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Green Happiness

This post was writ­ten by Charles Bubeck, who was a 2012 intern for Howard County’s Depart­ment of Plan­ning and Zon­ing and Office of Envi­ron­men­tal Sus­tain­abil­ity. Thanks for all your work!

Accord­ing to a 2008 (yes, slightly out­dated but not much has changed) Yale Uni­ver­sity study which ranked 149 coun­tries on an envi­ron­men­tal “per­for­mance” index weigh­ing car­bon and sul­fur emis­sion, water purity, and con­ser­va­tion prac­tices, the United States was ranked 38. No, not a ter­ri­ble score, but cer­tainly not good enough. Even more inter­est­ing are the coun­tries that placed in the top 4. From the top, it is Switzer­land, Swe­den, Nor­way, and Fin­land. Notice a trend? First off, these are not population-free coun­tries filled with jun­gles that haven’t been tainted by humans and indus­try. These are rather indus­tri­al­ized Euro­pean coun­tries that have another thing in com­mon: they are the hap­pi­est peo­ple in the world.

When it comes to stud­ies based on qual­ity of life, human rights, or sim­ply how happy peo­ple are, these coun­tries are always in the top tier. The Orga­ni­za­tion for Eco­nomic Co-operation and Devel­op­ment had a report on life sat­is­fac­tion. The U.S. placed 11, a very high score, yet the four coun­tries I men­tioned are all in the top 10. And bet­ter yet, these Euro­pean coun­tries have some of the high­est GDP’s in the world, and were least affected by the global reces­sion. Yes, there has been an atti­tude shift in this coun­try to keep the world clean and strides have been made in aware­ness and tech­nol­ogy, but we still have plenty of work to do. The U.S. should take a hint and see how hav­ing a clean envi­ron­ment and going “green” can not only spur an econ­omy and save money down the line, but will also put way more smiles on Amer­i­can faces.

Charles Bubeck
Jan­u­ary 2013

The Environment — Right at Your Fingertips!

My nephew, Calvin, age 10, at the farm

So much of my life is spent in the role of sus­tain­abil­ity coor­di­na­tor — work­ing to reduce our foot­print on this fine planet of ours — that some­times it’s easy to for­get the under­ly­ing pas­sion for nature at its simplest/best.

Last week, my extended fam­ily spent a week at a rented farm­house in rural Penn­syl­va­nia. We were rein­vig­o­rated. The vaca­tion was spent with no cell ser­vice, no inter­net, and no tele­vi­sion, and we were not bored for a sec­ond! And we’re talk­ing about a group of peo­ple rang­ing in age from 3 to 77: kids, a teenager, a col­lege stu­dent, par­ents and a grandfather.

Right out­side this lazy sum­mer home…” is my nephew, Calvin, age 10.


While many of us talk a good deal about our love for the envi­ron­ment, when was the last time we hunted for cray­fish or closely observed a dozen dif­fer­ent kinds of wild­flow­ers? When was the last time you (or your chil­dren) chased a fire­fly? THESE are the sim­ple plea­sures in life, pro­vided at no cost to you. Our July 4th fire­works (lit­er­ally, on July 4th) con­sisted of watch­ing a light­ning storm the likes of which I had never seen before. The canoe on the pond gave us access to areas where we watched pol­li­wogs and minnows.

And for dra­matic effect, on our last hike as we slowly made our way back to the house we spot­ted a large pile of…drumroll please… fresh bear scat.

So while I still strongly advo­cate double-siding if you have to print some­thing, and recy­cling your soda can if you hap­pen to drink that stuff, please con­sider spend­ing some time watch­ing but­ter­flies or hik­ing along a creek. You can pro­tect *and* enjoy this planet!

Laura A.T. Miller
July 2012

Oh, Mercy Mercy Me

So I, like most of Amer­ica, have spent a fair amount of time think­ing about the Trayvon Mar­tin sit­u­a­tion. Some of you may be won­der­ing what that could pos­si­bly have to do with a sus­tain­abil­ity blog. Truth be told, one can eas­ily make the case that safety and equal­ity can and should be top­ics of impor­tance within sus­tain­abil­ity more broadly. How­ever, I thought this blog could rec­og­nize the oppor­tu­nity that is being pro­vided by the tragedy of the killing of Trayvon Mar­tin, the oppor­tu­nity to talk about race in Amer­ica and for the pur­poses of this blog post, apply it to the envi­ron­men­tal “movement.”

I do not approach this topic lightly, like all con­ver­sa­tions about race, it is full of risk and makes me uncom­fort­able but I believe as some­one I have as much respect for as is humanly pos­si­ble said “Want­ing to talk about race as long as it doesn’t make us feel too uncom­fort­able means not really being will­ing to have an hon­est con­ver­sa­tion of any sub­stan­tial depth. “ So here we go …

Envi­ron­men­tal­ism and the “main­stream” envi­ron­men­tal move­ment has been and is still com­prised of mostly white and mostly upper mid­dle to upper class indi­vid­u­als. To any­one who has attended an envi­ron­men­tal meet­ing of any sort pretty much any­where in the coun­try, this will not come as a sur­prise. Much of the rea­son­ing for this comes from our his­tory, our ori­gins. The roots of the move­ment emerge with folks like Teddy Roo­sevelt, John Muir, and Gif­ford Pin­chot. To over­sim­plify, upper class white peo­ple who were look­ing to pre­serve their “play­grounds”. This is not to under­cut the impor­tance of what they did, land con­ser­va­tion at that period of indus­trial growth was indeed rad­i­cal and we as a coun­try are bet­ter off because they did what they did.

The orga­ni­za­tions that emerged before the ‘60s includ­ing Sierra Club (1892), National Wildlife Fed­er­a­tion (1936), National Parks & Con­ser­va­tion Asso­ci­a­tion (1919), Izaak Wal­ton League (1922), and Defend­ers of Wildlife (1947) did not focus in any way on health issues and had nearly exclu­sively all white mem­ber­ship, lead­er­ship, and staff. Again, this is not to belit­tle the amaz­ing work of each of these orga­ni­za­tions. Rather, this cre­ated an issue whereby the lack of diver­sity in the indi­vid­u­als who made up the move­ment and even the gen­eral inter­est of pro­tect­ing the “envi­ron­ment” became a self-selecting cycle essen­tially ensur­ing that the pipeline for indi­vid­u­als to get involved remained exclusive.

The 1960’s saw the pri­or­i­ties of the envi­ron­men­tal move­ment shift from wilder­ness pro­tec­tion to clean water, clean air, and pro­tec­tion against haz­ardous and toxic sub­stances. Focus became much more health related and less recre­ation and con­ser­va­tion related. In some ways this could have been an oppor­tu­nity for the move­ment to diver­sify as the issue became more uni­ver­sally rel­e­vant. Unfor­tu­nately, it did not hap­pen this way and in actu­al­ity two “move­ments” emerged – the envi­ron­men­tal move­ment and the envi­ron­men­tal jus­tice move­ment with sep­a­rate mem­bers, lead­ers, and organizations.

Grass­roots groups chal­lenge the “business-as-usual” envi­ron­men­tal­ism that is gen­er­ally prac­ticed by the more priv­i­leged wildlife-and conservation-oriented groups. The focus of activists of color and their con­stituents reflects their life expe­ri­ences of social, eco­nomic, and polit­i­cal dis­en­fran­chise­ment.” -Dr. Robert Bullard

So, what do we do with this his­tory and con­text? In Howard County we have had an exist­ing but rel­a­tively small envi­ron­men­tal “move­ment” (for lack of a bet­ter term). Over the last few years it has really begun to flour­ish and grow but not with the diver­sity that is rep­re­sen­ta­tive of Howard County. The above con­text tells us why but also tells us how we might change that. Part of the chal­lenge lies in the dis­cus­sion of the envi­ron­men­tal issues we cham­pion and how we frame those issues.

It is also about break­ing the cycle of par­al­lel efforts, and imple­ment­ing a more uni­ver­sal approach. Unfor­tu­nately, too often we try and diver­sify by meet­ing with other lead­ers and orga­ni­za­tions and explain­ing to them why our issue is impor­tant to their peo­ple and then chal­leng­ing them to do some­thing about bring­ing folks to our orga­ni­za­tions. But wait, to lis­ten is to engage, right? Then we need to upend the par­a­digm and do more lis­ten­ing, focus on how we could bet­ter talk about issues, and maybe even fig­ure out how we can bring our resources to bear on issues that feel out­side of our usual wheel­house. After all, we are a sus­tain­abil­ity move­ment now that cov­ers all three bot­tom lines.

JD Feld­mark
March 2012

Unless… The Lorax by Dr. Seuss

Envi­ron­men­tal aware­ness, edu­ca­tion, cam­paign­ing, pro­mo­tion, mar­ket­ing, blah blah blah.

Here we are doing all of this work, and Dr. Seuss had it fig­ured out all along!

The Lorax is a book I read from time to time to my four-year-old daugh­ter. What? You have never read The Lorax? It is the quin­tes­sen­tial story of char­ac­ter v. nature, and though this part may not sound good, it does end with char­ac­ter very much still in the lead.

While read­ing it the other night it occurred to me that it would make an excel­lent blog topic. But of course Hol­ly­wood had to come along and trump my idea and cre­ate a feature-length film based on the book (in the­aters March 2nd).

In a nut­shell, The Lorax is the story of a char­ac­ter who dis­cov­ers that Truf­fula trees are great for mak­ing thneeds – things that every­one needs! Well, the more he makes (reads cuts down the trees), the more he sells (reads pro­duces in pollution-creating fac­to­ries). In no time at all the land around the fac­tory is dec­i­mated, the wildlife gone, and all the Truf­fula trees cut down. The illus­tra­tions resem­ble images of the moon – gray and lifeless.

But wait! While it ends with a bleak land­scape, we do learn that there is one Truf­fula seed remain­ing — one that could be planted and cared for to bring back the Truf­fula trees. So there is hope…

It is at this point that Dr. Seuss man­ages to encap­su­late the green mes­sage in the sim­plest of terms:

“Unless some­one like you cares a whole awful lot,
noth­ing is going to get bet­ter. It’s not. ”

Unless some­one like you:

Con­serves water by using a rain bar­rel;
Com­posts food scraps in a com­post bin from the County;
Recy­cles as much as pos­si­ble at your curb, and at the Con­ve­nience Cen­ter;
Vol­un­teers to clean up lit­ter in your neigh­bor­hood;
Edu­cates them­selves by attend­ing Green­Fest;
Plants a tree along a stream;
Reduces your waste;
Or even just fol­lows the sim­plest of tips;

“Noth­ing is going to get bet­ter. It’s not.”

Laura A.T. Miller
Feb­ru­ary 2012


When we first cre­ated the office of envi­ron­men­tal sus­tain­abil­ity the charge was to cre­ate a cul­ture of sus­tain­abil­ity through­out Howard County. That con­tin­ues to be our charge and two things became imme­di­ately clear. The first is that there were many orga­ni­za­tions, insti­tu­tions, and indi­vid­u­als who were already doing this work and that they needed to be thanked, encour­aged, and sup­ported. The thank­ing piece of it is another blog (one I promise to write) but this post is focused on the sec­ond issue: the largest of the com­mu­nity insti­tu­tions would need to buy in to mak­ing us a sus­tain­able com­mu­nity for us to achieve success.

This post is to declare that the largest insti­tu­tions have stepped up to the plate and deserve recog­ni­tion. I gen­er­ally loathe just spit­ting out a bunch of links and say go get ‘em, but in an attempt to keep this things below my stan­dard 800 word opus’s occa­sion­ally, I do that below.

The Libraries – I don’t have a link that talks about their work but they have begun mak­ing the libraries sig­nif­i­cantly more energy effi­cient, one of the branches (East Colum­bia) cur­rently has and two more are get­ting solar power. (Click HERE to learn about the solar project and watch the energy col­lec­tion live.) The library also has a demon­stra­tion rain gar­den and stay tuned for infor­ma­tion on a prod­uct they will be loan­ing that will help you make your home more efficient.

The Hos­pi­tal – Howard County Gen­eral Hos­pi­tal just recently com­pleted and opened a build­ing that not only achieved LEED Sil­ver cer­ti­fi­ca­tion but was spe­cially rec­og­nized by the Green Build­ing Coun­cil as “Pio­neer­ing Sus­tain­abil­ity in a Med­ical Facility.

The School sys­tem – 35 Howard County Schools have been offi­cially cer­ti­fied as “green schools” which is nearly half of all of the schools in our County.

Howard Com­mu­nity Col­lege – Fac­ulty, staff, and stu­dents have embraced sus­tain­abil­ity and begun to inte­grate it into oper­a­tions, behav­ior, and cur­ricu­lum. Also, of course, they are our part­ners in GreenFest

The Colum­bia Asso­ci­a­tion – CA has really, of late, focused in on the sus­tain­abil­ity issues of energy use, stormwa­ter man­age­ment, and open space man­age­ment as well as the gen­eral oper­a­tions of their ameni­ties and facilities.

Con­grat­u­la­tions to all these groups for their suc­cesses. It’s been great to see these projects evolve over the past few years, and I think I can speak for all of us at Office of Envi­ron­men­tal Sus­tain­abil­ity that it has been an honor to be your partner.

Feb­ru­ary 2011

What is this Office of Environmental Sustainability Anyway?

Commission orgchart

This post will likely end up a bit wonkier than our usual posts but I thought it might be worth­while to explain exactly what the Office of Envi­ron­men­tal Sus­tain­abil­ity is and tell its “ori­gin story”. In the early months of 2007 newly elected County Exec­u­tive Ulman put together a Com­mis­sion on the Envi­ron­ment and Sus­tain­abil­ity to make rec­om­men­da­tions on, among other things, the tran­si­tion team’s rec­om­men­da­tion that the County cre­ate a Depart­ment of the Environment.

The Com­mis­sion worked through three alter­na­tives. The first was to do noth­ing (or sim­ply bol­ster exist­ing envi­ron­men­tally focused areas). This was fairly quickly deter­mined to be not the right course of action. Not hav­ing a group ded­i­cated specif­i­cally to the pro­tec­tion of the envi­ron­ment was seen as a clear defi­ciency in our orga­ni­za­tional struc­ture. Most of the sur­round­ing juris­dic­tions and in fact most of the juris­dic­tion like Howard County nation­wide have a Depart­ment of the Envi­ron­ment or some sim­i­lar struc­ture. The exist­ing struc­ture also had a sin­gle envi­ron­men­tal coor­di­na­tor (at the time – me) who worked out of the Executive’s office, served as a pub­lic con­tact, staffed the Com­mis­sion and worked on a hodge­podge of envi­ron­men­tal projects. The Com­mis­sion did not like this because it relied too heav­ily on the Coor­di­na­tor and on the aggres­sive com­mit­ment of the County Exec­u­tive. They believed the coor­di­na­tor would not be able to estab­lish roots within the County gov­ern­ment and might be phased out by later administrations.

The sec­ond alter­na­tive was to cre­ate a full fledged Depart­ment of the Envi­ron­ment. This would entail a gov­ern­ment re-organization, likely tak­ing Envi­ron­men­tal Ser­vices from Pub­lic Works, Resource Con­ser­va­tion from Plan­ning & Zon­ing, and Nat­ural Resource Man­age­ment from Recre­ation & Parks, and Envi­ron­men­tal Health from the Health Depart­ment. There were sev­eral plusses and minuses to this option but the Com­mis­sion felt strongly that this would be a poor choice for Howard County. First neg­a­tive is cost. Despite the fact that many of the pro­gram staff mem­bers would come from exist­ing depart­ments, this sce­nario is costly because it assumes the addi­tion of more pro­gram staff as well as sep­a­rate admin­is­tra­tive, legal, and logis­ti­cal costs.

The Com­mis­sion, in doing their research, found that gov­ern­ment reor­ga­ni­za­tions rarely work as intended, often cre­ate mass staff depar­tures, and recre­ate and even add to gov­ern­ment inef­fi­cien­cies. Addi­tion­ally, the new Depart­ment would be unlikely to quickly com­pete for resources with other well estab­lished, large gov­ern­ment depart­ments. Finally, mak­ing the envi­ron­ment one “team” in a bureau­cratic com­pe­ti­tion seemed unwise, when the true core goal was/is to inte­grate an envi­ron­men­tal ethic through­out all of government.

That leads us to the deci­sion they did rec­om­mend and was in fact adopted (though imple­men­ta­tion is ongo­ing). Let me go right to the source to explain the ori­gins of the Office. “This office is mod­eled on exist­ing offices in County gov­ern­ment, most notably, the Bud­get Office and the Office of Law. While both of those offices have rel­a­tively small staffs, they wield high lev­els of author­ity within all depart­ments in the gov­ern­ment. The Office of Envi­ron­men­tal Sus­tain­abil­ity would join these offices on the Exec­u­tive floor of the County Office Build­ing, with the County Exec­u­tive and Admin­is­tra­tion. The Office would be closely asso­ci­ated with the County Exec­u­tive and would pro­vide over­sight on, and facil­i­ta­tion of, oper­a­tions in the County Depart­ments.” The Direc­tor is a Cab­i­net level posi­tion and the office and the Office is charged with five roles within gov­ern­ment: pol­icy devel­op­ment, edu­ca­tion and out­reach, energy man­age­ment, finan­cial man­age­ment, and envi­ron­men­tal com­pli­ance. At full strength, the office would have around a half a dozen employees.

This is a rel­a­tively new but not unheard of model for gov­ern­ment envi­ron­ment and sus­tain­abil­ity work. A small office with strong access and author­ity with­out the “bur­den” of day to day man­age­ment is able to bet­ter work with all of gov­ern­ment (and the quasi/no gov­ern­men­tal agen­cies) to bring about a broader cul­ture of sus­tain­abil­ity. Though not meant to dis­par­age any of our exist­ing gov­ern­men­tal bod­ies, the knock on gov­ern­ment is so often about the large bureau­cratic silos that com­pete with each other and make progress so dif­fi­cult. This model is an earnest attempt to do things dif­fer­ently. It may even be a skosh gov­ern­ment 2.0 but that’s alto­gether too wonky to even dis­cuss. Now 2 years plus into the model and with the begin­ning assem­bling of a staff, the jury is still out. How­ever, if our accom­plish­ments since the cre­ation of the office are our “mea­sur­ing stick” – things seem to be work­ing. Of course, I am the Direc­tor so I would say that wouldn’t I?

JD Feld­mark

PS The attached photo is of one of the orga­ni­za­tional charts devel­oped for the rec­om­men­da­tion of the cre­ation of the office. I know it’s not any­where near a typ­i­cal org chart and is a lit­tle hard to fol­low (not typ­i­cal and hard to fol­low — kinda like its Direc­tor). The light green is the Office and the dark green are the many divi­sions inside gov­ern­ment and groups out­side gov­ern­ment that the office is tasked with work­ing with to accom­plish our goals.

Green Tip

Check your tire pressure.Increase your gas mileage by keeping your tires properly inflated.