I was privileged to participate on a panel at a women’s breakfast hosted by the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy at the end of April. The title was “Be Your Own Environmental Hero: Fresh Strategies without the Politics.” I’ve been thinking a lot about this topic and reflecting on why this issue is so important to me.
As someone of faith, it is a matter of stewardship of this amazing planet we call home and how to make all of the incredible beauty and diversity of the natural world last for future generations. As someone who loves the outdoors the value of clean air and water is beyond anything that money can buy. Being in nature grounds me like nothing else. It is frightening to see the changes that have occurred in the northern Minnesota forests in my lifetime as well as the disappearance of so many species of birds and animals worldwide. I believe it is the one issue that can surpass any political boundaries or ideology since it is basic science. Ignoring this issue impacts our children and future generations in ways that we can’t even imagine.
I’ve spent my life trying to do what I can to have a lighter footprint on the earth. Over the years I’ve been an excellent recycler, and yet I know that is not enough. We try to not buy things that are overly packaged, but the ease of Amazon and the boxes showing up on the doorstep is hard to resist. We had a Prius for years but sold it because the low clearance was an issue for our North Country rugged roads. We try to limit our water use, turn off lights, unplug electronics, use reusable bags, buy recycled paper towels and toilet paper, compost, and yet we use too much gas as we drive north each weekend in the summer. We are inconsistent humans! But when we’ve had a chance to do something bigger, more meaningful we’ve jumped at the chance.
In 2011, when the circumstances of storm damage and mold led to a total remodel of our Wisconsin lake place, we installed a geothermal system. This means that we virtually have no cost to provide our place with heat (or air conditioning though we rarely use that) other than the electricity to run the fans and pumps. One of our friends put a system in their home in Minneapolis.
In 2014, we were able to put 36 solar panels on our house in Minneapolis and since then have produced more electricity than we have used. One of the byproducts of this is the ability to watch our electric consumption in real time to see what happens when we use a vacuum and what the electric load is when nothing is happening – still too much! Both systems should pay for themselves in about 10 years, thus creating a positive impact that should last for many more years.
At Birchwood, as we’ve indicated in our newsletters, we are focused on all the things we can do – recycling as much as possible, reusing paper for printing as much as possible and cutting down on paper used overall in our still intensive paper industry. One staff member takes our compost home and another takes the plastic home that our building doesn’t recycle.
As I’ve written about before, I’ve been involved in Sustainable Responsible Impact Investing (SRI), also known as using Environmental/Sustainable/Governance factors in making investment decisions for over 25 years. Companies all over the world are reviewing the impact that climate change will have on their companies and making plans accordingly – both to work towards mitigating their impact on climate change as well as positioning themselves to take advantage of the new technology and solutions being created to work on this challenge.
We celebrate the better efficiency in cars, and the heightened awareness of the need to shift our energy sources from oil. But all of our individual efforts, important as they are, are not enough. The need to continue to influence public policy is critical. No matter what your political persuasion you can ask your elected officials what more they can do to address this major issue. If you are interested in more information on any of this, I’d be delighted to have further conversations.