Do it yourself sustainability on display at Green Building Council event | St. Louis Public Radio

Do it yourself sustainability on display at Green Building Council event

Sep 11, 2013

This article originally appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: From installing home energy monitoring systems to raising one's own poultry, a wide-array of do-it-yourself methods for sustainability took center stage at Schlafly Bottleworks in Maplewood Tuesday night.

“I would say that this is a really neat program that engages the broader audience,” said Hope Gribble, education and green schools coordinator for the Missouri Gateway Chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council. “We invite anyone and everyone to attend and learn more about how they can apply energy efficiency and different sustainability strategies into their lifestyles.”

The brief pecha kucha-style presentations from seven area residents were courtesy of the USGBC’s annual DIY Sustainability showcase, which was funded this year by a grant from St. Louis Earth Day.

“I have something to admit,” presenter Paul Todd Merrill told the gathering. “I don’t practice sustainability all the time. I practice progress, not perfection for a lot of things in my life including sustainability.”

Merrill spoke about the effects of setsuden, a Japanese initiative that reduced energy consumption by 30 percent in the wake of the massive earthquake and tidal wave that devastated the island nation and swamped its Fukushima reactor in early 2011.

Mostly, the decrease in usage was the work of conscientious citizens and businesses, not government mandates.

“It’s something that the country really rallied and got behind,” he said. “They learned new habits, new ways to live. They learned that they can handle disasters.”

He said a similar idea could catch on here and cited the success of anti-littering campaigns of the 1970s as well as the example of Greensburg, Kan., a small village that committed to sustainable models during its rebuilding effort after a 2007 tornado leveled the town.

“How do we act responsibly ahead of time?” he asked. “Do we have to wait for a disaster to occur before we have to implement something?”

He recommended leading by example.

“Speak louder. Speak more often,” he said. “Speak your mind.”

Jennifer Martin knows a thing or two about sustainable living. She and her family left the suburbs to live at Dancing Rabbit, an unusual Missouri settlement of 70 or so people tucked near the Iowa border. The community prides itself on sustainable practices including shunning  personal motor vehicles, avoiding most fossil fuel use and organic gardening.

“We were looking for an answer to the question ‘What does sustainability look like?’” said Martin of her family. “Can we really achieve it? I don’t mean ‘Can we say it is possible to achieve it?’ I mean, ‘Can we actually achieve it?’”

At Dancing Rabbit they did.

“All around us, the planet seemed to be falling apart,” she said. “We wanted to be a bigger part of the solution.”

Not that it has been easy. Water conservation is a way of life and electricity is generated from renewable sources. There were other challenges for the back-to-basics approach.

“Building a house with your bare hands is no small endeavor,” Martin recalled. “It took us three building seasons to complete.”

Meanwhile, the community of 35 homes shares four washing machines, five showers and eight kitchens. But Martin said the benefits outweigh the difficulties.

“We make our own rules and by doing so, create a community that chooses to place sustainability at the top of the priority list,” she said. “Kids don’t have to be taught to be sustainable, they were raised doing it.”

Even the weather seems different somehow.

“There is something magical about being connected to the elements in such a tangible way. Rainy. Sunny. Cloudy. Windy. These words hold deep meaning.”

Josh Davis of The Green Finned Hippy, Inc., an Illinois sustainable agriculture concern was a returnee to the event this year. In 2012, he spoke about raising tilapia. This time he talked about poultry.

“You own dogs. You own cats. Well, why not chickens?” he said. “They’ll lay eggs for you, and they are very tasty.”

He outlined ways a nascent poultry farmer can build mobile coops out of old pallet wood. He said the result can be a more sustainable future for everyone. And farm-fresh eggs taste better anyway.

“When we think about sustainability, we think about energy savings and being more self sufficient in that way, but what about what we need every day?” he said. “We need food.”

Karen Karabell amused the crowd with an enthusiastic presentation on bicycling.

“Contrary to what some people think, I am neither a road warrior nor a bikeaholic, she said. “I simply have learned how to use my bicycle safely and joyously for most of my transportation needs.”

She asked everyone in the audience to take the “one-mile challenge.”

“Twenty-five percent of all auto trips are less than one mile,” she said. “This is easier to traverse on your bicycle than it is in your car. … You’ll be surprised at what is within one mile of your home.”

She also talked at length on bicycle safety including the importance of communication with drivers, how to ride with children and how to check your bike for defects or problems.

Moreover, Karabell feels that awareness of cycling is expanding with MetroLink providing places to stow bikes.

“We are getting racks all over town now,” she also said. “Parking is not an excuse to not ride.”

She even noted the various innovative ways for cyclists to haul items. One photo showed her unhappy feline on a trip to the vet in his pet carrier. “I can promise you that my cat hates the [bike] trailer as much as he hates the car,” she chuckled.

Karabell also mentioned CyclingSavvy, a safety education program for cyclists that has spread to 18 states since its development in Florida.

“Imagine our communities where people feel safe using whatever mode of transport they want to use, where our roadways are filled with humanity again,” she said. “It is possible and we know how to make it happen. I hope you will join me.”

Other presenters spoke on the installation of home energy monitoring equipment, the construction of sustainable housing and the best methods for creating sustainably microbrewed beer.