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Between the Rows

Between the Rows: Green Cities and Greenfield

The Earth Day 2014 theme is Green Cities and Greenfield, already designated as a Green Community by Gov. Deval Patrick, is feeling confident and energetic as it moves further into the Sustainable Master Plan launched in January. As the town looks back at the achievements of the past few years it can be proud of accomplishments and plans that are well underway.

I spoke to Carole Collins, who has been Greenfield energy and sustainable coordinator for almost three years. She has been involved with sustainability ever since her time at Marlboro College nearly 30 years ago. She was particularly interested in solar building design. She remembers one of her teachers asking why that was her interest “when nobody cares.” Collins says, “finally, people care!”

After working for green architects in this area, she went on to get a masters degree in sustainable development focusing on the built environment from Antioch College. She then worked for sustainable design consultants in Virginia that concentrated on green schools and the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) standards. “LEED has been phenomenally successful. Builders realized they could charge more. Not a noble motive, but that’s the way business is,” Collins said.

She said being the energy and sustainability coordinator is her dream job because she is no longer just focusing on single buildings. The Sustainability Master Plan that Greenfield is now working on gives her “the opportunity to make things happen” in many areas from building efficiency, transportation, land use and reducing fossil fuel consumption; all while “improving the economic vitality and economic resilience of the community,” as stated in the plan.

Collins reported on some notable accomplishments. Between FY2008 and FY2013, the town reduced its total municipal energy use by 19.15 percent. The goal was a 20 percent reduction and while they missed that, she thinks the FY2014 numbers will show they are at that point.

One project that Collins thinks will be a real game-changer is the plan for an anerobic digester at the transfer station. Sewage sludge and all other kinds of compostable material could go through the digester, creating methane that could be used to generate heat or electricity.

I was impressed to know that the Wisdom Way Solar Village is now completed and that the Solar Farm on the landfill provided the equivalent of 54 percent of municipal energy needs for FY2013. Perhaps there will be another solar farm, or in-town solar arrays. I was pleased to see that Zaccheo Properties’ newly renovated building on Allen Street provides shaded parking for its renters — the shade provided by solar arrays. Businesses are finding their own ways to be sustainable as well as profitable.

There is a whole list of energy-saving initiatives, including helping small businesses that rent their space to get energy upgrades. Western Massachusetts Electric Co. is working in partnership with the town to fund these. Collins explained that the town has limited funds so many projects involve partners like WMECO. Collins reiterates the wisdom that since conservation is the first priority, energy efficiency is key. Energy efficiency comes from tight, well-insulated houses and businesses, energy-efficient heating systems and appliances and energy-efficient lighting. A case in point is the 400 new LED street lights that will have a pay-back period of only two years.

The Greening Greenfield committee cooperates with the town on many sustainability projects. Many town residents and businesses have taken the 10 percent Challenge, promising to lower their energy usage by 10 percent. Their website — www.greeninggreenfield.org/10-challenge — gives a long list of ways that each household can save energy from limiting showers to 5 minutes, turning off the lights when you leave a room, to buying local food and planting a garden. This site also describes a long list of achievements and assets, large and small: that the town gains from solar businesses, green job training at Greenfield Community College and an ongoing plan to plant and care for city trees.

I saw that the sustainable master plan includes encouraging backyard gardens. Having access to fresh local food is important. I spoke to Kate Snyder, director of membership and programs of the New England Farmers Union, and she said that according to a Vermont study, Massachusetts is the 11th best state for access to local food. However, our region probably has better access than most other parts of the state because we are rural and because we have farmers markets, CSAs, farmstands, Greenfield’s food coop, restaurants that use local food, and a fair number of home gardeners. We are very fortunate, but there is always more work to do.

When I attended the first Earth Day rally in West Hartford where I was living in 1970, I never imagined that I would be celebrating Earth Day 44 years later, more aware of the problems and more aware of the severity of the problems. Greenfield is a small city but it did not need Earth Day to teach it that it had to find ways to help its citizens live more sustainably. I am happy to be a part of a growing number of citizens working at home, at work and out in the community to ameliorate environmental and economic problems. It is inspiring to know that there are town government boards, volunteer groups like Greening Greenfield and nonprofit organizations like CISA that are all putting their energy, creativity and stamina in aid of creating a sustainable healthy future for our children and grandchildren.

Readers can leave comments at Pat Leuchtman’s Web site: www.commonweeder.com. Leuchtman has been writing and gardening in Heath at End of the Road Farm since 1980.

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