Go Green!

Folio Weekly | December 10, 2007
This week, Folio Weekly joins with 30 member papers of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies in commemorating the decade of mostly lost opportunities since most industrialized nations signed the Kyoto Accord. Although the United States refused to ratify the treaty or commit to specific reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, that hasn't stopped individual states, businesses and people across the country from making important changes in their own lives and backyards.

Northeast Florida is no exception. Here, Folio Weekly profiles several local climate change activists -- people who’ve made the important, meaningful and often surprisingly easy decision to go green. Their experience is more than just an inspiration: It's a roadmap for action.

Living The Green: Gretchen Ferrell

A former resident of Costa Rica, Gretchen Ferrell knows from experience what it's like to live environmentally "lean." She also knows how Northeast Florida measures up.

"It's not good, relatively," says the 30-year old ecotourism promoter. "We live in a first-world country, so people don't see the need to ride bikes. And there's not an availability of local food."

To counter that, Ferrell (sister of Folio Weekly art director Maia Ferrell), who now works from her Jacksonville Beach home, grows the majority of the vegetables she eats, and buys them only if she absolutely needs them. Her current crop includes salad greens -- arugula, mustard greens, leaf lettuces -- along with broccoli, cabbage, kale, sugar snap peas, tomatoes, hot peppers, sweet peppers, blueberries, strawberries, avocados, lemons, papayas and bananas.

She irrigates her garden with recycled rainwater, using catchments attached to rain gutters on her home. Those catchments are recycled, too; three 55-gallon tanks that formerly belonged to a car wash.

That kind of recycling is important, says Ferrell, who notes that washing and reusing containers that products already come in is an easy way to reduce excesses. Bread bags and yoghurt containers, for example, can be easily used again.

"For me it's a fun challenge to figure out how to live without making much of a footprint. I bike everywhere that I need to go. You get to meet people. It's just better."

But according to Ferrell, the biggest "green" action might come straight from your wallet. By purchasing only those items manufactured with a commitment to environmental sustainability, she believes, ordinary people can effect change.

"Each of our little decisions affects the world as a whole," she says. "Each vote with our dollar says that's what we’re OK with. It affects in a good way how my children and grandchildren will live if each of us makes better decisions."

by dennis ho

Green Power: Neil and Scott Eastman

When Neil Eastman retired to St. Augustine Beach in 2001, he and his wife, Mary, built a 3,000-square-foot home in Island Hammock. Their son, Scott, lived just a mile away, and the couple soon found themselves inside their son's ecological orbit. Scott Eastman is in charge of monitoring the county's sea turtle habitats and a passionate environmentalist. He drives a Prius and had told his father he'd been thinking about installing solar panels on his home.

The project appealed to the technophile in the senior Eastman, who is retired from Motorola, IBM and XM Satellite Radio. "I have been a technology junkie my whole life," he says. "As I got more into it, I thought, 'Hey, this is really doable and makes a lot of sense.'"

After reading up on solar power, Eastman took it upon himself to install solar electricity and solar water-heating systems at his and his son's homes. Eastman asked several companies to bid on the installation and chose SunWorks Solar Systems of Jacksonville to install a 5,000-watt solar grid on his house and a 3,000-watt system on his son's 2,000-square-foot home. He paid $47,500 for his system and Scott paid $35,000 for his. (After $24,500 in government rebates, Eastman's system cost $24,000 and his son's cost $16,000.)

Because Eastman was interested in tracking his savings, he also installed a communication device that feeds electricity readings into his home computer. "I can look at it by the minute," he says. The savings have been stunning. He used 3,800 kilowatt hours of electricity and paid $500-a-month electric bills to Florida Power & Light before he went solar. Afterwards, his bills were far less. A bill from August 2007 was $200, for instance -- $300 less than he paid in 2006. FP&L also buys the excess power that Eastman doesn't use.

"The root of global warning is the emission of carbon dioxide," he says, "whether from the automobile or from electrical power generation. The fact that you can reduce that proportionate to your own use is huge."

Since installing solar panels on his home, Eastman has been questioned about them by neighbors. He even hosted a solar power information session at his home and one of his neighbors has gone solar. "You can't sit down and make a budget and say you're going to put this much into it and get this much back," he says. "I get a lot of feel-good out of it, as far as making some kind of contribution to the reduction of carbon emissions."

And he now has his eye on the sexy Tesla Roadster electric sports car.

by susan cooper eastman

Leading Green: Breaking Ground Contracting Company

Mary Tappouni spent the past 10 years building a successful construction company. But even as her business, Breaking Ground Contracting, was thriving, she grew more conflicted about the wastefulness of the building industry. The construction trades contribute 40 percent of the material in landfills, and it bothered Tappouni that her livelihood flouted the organic, sustainable, nontoxic, non-polluting values that guide her personal life.

In response, she began a self-education in green building practices and has since transformed her company into a model of environmental leadership. Tappouni sells clients on using sustainable materials and recycles whatever is reuseable on job sites.

"There is still a paradigm shift that needs to happen in Jacksonville," she explains. "The perception is that green buildings cost more or that you sacrifice amenities or everything is going to be made out of wheat board."

On a recent renovation project for Tritt & Franson law firm in downtown Jacksonville, Breaking Ground tore out old cabinetry and installed cabinets made of eco-friendly woods. The old wooden cabinets were reused on other jobs rather than discarded. The company used nontoxic paints and recommended that Tritt & Franson add windows to its offices so that every employee had a view of nature. The company also installed individual thermostat controls to give employees control over their immediate environment. Instead of overhead lighting, the firm now uses desk lamps.

Inside Breaking Ground, everyone contributes ideas to green the workplace -- from ridding the lunchroom of plastic utensils to buying used blueprints for office notepads. Tappouni shows her commitment by buying TerraPasses to offset carbon use for the mileage on all company travel. (TerraPass dollars fund clean energy and efficiency projects.) As a company perk this year, Tappouni offered to make the down payment on any employee car that gets than at least 35 miles to the gallon. And next year, Breaking Ground will chronicle on their blog (sustainbuild.net) the replacement of the roof on their offices at 4218 Highway Ave. in Jacksonville with a green roof that features solar panels and low-lying groundcover.

"We're a small business," says Tappouni. "If we can do it and have a model for it, other small businesses can do it, too. We put our money where our mouth is."

by susan cooper eastman

Selling Green: The Green Home Store

The Green Home Store owner Robert Balch came into green building as a builder and contractor, so he knows the practical side of the business. But the eco-friendly building design business he started this summer with partner Peter Kaltenekker is partly evangelical. The Green Home Store sells only green products -- from sleek bamboo wall panels known as plyboo to linoleum-like flooring made of flax seed called marmoleum to toxin-free paint made without volatile organic compounds (VOCs). They also sell tankless hot-water heaters (just under $900) and grey-water recycling systems (under $1,900) that treat water from sinks and bathtubs for use in toilets.

The store's West King Street digs in St. Augustine are sleek and minimalistic -- everything The Home Depot is not. But the store still manages to inspire a DIY zeal for home improvement projects. Coquina floors, glass tiling, clay applications for textured walls, sea rock countertops and glass-block-looking panels made of recycled plastic bottles are all on display and are surprisingly affordable -- or at least not significantly more costly than their unsustainable counterparts.

What Balch hopes to do, ultimately, is build homes that are completely green using his own energy-efficient designs and Structural Insulated Panels, or SIP. These highly insulated and mold-resistant panels eliminate the need for most wood in construction but are far sturdier. Balch's home designs, on display at the store, also incorporate energy efficient windows, environmentally friendly insulation, high-efficiency air conditioning and solar electricity.

While Balch wants to sell the complete package to homeowners, Kaltenekker's job is to sell the local building industry on the multiple benefits of using green component parts. Cost remains a concern of builders, he says, but he insists green building also saves green -- for homeowners and builders alike.

For those who are considering building a home, remodeling an existing home or are merely curious about what's available in the world of green home improvement, the store is a window into the world of possibility. The Green Home Store is located at 250A W. King St. in St. Augustine. 826-3466.

by anne schindler

Government Green: St. Johns County Public Works Department

Fleet Management Division Manager Gary Emerson floated the idea of manufacturing biodiesel for St. Johns County's diesel vehicles on a challenge from his boss over lunch. Public Works Director Joe Stephenson says he asked Emerson to think like he was working in the private sector and come up with some ideas to improve county operations. A short time later, Emerson told his boss that he thought he could save the county fuel costs by manufacturing biodiesel from used cooking oil.

Emerson rigged up a rudimentary processing plant and mixed the byproduct with diesel and successfully ran several county vehicles on the stuff. The project developed last year from a small operation to a pilot project funded by the county with the aim of switching all county diesel vehicles, including fire trucks, to an 80-20 biodiesel mix.

Emerson left the county last year (ironically for a job in the private sector) but the project has continued to gather steam. County Public Works employees Doug Tarbox and Raymond Inman are building a manufacturing facility that's almost ready to go online.

"We're working the final bugs out," says Stephenson. He estimates that the biodiesel will cost $2 a gallon, compared to the $3.50 a gallon the county currently spends on diesel fuel. That will add up to significant savings, since the county uses 350,000 gallons of fuel a year.

"It sounds like a tremendous amount of diesel fuel," says Stephenson, "but it is nothing compared to what is burned in this country. In terms of addressing the problem, you have to go back to that book from the '70s, Future Shock. You have to think globally and act locally. You are never going to attack global warming in one fell swoop. But this will make the fuel that we burn much cleaner and that much less damaging to the environment."

by susan cooper Eastman

Eating Green: Cabbage Creek Farm

Chances are that "sensible" dinner you enjoyed last night traveled hundreds or thousands of miles to make it to your plate. That's a lot of carbon-dioxide to be expended for some protein, a starch, a veggie and a glass of milk. In recent years, the Atkins' carb-counting craze has been eclipsed by the carbon-counting craze, and as the public grows more aware how much their food consumption choices impact the environment, locally grown foods have become a more popular option. One local grower, Ava Ferguson of Cabbage Creek Farm in Hilliard, is making the choice easier for the residents of Nassau County.

Just last August, on a plot of old pastureland leased from her parents, Ferguson and some friends planted the vegetable and flower seeds that would become Cabbage Creek's first crop. Besides bringing the farm's produce to Fernandina Beach's farmer's market (held from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. every Saturday), Cabbage Creek participates in CSA, or Community Supported Agriculture, a program that allows stakeholders to buy in and receive weekly groceries fresh from the farm. With just 15 members thus far, Cabbage Creek's CSA program is relatively small, but important.

"I really like the idea of CSAs," says Ferguson. "I really think it works well for the farmers and the people who participate."

Ferguson, 26, says the decision to become a farmer was a gradual one. Her parents were gardeners and she attended the environmentally conscious Warren Wilson College near Asheville, N.C., where all students are required to hold a job in order to maintain residency. One of the options was to work on the farm. She also interned at a CSA farm in upstate New York.

"I try in the rest of my life to be conscious of the way I'm impacting the world," says Ferguson. "I live out in the middle of nowhere, so I try to consolidate my trips to town and also to be conscious of where I spend my money. I try to live in a small way with a small impact."

In the end, Ferguson's impact on her community might be larger than she realizes.

To find out more about Cabbage Creek Farms and other local CSAs, visit Localharvest.org.

by gwynedd stuart

Growing Green: Native & Uncommon Plants

With Florida's warm temperatures and abundant rainfall, it seems possible to grow almost anything here. That doesn't mean it's smart. The plant life typically used to beautify local landscapes isn't native to the Sunshine State, and therefore needs excessive amounts of fertilizers, pesticides and water to survive.

When Leslie Pierpont moved to Jacksonville from Connecticut almost a decade ago, she says she was "appalled" by how little locals knew about what plants are native -- including landscapers and those employed at plant nurseries. In Connecticut, Pierpont made a hobby of gardening and running a greenhouse. When she moved to Northeast Florida and discovered that a need for native plant consultation existed, her pragmatic side told her it was time to turn her hobby into a business. Pierpont educated herself on native species -- which she says was made difficult by a dearth of reading material on the topic -- and in 2001, she opened Native & Uncommon Plants in Ortega, a nursery that specializes in, well, native and uncommon plants. As interest in her business has grown, Pierpont has integrated a design and installation service as well. "My job now is to make it pretty, but make them more environmentally conscious," she says.

Besides helping to break homeowners of their wasteful irrigation and fertilization habits, Pierpont is bent on eliminating the invasive species that smother native plants and therefore threaten wildlife that's dependent upon those plants for habitat and sustenance. According to Pierpont, some of these invasives are actually being intentionally planted.

"There's one, the Golden Raintree, that everyone wants to plant because they think it's so pretty,” she says, "but people will be pulling them out a mile from that yard." She offers a $5 credit toward the purchase of plants or consultations for those who bring in an uprooted invasive plant, a small price considering the state spends $2 billion a year eradicating invasives.

by gwynedd stuart

Envisioning Green: Architect Patricia McQuaid

Patricia McQuaid fled Jacksonville as soon as she was of age. After graduating from the University of Virginia and Columbia University School of Architecture, she designed buildings in Hong Kong and New Zealand. But eight years ago, family called her back to Jacksonville. Now, through her company, Form, she is trying to change the way her hometown does architecture -- even if it means just nudging a developer away from cookie cutter and toward modernist, original and sustainable design.

At her own expense, McQuaid is developing plans for an urban condo project where sustainable construction materials will inform the aesthetic and a "green" roof (made of living plants) will keep down heating and cooling costs. The developer for whom McQuaid is working came to her with blueprints for one-story, 2,000-square-foot units marketed to the city's middle-class buyer. The style was Mediterranean stucco with decorative frou-frous to add to its appeal. But McQuaid knows the developer will only be interested in her alternative if her plans meet the same cost per square foot as his.

"It comes down to money for him," she says. "I think of it as a challenge to get him to take that first step, because developers are the ones who really have an impact on our landscape. They have the money. They have the power."

McQuaid has also come to the realization that in order to see the type of housing she would like to design, she may have to become a developer herself. She and her husband, Tony Rieck, have purchased property in downtown Jacksonville's Brooklyn neighborhood and are working on housing designs that will incorporate green roofs, sustainable materials and possibly solar components in a spare modernist design. (They have also started a prototype green roof on their Riverside garage.)

Although McQuaid believes there are buyers in Jacksonville interested in green architecture, she says the county lags behind other locales in embracing sustainable architecture. She says she was unable to obtain approval last year for a grey-water system in a project. She also ran into problems getting a 1930s bungalow rehab on Talbot Avenue in Avondale approved by Riverside Avondale Preservation. Her clients wanted to install a steel roof to collect rainwater for lawn watering instead of using asphalt tile, but RAP wouldn't approve it.

"There are a lot of people in this county who are interested in these ideas," she says. "We just need to show Jacksonville that it can be done and done well."

by susan cooper eastman

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