21st Century

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