* I was at the monthly Sustainable Atlanta Roundtable meeting this morning (affectionately known as the SART), where one of the featured speakers was Jim Hartzfeld from Interface’s consulting subsidiary, InterfaceRAISE. Now, if you’re a long-time reader of Hot Off the Vine (Mom? Are you still out there?), you’ll recall that I raved about Interface FLOR’s modular carpet tiles in this post. Interface is arguably the global leader in sustainability, and it “converted” to these economic, environmental and social business practices after founder Ray Anderson was chastised by a customer for “not getting it” about what the company had been doing that caused damage. (Ray is pictured here, from this very nice overview of his leadership as a “radical industrialist,” which was the name of his last book and was one of my favorite books of all time) Ray went on to learn (and often say) that “there is always a better way.” Interface has gone on to make superior products that save the company money, create a culture where people want to work, and do good for the planet (while transforming its industry, and others, along the way). I like to use the Interface story as inspiration to help me think of “a better way” when I consider my home maintenance, repair, or remodeling challenges. Converting my lawn to a vegetable garden, using the Sentricon system instead of broadcasted chemicals for termite control, just saying no to toxic cleaners and paints with VOCs, and choosing Energy Star appliances whenever I can have proven to be “better ways” for me to live my principles, right here at home.
* Talk of the Interface FLOR carpet tiles reminds me that I never told you that I took an obsessive number of photos at a not-yet-open art gallery in Norcross, GA called The Nest (here’s an article about it), which had those carpet tiles on the floor in one of its exhibit rooms. (I got a “sneak peek” tour because I was at a community garden there to demonstrate for a volunteer group how to make a hoop house for winter growing. Such is my life.) The Nest features artwork made from recycled materials, so these carpet tiles fit right in. See more ways to add reclaimed, reused, repurposed, and recycled materials to your home.
* Speaking of smart environmental decisions, did you catch the announcement about the EPA’s 2011 Smart Growth Award winners yesterday? These awards are given in five different categories, such as overall smart growth, smart growth and green building, and civic places. I want to show you one in particular (the civic places award winner) because I see a connection between it and how we can design our home spaces to have more positive impact. The city of Normal, Illinois, reduced traffic congestion by adding a traffic circle, and then went the critical next step to turn the inside of that circle into a central village green as a gathering spot! Look at this picture–don’t you just love this? Now, people ride their bikes there, there’s a fountain and farmers market, and, frankly, it sounds like “seeing what’s doing” with the neighbors is the new normal in Normal. See the video here. Oh, and if that’s not enough for you, it also manages stormwater. We can mimic this same effect in our homes and neighborhoods–remodel the kitchen to make it the central meeting (and eating) spot; turn your front lawn into a fire-pit gathering spot; add a basketball hoop and invite the neighbor kids (and their “big kid” dads) over for a pick-up game; clean out that garage so you can get to the bikes and take them for a spin (waving at the neighbors as you pass), and even add a rain garden and install rain barrels to manage your stormwater. That last link also includes a photo of the community garden I helped start–you can add one to your community, too (or even just share a couple of raised beds with your next door neighbor). These are small changes that can literally change the quality of your life, and the life of your city.
* We are at a really exciting time in history, where we are redefining our relationships with the earth and how we live on it, and how we live with each other. Principles of New Urbanism present some of the most exciting, innovative breakthroughs in home design and community re-design. Did you know that simply adding a park bench to your subdivision could change the entire vibe of your community? I know, because my neighborhood did this. (Pictured is a mosaic bench made by an artist named Sarah Dorrance–can you see it under the kids?) Now, people out walking their dogs sit and visit, parents wait for the school bus together there, teens get off their elecontronics and actually hang out, kids run around it, and the community feels so much more alive, connected, and joyful. You can even just add a bistro table by the side of your house and invite passersby to sit with you for a bit (or do something bigger, like New York City did–see here). If you’re interested in following along with some of these city-based changes that are happening, search for sustainability events near you–or start a citizen group at your City Hall, if there isn’t one yet (that’s what I did) to ingrain principles of sustainability into the fabric of your city’s policies and practices. You’ll meet lots of outside-the-box thinkers who would probably love to hang out at a village green, sit on your bench, or gather in your kitchen! If you’re new to an area, this is a great way to get involved. If you’ve been there awhile but are tired of coming home and driving your car under your automated garage doors and not knowing your neighbors, this is an effective way to get out more. (Or, if you’d rather be neighborly without actually seeing your neighbors, I’ve got you covered, too–see here.)
Let small business owners (who are also your neighbors) help you. Kudzu connects you with local service providers who can remodel your kitchen, install a new carpet, redesign your landscape to be more neighborly, clean out and organize your garage (consider donating what you don’t want as need is great right now), help you reduce your stormwater, and even fix your garage doors (yes, yes, there are times when I don’t necessarily want to socialize and I zip right in, too). Now, dust off those bikes and take a spin around the block. You might be surprised by what (and who) you find.