Leading by Example: Alumni
Many Shades of Green
Albion College's alumni magazine, Io Triumphe!, recently contacted Albion alumni to ask them about how they are practicing or promoting sustainability in their professional and personal lives. In addition to those who have launched green businesses and provided leadership for environmental initiatives in civic life, we heard from alumni who walk or ride bicycles wherever possible, who grow and preserve their own food, and who have installed green energy solutions and otherwise retrofitted their homes for greater efficiency. We hope you enjoy reading these stories.
Biodiversity is my byword. I am a professor in biological sciences at the University of Alberta. I got my start in ecology working with Dr. Clara Dixon at Albion in 1972. The economy of western Canada is based on natural resources, and for the last 25 years, my students and I have been researching how natural populations of fishes, amphibians, and birds can be conserved in the face of agriculture, energy development, and forestry. I have also served on scientific advisory committees for the province of Alberta, Ducks Unlimited Canada, and Parks Canada. I am a member of the national Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada as a specialist on amphibians and reptiles. Some of my recent projects have concerned the effects of oil and gas wells on prairie songbirds, habitat requirements of water birds and frogs in agricultural landscapes, and construction of tunnels to reduce road mortality of salamanders in Waterton Lakes National Park.
—Cindy Paszkowski, '74
On our home we have a solar panel array providing 40 percent of our home electricity. We also installed a solar thermal system to heat our hot water. Most recently, we added Vortex solar pool heating so our pool is heated by the sun only. We also replaced all light bulbs with high-efficiency bulbs and have replaced our old appliances with high-efficiency models. We added a "power manager" to our fuse box to regulate flow and reduce energy surges. In total, our electric and gas bills have been reduced about 50 percent. One goal of the photovoltaics project is to generate enough energy to run our 1971 VW Super Beetle after we convert it to a 100% electric vehicle. We're having fun thinking of new ways to reduce our footprint! Just this year, our house was recognized by the city of Maumee, Ohio—we won the "green improvement" home award!
—Jodi Haney, '84
The Grand Hotel, which I serve as president, provides modern conveniences to visitors while protecting the environment and maintaining the 19th-century charm for which the hotel is known around the world. A recent initiative installed a water-based air conditioning system that cools hotel rooms while producing hot water for the hotel. The electric bill actually goes down in warm weather because the system is a more efficient heat source than the boiler. Every grass clipping, weed, and flower that is taken from the grounds when the growing season is over is used in a compost pile for the hotel's signature flower beds. Energy-efficient light bulbs are used throughout, and guests have options on the frequency of linen exchange. For these and other efforts, the Grand Hotel was named a Green Lodging Michigan Leader by the Michigan Department of Energy, Labor, and Economic Growth.
—Dan Musser, '86
Educating others about a sustainable world and issues like global climate change has been a strong focus in my life for the past 30 years. I am a professor emerita of biology at Monroe Community College in Rochester, N.Y. From 1980 to 2005 (when I retired) I had the opportunity to teach a biology course titled "The Human Environment" to non-science major students each semester; it was a great way to introduce environmental concepts, interdependency among all living things, and looming issues like global climate change. I also incorporated sustainability concepts in other courses, such as botany. For years, as an active member of the United Church of Christ (UCC), I was frustrated by the lack of leadership from churches on stewardship of the earth. In 2002, I began an interfaith environmental group called "Living in Harmony in God's World" with my pastor. Our primary focus has been education on various environmental issues and networking with other faith communities. We have also encouraged membership in New York's Interfaith Power and Light, part of a national organization committed to helping faith communities reduce their energy footprint.
—Elizabeth Yoki Pixley, '62
Two years ago, my husband and I seized on the opportunity to sell our large home in La Mesa, Calif., to our kids so we could build our 1,200-sq.-ft. retirement "Grammy Flat" on the lower part of the property. Located east of San Diego, we don't suffer the severe winter cold of the northern or eastern states; however, we do have to endure scorching heat in the summertime, with temperatures often reaching 100 degrees or higher for a week or two at a time. Temperatures of 90 degrees or more all summer are the norm. We built our home using structural insulated panels (SIPs) on the roof, walls, and floors. SIPs are 6-inch thick panels made of two pieces of 3/8" oriented strand board separated by foam insulation. They meet or exceed all fire, structural, and earthquake standards. We had a full-house air conditioning and heating system installed but rarely use it.
—Mickey Dodge Madigan Harper, '64
Since 1991 I have been leading the land conservation movement in Washtenaw County. I started the Legacy Land Conservancy, I've been instrumental in six successful land preservation ballot campaigns that have raised over $100 million of public funds, and I've operated local preservation programs. We have protected nearly 4,000 acres so far. All of these efforts are geared toward protecting drinking water sources, wildlife habitat, and prime farmland around Ann Arbor to provide a means of living sustainably in the area. One of my current projects is to transform a publicly-owned 150-acre farm property into an incubator for beginning small farmers that will ultimately provide locally-grown produce for schools, restaurants, and businesses. In addition I've been growing much of my own food and processing it for 15 years, and I maintain a one-acre prairie restoration on my property. I also lead natural history hikes and paddling trips for local non-governmental organizations.
—Barry Lonik, '83
I am the co-founder of Green Earth Technologies (GET), a totally green clean tech company in Celebration, Fla. Based on its philosophy that consumers should not have to give up value or performance in order to advance sustainability, GET combines domestically sourced renewable feed stocks and base oils (from animal and plant sources grown in the U.S.) with proprietary technologies molded around the four ideologies of being green: biodegradable, renewable, recyclable, and environmentally safe. If a label says, "Warning, harmful or fatal if swallowed," then there is a good chance that it is not safe for pets, plants, or our planet either. Our lubricants and cleaning products, all rated as non-hazardous, degrade from 70 percent to 95 percent within nine days, and they are marketed in bottles made with 30 percent post-consumer recyclable plastic.
—Jeff Loch, '84
I am corporate social responsibility manager for REI, a national retail co-op focused on getting people actively engaged in human-powered recreation and stewardship. I work with partners around the co-op and with external stakeholders to develop and implement sustainable business strategies and tactics that drive efficiency, innovation, and environmental benefit in REI's operations and enable the co-op to thrive in a resource-constrained world. My main focuses are strategies around climate change, waste reduction, sustainable forestry, and green building.
—Kirk Myers, '99
Goodwill Industries of Greater Grand Rapids, where I am on staff, has been reusing community donations to put individuals with barriers to employment to work. In addition to reusing community donations, Goodwill in Grand Rapids is also an avid recycler of unsold donations. Every donation that comes through the door is either sold or recycled. Since 2009 Goodwill's recycling program has salvaged over 10 million pounds of textiles and recycled over 7 million pounds of unsold materials. By doing this, Goodwill was able to reduce its volume at the landfill by 40 percent and waste expenses by 34 percent. Every dollar earned from Goodwill's recycling efforts trains and places people with barriers to employment into the greater Grand Rapids workforce.
—Jill Eggebrecht Wallace, '97
Cherokee Creek Boys School is a therapeutic boarding school for middle school boys, ages 11-15, who struggle academically, emotionally, psychologically, and/or socially. We believe that nature is a powerful teacher, and our campus is intentionally located in the woods of the Blue Ridge Mountains in South Carolina. We combine academics, therapy, and recreation to create a learning and healing environment for our students. As the founder, my commitment is to teach boys to become global citizens. All boys discover the value of environmental stewardship through a year-round environmental studies class, participation in our TREKS (weekend wilderness) program, and math and language arts classes that integrate environmental education into their curriculum. We also volunteer in community service projects with the U.S. Forest Service, state parks, Oconee Heritage Museum, Chattooga River Conservancy, and the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources.
—Beth Thompson Black, '71
As an ordained American Baptist pastor, I have been involved in eco-justice issues since 1986, working with the Eco-Justice Working Group of the National Council of Churches, the National Religious Coalition on Creation Care, and Interfaith Power and Light. In 2000, we started a statewide, interfaith network in Connecticut, the Interreligious Eco-Justice Network, and I do climate change presentations around New England, following the principles of The Climate Project founded by Al Gore. I've been doing this work for a long, long time in religious communities in the churches I've served and around the country. Finally, congregations are catching on that care of creation is part of our faith.
—Tom Carr, '80
As vice president of strategic marketing for national homebuilder PulteGroup, I plan communities in the desert southwest. Pulte's Villa Trieste is the first LEED-certified residential community in Las Vegas and an example of a community leading the way in energy efficiency and sustainability. We worked with the U.S. Department of Energy, University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and Nevada Energy as grant and research partners. All homes are built with advanced sustainability features including integrated solar roof tiles, tankless water heaters, low-e windows, high-efficiency air conditioning, and an energy monitoring dashboard that works online or with a smart phone. The result is a home that's more comfortable to live in and has less impact on the environment than a typical home. Based on its sustainable design for Villa Trieste, Pulte Homes was the 2009 recipient of the Outstanding Production Builder Award from the U.S. Green Building Council.
—Ken Johnson, '84
I am currently an environmental education and preventative health volunteer with the Peace Corps in Senegal, West Africa. I have been here since March 2010 and will serve for two years in a small village (600 people, no electricity/running water) in northern Senegal. The Peace Corps is dedicated to fully integrating volunteers into communities and providing aid in a sustainable way through education so that development projects do not end when the volunteer goes home. Part of my job as an environmental education volunteer is to enable sustainable development and environmental health education within Senegal. I have worked closely with the elementary school in my village, promoting environmental awareness and good nutrition with children through a demonstration garden and tree nursery, as well as organizing an environmental club that will in the future be doing environmental lessons in cooperation with the teachers. I also work with the local health hut educating women about maternal/child health and nutrition.
—Sarah Keyes, '09
As an environmental attorney since 1981, I have provided legal counsel to business clients on a full range of environmental issues including: water and air permits, chemical regulation, site remediation, and government enforcement actions. That core practice has expanded into the issues associated with "green" products, climate change, and corporate sustainability. In 2009, I obtained LEED AP accreditation. My focus is on a more aggressive and critical analysis of "green" claims made by manufacturers, suppliers, and marketers. I have challenged the hype surrounding "sustainable" design, by encouraging contracting parties and investors to use contract terms tied to measurable requirements that can be validated by independent third parties. This is a necessary evolution as industry moves from merely appearing environmentally sensitive, toward a world where companies are legally bound to meet specific environmental benchmarks.
—Susan Sadler, '77
In my classroom I try to get my students thinking about staying local and going green. We read Barbara Kingsolver's Animal Dreams in my junior English classes. During that unit, I have them do a local food assignment. We talk about the benefits of eating local, examine statistics about the effects of food being shipped across the country vs. buying it from your neighbor. We read excerpts from Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle and other good articles about the locavore movement. After all of the research, the students create a menu for one day's meals using only local sources. The students struggle with finding ingredients for three meals from a 50-mile radius, but they really get into it.
—Cara Schinkel Arver, '94
In 2007, I was the general manager of the Perry Hotel in Petoskey when we became the first hotel in Michigan to receive the Green Lodging Michigan Leader designation. We also worked with many other hotels along the way to help them gain their designation.
—David Marvin, '97
As an international business law professor at Michigan State University, I teach a course on "Environmental Law and Sustainability for Business," and I include units on sustainable development in all of my other courses. Sustainable economic growth is a key element in the "triple bottom line" of environmental, social, and economic sustainability. For the past four years, the environmental law course has been included in MSU's RISE program (Residential Initiatives in the Study of the Environment). I negotiated getting the Broad College of Business on board as a participant with RISE two years ago. Also, my course is one of the first courses approved for MSU's new sustainability specialization, which became available to students this academic year. In addition, amazing things are happening with the Spartan Global Development Fund, a student-run organization which I advise. We began with four loans on July 4, 2009, reached 179 loans on July 4, 2010, and the number keeps growing. Moreover, my students focus on microloans to women in developing countries. This fund was honored with a 2010 Lewis Quality of Excellence Award at MSU. In short, I have been active in my own classes, my college, and in the broader MSU community. My Web site, www.tradeandsustainability.com, has more information.
—Paulette Stenzel, '72
In my 40 years of oceanographic research in the North Pacific Ocean, I have assisted in assuring the sustainability of some of the largest fisheries in the U.S. I studied the physical oceanography of the Gulf of Alaska to understand how it operates and how the water climate varies. The work informs managers on how to sustain these fisheries. We discovered the largest freshwater system in North America, more than 1.5 times the flow in the Mississippi River. It is fed by intense coastal rainfall and melting glaciers and serves as the major pathway for migrating salmon in the North Pacific. Also, the Exxon Valdez oil spill took place within this freshwater coastal current. I have retired from the University of Alaska and now live on Maui where I am attempting to help sustain the coral reefs here that are critical to Hawaii in so many ways.
—Tom Royer, '63
I live in a rural community that does not have a recycling program. However, my office is 'in town' where the curbside program picks up every other Friday. My daughter is 6 now, and she knows that 1-7 printed on the bottom of a container means that we can recycle that plastic. If she sees something in the trash that should be recycled, we hear about it and must correct the situation. Last week my suitcase carried home two newspapers and three plastic bottles so that they could go in "the bin" instead of in "the can." No one wants to live next to a landfill yet so many people conveniently throw away items that could be recycled. I believe it is my responsibility to do my best, and in this regard that means being a good steward of this planet. We only have one!
—Kimberly Johnson Christner, '91
Shortly after I graduated from Albion with a degree in German for the professions, I moved to Rostock, Germany. One day I came across an interesting job advertisement. Nordex Energy, a company in Norderstedt that produces wind energy turbines, was looking for someone to translate and interpret for the entire American team that was currently residing here. The Americans were here because Nordex is building a brand new production plant for Nordex USA in Jonesboro, Ark. I was thrilled to be a part of something so big, and went about learning all the technical vocabulary and have spent the last months doing my part to support effective intercultural communication between these German and American counterparts. It has been amazing, and it's all for a very green cause!
—Kathryn Wachter Schinkel, '09
My husband, Steven, and I moved to Vermont and founded True Love Farm in 2003. The farm provides organically grown vegetables to more than 200 households each week, participating in three farmer's markets in southwestern Vermont. The farm is committed to sustainable growing practices, an example of which is our use of a wood furnace that fuels both our primary greenhouse as well as our home (a 200-year-old barn converted into living space), which is also supported by solar hot water panels. I recently resigned from my position as dean of advancement for Southern Vermont College to join Steven on the farm full-time. Business is growing, and there feels like endless demand for the farm's extensive line of vegetables and flowers. We frequently host groups of young people for hands-on learning opportunities, including the local high school's "Youth Agriculture Project," and students from Upward Bound at Southern Vermont College. We additionally provide vegetables to a nearby school district, where "meet the farmer" lunches are an annual event.
—Karen Scheibner Trubitt, '87
Often referred to as "The Barn Lady," I write/edit the Michigan Barn Preservation Network's newsletter and devote many hours to encouraging people to give new life to old barns as an advocate for these spirit-renewing structures. As agriculture has changed, America's barns have suffered. Built from the 1700s to the early 20th century, these history-bearers, constructed of virgin timber and stone, have the potential to lead amazing new lives. They can be adapted to modern agriculture, and they are particularly suited to today's organic and small family farms. They can be lifted, moved, dismantled, and rebuilt. They can be adapted to become B&Bs, galleries, studios, restaurants, offices, churches, museums, and homes. As preservationists have argued for years, restoring and reusing historic structures also contributes mightily to sustainable living.
—Jan Corey Arnett, '74
Since retiring from Michigan State University after three decades as a faculty member and administrator, I have served as host of "Greening of the Great Lakes" on WJR-Radio. The weekly program, which explores issues related to environmental, economic, and socio-cultural sustainability, is a collaborative effort between WJR and MSU. Topics range from invasive species to the construction of "green" buildings to the development of energy-efficient automobiles that will reduce our dependency on foreign oil. Unlike the vitriolic "attack" radio so common today, I encourage my guests to share their expertise so that my listeners can make informed, thoughtful decisions about some of the key environmental issues of our day.
—Kirk Heinze, '70
In the early 1980s, the United States Coast Guard (USCG) had a dilemma. It was how to catch ships dumping wastes and petroleum products while at sea, thereby avoiding portage fees at docks. Working at the USCG laboratories in Groton, Conn., I helped them develop a new methodology for chemically separating these pollutants. Then by using special wavelengths of ultraviolet light with visible blocking filters, we could then document the chemical fingerprint of the pollutants photographically. This technique was so refined that oil from any well in the world could be pinpointed because of the wells' different signatures. This breakthrough for the USCG allowed them to take samples from our polluted beaches and seaways for analysis, visualization, and documentation and then board the suspecting dumper ship to take samples for analysis. When the samples matched, the ship's captain was arrested for illegal dumping. The USCG reported success at all their 100 stations in the U.S. in controlling environmental damage to our waterways and beaches by using this newly developed technology.
—Richard Vitek, '56
I leave my car in the driveway as much as possible. I walk two miles back and forth to work. When I have appointments in Boston, I walk two miles to Harvard Square and then take the subway into Boston. My 2000 Hyundai, with California emission standards, has 38,000 miles on it, and I received a $61 low-mileage-return on my car insurance this year. I am president of Trees for Watertown, a citizens' nonprofit that advocates for the planting and care of our street trees. (See our new web site www.TreesForWatertown.org). Right now we have taken on NSTAR, our electric utility company, for coming into town and hacking our trees away from the electrical wires. We are working to change their trimming standards, which are actually applied throughout all the United States. Last year when a town project threatened to remove two 50-ft. trees that stand at the edge of the property where I live (I rent), I represented my landlady and lobbied to preserve them. I was successful in striking a compromise with the town so that the property where they stand was not taken by eminent domain. In the summer those shade trees are my air conditioner, protecting the house from the scorching sun and making it unnecessary for me to run an air conditioner and sometimes even a fan.
—Ruth Thomasian, '66
Upon graduating from Albion College in 1988 as a political science/anthropology major, I found myself in Northern California supporting a group of folks trying to protect our country's last intact redwood forest from being clear-cut. This effort inspired me to move to Washington, D.C. to work on the political side of protecting forests (including this redwood stand that still exists today, thanks to a group of dedicated environmentalists and some legislation that took 10 years to pass). Eventually I founded my own forest protection organization before shifting careers in 1999 to become a financial advisor. The Wall Street Journal recently referred to me as "the go-to guy for socially responsible investing." I now work with many clients dedicated to making the world a cleaner and safer place to live.
—Jon Ellenbogen, '88
We were looking for a more eco-friendly way to manage get-togethers and to switch our two children from using plastic cups to glassware. We were bothered by waste that resulted from mixing up beverages and throwing misplaced drinks away. So, we created our own labels to identify "whose is whose" and started My Drink Label (www.mydrinklabel.com). My Drink Label products are reusable, environmentally friendly, and economical.
—Mark Sherwood, '91, and Saralyn Coupe, '91
Through my landscape design company, ecoChic, my clients and I search for ecologically-sustainable and good-looking garden solutions for their problems. My work incorporates installing rain barrels, drip irrigation, bioswales, use of native and hardy plants, and designing for low inputs/outputs and water quality. Educating the public is important because we are returning to a landscaping ethic not seen since before World War II—as I call it: saving the planet one garden at a time.
—Laura Zigmanth, '84
We're not 'leading' in any big way, but have for years used our bicycles for most local trips, generally 10-15 miles round trip. We are even gaining some notoriety, with a newspaper article calling us the 'elderly couple on bicycles' here in Cleveland.
—Dick, '52, and Martha Burns
As the owner of Maid Brigade of Central New Jersey, I am proud to be a green leader in the cleaning industry. In 2007 the house cleaning service launched its proprietary Green Clean Certified® service to protect the health of the families it serves and its employees as well as reduce damage to our environment caused by the cleaning industry. Many consumers are not aware of the potential health risks associated with common cleaning products and methods, but there is increasing scientific evidence of illnesses caused by chemicals in cleaning products. Children are the most vulnerable to these risks. Maid Brigade is not only the first cleaning service to "go green" but the only cleaning service to dedicate itself to consumer education and advocacy on this topic so that all consumers can make informed purchasing decisions for their families.
—Ellen Workman Crawford, '75
You wouldn't think of disposable health care products as green, but when the product reduces the quantity of product disposed and at the same time improves patient care, it's a win-win. I manage and develop the Ultrasorbs family of disposable absorbent products at Medline Industries, Inc. Ultrasorbs (www.medline.com) reduces product needed to manage moisture, and in turn reduces packaging (plastic and cardboard), raw materials, and fuel used to make and transport these traditional products. More importantly, while reducing waste, Ultrasorbs also manages some of the conditions that cause pressure ulcers (bed sores) to develop in hospitals and nursing homes. Preventing pressure ulcers helps save lives and reduces health care costs—it costs hospitals on average $43,000 to treat one.
—Scott Smith, '00
Based in Berkeley, Calif., I am a business advisor to Earth 2017, a small sustainability consultancy (www.earth2017.com) as well as an advisor to 3rd Rock Systems, a renewable energy firm (www.3rdrock.us). In addition, I am currently the chairman of the board of the Berkeley Chamber of Commerce, a green organization itself, and we play a key role in driving policy engagement around the green economy. We are also a stakeholder in the East Bay Green Corridor, a regional collaboration of local governments, educational and research institutions, and businesses that bring research, thought leadership, policy, entrepreneurship, and practice to this emerging green economy.
—Rod Howard, '83
I've been green since the 1960s! My husband and I only had bicycles for the first two years of our marriage (our last two years at Albion). We did our grocery shopping even back then with cloth bags. I started the Albion Food Coop in the '70s, and it continued to be in existence long after we left Albion. It continued operation until a couple of years ago—over 35 years of folks using their own containers and buying healthy food in bulk. My husband and I were directors of an environmental education center in Appalachia for a time. Recently I started a "ban the plastic bag" project with at-risk kids for our community. Reuse has been my mantra.
—Carol Voigts, '63
Like any true change, my journey of embracing creation was a gradual one. I began working at the L. Perrigo company in the quality control lab shortly after my graduation in 2002. My work helped dramatically change the way technicians identified raw materials in the lab. They went from using classic wet chemistry tests on every sample bag to barely being exposed to the sample itself because it could now be scanned without even being removed from the plastic bag. We reduced the technicians' risk, reduced the need for reagents, and reduced waste to almost zero for approved materials. And if the story ended there it would be a good one, but as it turns out it was only the beginning. After five years as a chemist, I felt a strong internal push to seminary and a life of vocational ministry. I spent the last three years studying the scriptures, and I am certain of this: God loves us and his creation very much. As a Christian, I want to love the things God loves. I want to be on the leading edge of sustainability. We have taken a few steps as a family to this end: one-car family, cloth diapers, a few meatless meals, eating mostly local foods. As a leader of a Christian community, I want to faithfully preach from the scriptures and encourage others to live more sustainably too. I care for creation, not because Al Gore says I should, but because the earth is the Lord's.
—Chad Thoreson, '02
I am currently managing a master-planned resort community, which at its core features an 18-hole Jack Nicklaus Signature Golf Course. The plan calls for a 530-acre mixed use residential, retail, spa, and hotel development, spanning parts of Benton Harbor, St. Joseph, and Benton Charter Township. Partners have invested more than $70 million in the project to date. When we started in 2007, the weeds were as high as my Jeep, and we saw beer bottles, hundreds of tires, etc. The project removed over 117,000 tons of trash, solid waste, and concrete from the site, including 20,000 tons of contaminated soils. That's one football field stacked up 65 feet or the equivalent of a seven-story building. Once you cleared away the trash, there was beautiful land underneath! The success of the cleanup was measured by the nature that returned. Sandhill cranes came to the property for the first time in 2008. By June 2009, rose-pink—a species native to the region—was growing on the property, and sandpipers and ducklings were spotted crossing the ponds in the wetlands. Truly a green, one-of-a kind real estate development!
—Kerry Wright, '02
To me the important "green leaders" are the people who do little things every day. We've installed energy-efficient windows, but it's those little things anyone can do that really add up. We zealously reuse and recycle. Flow restrictors in the shower halve the amount of hot water used. I invested less than $100 in lights, mirrors, and panniers to turn my bike into my primary vehicle 5-6 months per year. And we replaced our pontoon boat, which used only 40 gallons of gas per summer, with kayaks that use none. We use trains when we can for long-distance travel. Greener, healthier, and more fun, too—can't beat that.
—Jan Sperry Baumgras, '73