Monday, June 9, 2008

Wind and Recyclables: The New Cash Cows?

In cased you missed it, last week saw some decent activity and discussion on the sustainability front here in Tiverton.

First, last Tuesday the Town Council held another workshop on the possibility of wind power here in town. Lots of local turbine celebrities from Portsmouth helped paint a realistic picture of what it takes to make a municipal investment in wind a reality. I wasn’t there, but the Newport Daily News had good coverage. My understanding is that next steps is to have our Planning Office do some due diligence around scoping out a feasibility study.

With the right conditions and turbine/infrastructure set-up, wind is just about as cost effective as coal or natural gas. Where people get caught up is the cost. Yes, turbines don’t come cheap at a couple of million dollars a piece, but government incentives do exist (for the time being at least) And by the way folks at the State House are moving, a whole new slew of pro-renewable energy legislation is about to make it easier to develop these kinds of projects.

And if that wasn’t good enough, we have the Council also debating the idea of leveraging our curbside recyclable materials as a revenue stream. That thinking is so refreshing. Why pay a contractor to haul all of this stuff to the Central Landfill in Johnston, when you could try to sell it as source material to a local or regional manufacturer for profit. Thank you Councilman Edwards for being so proactive. Let’s see where this one leads.

What does all of this illustrate? In these difficult economic times (man, that last financial town meeting was a bruiser) we need to think beyond slash and burn budget tactics. We need to get our heads out of the trenches and try to see above the din of day-to-day dismay and think about ways we can make investments to either reduce core operating expenses like energy and/or generate revenue in out-of-the-box ways. (Note: I did not say big-box ways…)

I’d love to have the opportunity to spend a week observing day-to-day operations of our various town offices. I might be going out on a limb here, but I’m willing to bet that the opportunities to make proactive investments in technology and/or other operational features of the corporate world could payoff with a decent amount of ROI. Maybe the town could partner with a local business school to get some MBA students in there to do some free consulting for credit. That would be a fascinating exercise.

R.I. Sustainable Living Festival

This past Saturday, I had the pleasure of participating in a panel discussion at this year’s R.I. Sustainable Living Festival, hosted by the Apeiron Institute at their Coventry campus. The session was about using the Internet to build real-world communities. Many thanks go out to my fellow panel members:

• Caroline Brown of the Earth Friendly Gardening blog
• Bruce Campbell and Angela Penn of The Ocean Project
• Sue Korte, who runs both The Providential Gardener and the mega-green calendar site, What Grows On in RI
• And to Mary Grady of the Natural News Network for thinking of Sustainable Sakonnet for the panel.

Each of us brought a slightly different perspective on how to leverage the web to engage and enable folks at the local, state, national, and international levels. A key theme was around providing that one-stop-shopping information destination for our respective readers. It was also great to hear how we all keep on keeping on, trying to do more and more with what resources are at our disposal.

The rest of the festival was great too – aside from the blistering heat. Kudos to my wife and kids for sticking it out! You can check out the full vendor list here. Everything from home energy production to recycled products to education and politics.

The Apeiron Institute for Sustainable Living is a great resource, especially for students. I know of a teacher at the high school who brings his class there every year to expose them to this incredibly important (and missing) curriculum. It’s fantastic to see that there are alternatives to what might be considered the “normal” way of living – and that our students gravitate towards that kind of knowledge.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Tube for Tuesday: Local Food a Cheaper Option

After a bit of a hiatus, Tube for Tuesday is back. Here's a great segment from NECN about how locally produced food is getting an edge cost-wise over traditionally supplied food. Why? Local food has lower transportation and distribution costs. That translates into less sticker shock at the check-out. The icing on the cake is that you're supporting your local farmer and economy.

Bonus Round: This story from today is all about this year's growing trend (pun intended) of home gardens in response to rising food costs. You can't get much more local than that.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

One Year with No TV

A year ago today, my family gave up TV. Not voluntarily -- at first -- but we did nonetheless. It was a Friday and I’d just arrived home from work. A brutal thunderstorm was ripping overhead. I ran in, dodging dollop-sized raindrops.

My wife was making dinner in the kitchen and I was playing with the kids in the living room when CRACK!!! The loudest noise I have ever heard enveloped the house. There was a huge flash of light. Everything went dead. We smelled smoke.

Lightening had hit the house – or so we thought. After running outside and verifying that the house was not on fire, we surmised that the bolt must have come down very close to the house. (We later discovered a large hole by our foundation where we imagine it hit the ground. The phone box on the side of the house was blown twenty feet off.)

The surge of electricity did a decent amount of damage: it blew out our two TVs (hence the smoke), the phones, the smoke alarms (hard-wired), the pump on the dishwasher, and the Ethernet port on the computer.

Fast-forward and we learned that our TVs were not repairable. No worries. It was summer and we decided to forego purchasing replacements because we’d be outside a lot. Well summer turned into fall, and fall into winter. Then spring and lo’ and behold, here we are one year later with no TV.

Honestly, it’s been great; and not really that “hard”. We read more, do more creative things with the kids – inside and out. Games, cooking, stuff outside, projects around the house… productivity has shot through the roof! We can’t figure when we had time to even watch TV. The icing on the cake: We’re saving around $100 a month because of no cable and TiVo bills, plus the electricity to run it all.

Now granted, my wife and I will watch some programs online (have to love that streaming media), and the kids will watch a DVD from the library on a portable player from time to time, but for the most part we are tuned out.

What’s this have to do with sustainability? I’m not sure, but I like to think we just consuming less; we’re slowing down a tad and spending more time together; we’re not giving in to the juggernaut of popular media. It has felt good to say to folks, “Sorry, didn’t catch the American Idol finale because we have no TV.”

What helps us keep going is the dropped-jaw look of amazement when we tell people we have no TV. They can’t believe it. Like it’s unfathomable to not be plugged in to the “magic box”.

I love it.