sustainability

Green Businesses connect, network, and teach at Montgomery County GreenFest!

Green Businesses connect, network, and teach at Montgomery County GreenFest!
On Saturday May 5th, 2018, Montgomery County GreenFest took place in Jesup Blair Local Park in Silver Spring. The largest GreenFest to date, it drew more than 1,000 attendees and 90 exhibitors, all of whom created an atmosphere of enthusiastic learning and fun!

GreenFest is the County’s signature environmental festival, hosted each year on the first Saturday in May. Attendance is on the rise and certified Green Businesses from across the County decided to make the most of the opportunity to connect with hundreds of residents. All Eco Center, Bethesda Green, Clean Choice Energy, EcoBeco, Neighborhood Sun, and Montgomery College Silver Spring/Takoma Park Facilities team all showed up to exhibit and promote their business to event attendees and park visitors throughout the day.

Certified Green Businesses contributed to learning opportunities at the event, too. GreenFest 2018 featured hands-on, free workshops, and Mark Mills of Chocolates and Tomatoes Farm graciously agreed to teach a “quick pickling” workshop on May 5th. Mark stated, “As a certified organic and Certified Naturally Grown vegetable farm, we work hard to bring local, organic produce that is colorful, and nutritious, to communities throughout Montgomery County. The values of GreenFest align well with what we aim to achieve with Chocolates and Tomatoes Farm: taking steps to live a greener life by focusing on real change each of us can make, in our own community. That’s why I decided to offer this workshop today!”

Click through this album to see Mark’s workshop in action, and other certified Green Businesses making the most of GreenFest.

  And save the date – GreenFest 2019 will be on Saturday May 4th, more details to come!

Lighten the Load with DEP and Safeway

Lighten the Load with DEP and Safeway
Get up to 3 LEDs and a free reusable bag at an upcoming Safeway event!

Bring in your old incandescent or CFL light bulbs and DEP will exchange them for up to 3 new and energy efficient LEDs. The ENERGY STAR®-certified LEDs we’re giving away offer a warm white light that’s equivalent to a 60-watt incandescent bulb.

Not only will you save money by getting free LEDs, but also you’ll pocket money from lower electric bills. You could cut your utility bill by at least $25 per year by replacing five traditional, incandescent bulbs with LEDs.

LED prices have declined 85 percent in recent years, and bulbs can be bought for as little as $2 to $5.

   

Mondays from 4-6pm at a Safeway near you:


 

  The giveaway is a partnership between Department of Environmental Protection and Safeway. DEP Logo Square Safeway

Meet the Magical Glomalin: Perhaps the most important glue in the world!

Meet the Magical Glomalin: Perhaps the most important glue in the world!
Ever wonder what holds the soil together?

It’s not Velcro, tape, or oil: it’s glomalin, a sticky glycoprotein that glues sand, silt, clay, and organic matter together, to create soil aggregates. This creates what farmers and gardeners call “tilth,” which is a feeling of smooth soil granules that flow through your fingers. It’s also naturally brown, and when removed, the soil is left as a mineral grey color.

Not only is glomalin an important soil glue, but it stores a whopping one third of the world’s soil carbon–which is really important for stabilizing our climate. And glomalin was only discovered in 1996 by scientist Sara F. Wright. Yet the relationship between mycorrhizal fungi and plant roots is possibly the oldest and most abundant plant-microbe association on earth!

 
glomalin USDA-ARS Dr Sara Wright

Glomalin. Photo by USDA-ARS Dr Sara Wright

  Glomalin is produced exclusively by arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (AM fungi). AM fungi infect the roots of plants, but help them survive by transporting nutrients and water back to roots through the fine filaments called hyphae that extend out into the soil.

The glomalin is excreted by the fungi to form a protective barrier that contains nutrients and water flow and provides rigidity to the hyphae to span air spaces between soil particles in search of nutrients and water. There can be hundreds of miles of hyphae in just a pound of soil. As feeder roots expand, and become permanent roots, the hyphae move down to the new feeder roots. The hyphae on the permanent roots now stop transporting nutrients, and the protective glomalin sloughs off into the soil. While the hyphae only live days the weeks, the glomalin can last as a glue for more than 40 years.

 

How do I increase AM fungi and glomalin?

Don’t add phosphorus!

First, mycorrhizal fungi are very sensitive to phosphorus, and thrive in low phosphorus soils. Despite this, they are the most critical microorganism for converting the phosphorus already in soil to a form plants can absorb. So be sure to not add any synthetic phosphorus to your soils.

In fact, synthetic nitrogen and phosphorus fertilizers are known to cause AM fungi to stop working, or kill them outright.

Next, only aerate lawns when necessary, as any tillage that cuts up the soil also breaks apart strands of living hyphae in the soil. Compacted soils reduce hyphal growth, though, so check if your soils are compacted and aerate and add compost if needed. Yard clippings, and composted yard clippings can encourage mycorrhizal fungi, which in turn convert nitrogen and phosphorus for plant growth, and produce glomalin, and in turn create a great soil.

Still want more? You can learn a bit more science behind glomalin here.


Photos by the U.S. Forest Service and Dr. Sara Wright of the USDA.

GreenFest Gravy: Businesses see benefits too

GreenFest Gravy: Businesses see benefits too
GreenFest is billed as a family-friendly celebration with music, exhibitors, and games focused on engaging and inspiring the public. But at an event of the size and scale of GreenFest, it is not just Montgomery County residents who benefit. Area businesses, government agencies and nonprofit organizations also take away new knowledge, ideas and partnerships to help them expand their messages and brands.

For Silver Spring-based company Sunlight-To-The Rescue, the chance to meet area eco-conscious families proved a great way to show the advantages of residential solar energy.

“As a small solar energy business, GreenFest gave me the opportunity to network with the Montgomery County green energy family, meet prospective customers and let the community know about our business and the benefits of going solar,” company co-founder and CEO Jean-Yves Dalle said. “We made excellent contacts and generated great leads.”

 
Sierra Club at GreenFest

Sierra Club at GreenFest

  Tiffany’s Oven, a Greenbelt caterer specializing in vegan fare appetizers, sandwiches, meals and desserts, said GreenFest was a great place to meet potential new customers and introduce them to what they do and how they do it.

“GreenFest is a wonderful outlet for a new vegan business like ours because it exposes us to those most interested in clean eating and living,“ owner Tiffany Thomas said, adding that GreenFest visitors noticed the company’s efforts to reduce its carbon footprint by doing things like cutting back on handing out business cards.

“Instead, we encourage everyone interested in contacting us at our vendor stand to take a photo of our banner. A lot of people took notice of that and really appreciated it,” said Thomas.

 

Partnerships Pluses

As no company is an island, many green businesses rely on partnerships with the communities they serve and other agencies to help reach new clients and customers.

Happy Joyous & Freewheeling is a D.C.-area nonprofit that teaches middle- and high-school students, adults and families safe bike riding and maintenance skills via community center clinics and workshops and partners with other non-profits. They get the word out about their programs mostly via employer-sponsored events and GreenFest gave them yet another avenue to connect with others.

“GreenFest gives organizations like Happy Joyous and Freewheeling a chance to improve and vitalize ways to travel and commute at the grassroots level in Montgomery County,” David Nam, the organization’s founder and Executive Director, said. “It’s a wonderful chance for HJF to serve the community and help younger cyclists.”

 
Happy Joyous and Freewheeling

Happy Joyous and Freewheeling

  For Bethesda Green, a company focused on innovation, impact, and community to accelerate the sustainable local economy, events like GreenFest help foster community connections and allow the organization to identify future interns.

“It is important for us to stay involved with the community so people know who we are and what we do,” said April Ovens, Bethesda Green office and operations coordinator. “…GreenFest connects us with local green and social impact startups [that] may have interest in our incubator or other beneficial programs…[and] it’s great to see high school students interested and engaged in green related events and projects.“

If your company is looking to connect with local residents, identify new customers or find participants for your business’ programs, pencil Saturday, May 4, 2019 into your calendars now. GreenFest is the event for you!
  By Kimberly Hodges and Felicia Hodges

Montgomery County homeowners with modest income are invited to apply for upgrades under the Homeowner Energy Efficiency Program

Montgomery County homeowners with modest income are invited to apply for upgrades under the Homeowner Energy Efficiency Program
Montgomery County is launching a Homeowner Energy Efficiency Program to benefit a limited number of qualified residential customers. The program provides improvements to reduce electric bills for homeowners with modest income while also reducing the load on the electric grid. County homeowners of all ages may apply, but applicants age 62 or older will receive priority. To be eligible for the program, individuals must:
  • own and occupy the Montgomery County home for which they are requesting services;
  • be a PEPCO customer; and
  • meet certain income criteria (e.g., maximum income ranging from $52,550 for a one-person household, up to $99,100 for a household of eight or more persons.)
Montgomery County manages the Homeowner Energy Efficiency Program and has allocated $1.3 million during Fiscal Year 18, with the potential to allocate additional funds in the future. The County has selected Habitat for Humanity of Metro Maryland to assess the program eligibility of each individual applicant and, as funds are available, to identify needed energy upgrades for qualified households. The County also arranges with contractors to install appropriate materials and equipment in qualified homes. Homeowners benefitting from the program will receive free energy-efficiency upgrades to their home which may include attic insulation, upgraded furnace and air conditioning units, water heater replacement, LED light bulbs, a solar-powered attic fan, a programmable thermostat and new appliances. Interested homeowners can find more information and apply for the Homeowner Energy Efficiency Program   Habitat for Humanity
The Homeowner Energy Efficiency Program is funded by proceeds from the merger of Pepco Holdings Inc. and Exelon Corporation. Montgomery County’s support for the merger resulted in $41 million of funds to the County to create programs benefiting Pepco customers in Montgomery County. Additional benefits include a $100 bill credit per Pepco residential customer; improvement of utility reliability and recreation infrastructure; and investments in energy-efficiency, renewable energy and job creation. These funds are administered by the County’s Department of General Services.

The celebrated musical frog of Washington, DC

The celebrated musical frog of Washington, DC
Have you ever found an animal in danger or in a strange place, and weren’t sure what to do? Jessica Jones, Outreach and Education Manager of the Department of Environmental Protection, recently had a unique wildlife encounter that made her question whether she did the right thing. Thankfully, she happens to work with experts who know a thing or two about wildlife.
On Sunday, May 20, my husband and I were in DC to see the 2pm showing of Waitress at the National Theatre. We had just gotten off the Circulator bus at Franklin Square (with 20 minutes to spare before the start time) when Ankit spotted something moving on the sidewalk. He asked me to look down and confirm whether his eyes were deceiving him. It took me a second to get out of my headspace of powering through the 4 block walk to the theater, but then I saw it. Hopping next to the curb at the bus stop was a tiny frog. I bent down and put my cell phone out to the frog, who hopped right on. Our beautiful new friend, who I named Franklin, was a gray treefrog.  

How in the world did you get here?

If you’re not familiar, Franklin Square is in downtown DC, located at 13th and I Streets NW, 4 blocks from the White House and surrounded by high traffic roads. It is no where near Rock Creek Park where the trees and standing water puddles would serve as perfect habitat for Franklin. We came to two conclusions – he was left in the park after being an abandoned pet or he traveled a long treacherous journey in search of a mate and found the fountain in the middle of the Square. Either way, he was moments from being squished by a foot or a bus.    

What do we do now?

So now I have a frog on my phone, 15 minutes to curtain and no suitable habitat to bring him to. I was extremely conflicted – my experience working with animal education is that you should first leave wildlife alone, and then only engage to protect the wildlife from immediate danger (if you can safely do it). But was this a confused pet or an amorous frog who wandered very far from safety? Ankit asked me, “What do we do with Franklin?” and I replied, “I’m more concerned with the next 3 hours.” My husband looked at me for a second and then realized that I intended to take Franklin with us to the theater. I conveniently had a tupperware of almonds to sneak into the theater in my purse. I dumped it out, poked holes in the lid with a key and placed Franklin inside. And off we went to see Waitress.  
Franklin the Frog

Our temporary home for Franklin was a small container with holes cut into the top.

 

Catch and Release

I really want to say that Franklin is the first amphibian to sit through a stage performance, but I could not confirm that online. During intermission, we debated keeping Franklin, but decided together that the best home for him was back in the wild. After the show, we took a car to Rock Creek Park and released him in the woods along the path next to the Horse Center in Woodley Park. The whole evening I debated whether we did the right thing – taking him with us, transplanting him – and decided to get the answer from our experts at DEP’s biological monitoring team.    

Franklin’s Adventure to DC

Kenny Mack is a member of the Montgomery County, MD Department of Environmental Protection’s Biological Monitoring Team and an expert at County wildlife. Here is what he thinks happened to Franklin: “This time of year gray treefrogs are really active and are actually pretty good travelers. You’ll often see them in backyards in suburban areas and are commonly seen on the sides of pools. They travel for mates, but also find themselves on the sides of vehicles. That might have been what happened to Franklin. He was on the side of a vehicle that was driven from his home to DC. He found his way to the Square because of the fountain in the middle.” I asked Kenny, “Did we do the right thing taking him out of the Square and releasing him in Rock Creek Park?” “You could have left him on the side of a tree in the Square and he might have been fine there. But Franklin is probably much happier in Rock Creek Park. Plus, he will have a much easier hibernation season then trying to hibernate in downtown DC.” “What about us taking him to see Waitress?” “Well, I don’t know if he appreciated the performance, but they are hearty amphibians. I am sure Franklin will have a good life in Rock Creek Park.” Ankit and I hope so too! -By Jessica Jones, animal lover who came this close to having a pet frog.
Want to help frogs like Franklin? Become a member of the County’s FrogWatch program. Let me know if you hear any frogs singing the chorus of Waitress.

CleanChoice Energy and Takoma Park partner for clean energy community campaign

CleanChoice Energy and Takoma Park partner for clean energy community campaign
CleanChoice Energy, a renewable energy company providing 100% clean electricity to customers, has been chosen by the City of Takoma Park to supply residents and businesses with renewable energy on an opt-in basis. The new partnership reflects Takoma Park’s commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emissions citywide. Through the partnership, residents and businesses have the opportunity to support 100% Maryland-based clean energy furthering the regional benefits of clean air, water and jobs.   Enter the TKPK Neighborhood Energy Challenge   The City has long purchased 100% wind electricity through renewable energy credits for its own operations. In 2014, the City adopted a Sustainable Energy Action Plan with seventeen key strategies to reduce emissions. In 2016, the Mayor signed the Global Covenant of Mayors, and in 2017, pledged to uphold the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement. Now, the City is helping local residents and businesses to reduce their own carbon footprint by making the switch to clean energy. Electricity use is responsible for approximately a third of the typical American household’s carbon footprint. “CleanChoice Energy can help Takoma Park residents and businesses make the switch to clean energy simply and affordably,” said Kate Stewart, Takoma Park Mayor. “We’re proud of the efforts Takoma Park has taken to reduce our carbon pollution and be a national leader in sustainability. Helping our residents and businesses reduce their own footprint by choosing clean energy is the next logical step.” “CleanChoice Energy’s goal is to make it easy and convenient to switch to clean energy,” said Tom Matzzie, Founder and CEO of CleanChoice Energy. “It will take Takoma Park residents and businesses only five minutes to get off dirty energy, but the impact they will be making is huge. The average family will be reducing their carbon pollution by thousands of pounds a year.”   Image of a wind farm   The City of Takoma Park chose CleanChoice Energy based on an open RFP and by conducting research on rates, business reliability, and contract terms. CleanChoice Energy offers only 100 percent renewable energy products to American homes and businesses. The company has made it easy for people to choose clean energy as-a-service instead of as a home construction project. CleanChoice customers have avoided more than 3 billion pounds of carbon dioxide emissions—the equivalent of not burning more than 1.6 billion pounds of coal. City of Takoma Park LogoCleanChoice has made social responsibility a core value and has provided over $1.5 million in support to more than 50 nonprofit environmental and social impact organizations. CleanChoice Energy’s giving has powered it to the highest level of B Corp certification, with a company score 50 percent higher than the required score for B Corp certified companies. Takoma Park residents and businesses interested in making the switch to clean energy can sign up at CleanChoiceEnergy.com/go/Takoma or by calling 1-800-218-0113.   CleanChoice Energy

Seeking Solar: Homeowners turn to the sun for an energy assist

Seeking Solar: Homeowners turn to the sun for an energy assist
Easier to install than ever, solar power is proving to be a go-to for homeowners looking to reduce electricity costs as well as their greenhouse gas emissions. Solar power is arguably the cleanest and most reliable form of renewable energy available. As a result, many Montgomery County residents are considering it to help power their homes.  

But how easy is it to go solar?

According to Bala Srini, an area homeowner who has worked for more than a decade as a green building consultant in Montgomery County, the process isn’t too complicated. “I was keen to explore solar to reduce my environmental footprint and also my first energy bills,” he said. “Going solar was an easy answer for me to cut down my personal carbon footprint.” In September 2016, Srini and his family moved into their new single-family home in Clarksburg. “I started to call and talk to solar companies within three to four months of moving,” Srini said. Eventually he narrowed it down to two companies, both of which completed a site survey and gave a preliminary design in March 2017. By August, everything was finalized, although installation didn’t happen until the next January because black mat finish PV panels were requested, which took a bit longer. The new system produced 296.5 kilowatt-hours (kWh) in the first two weeks and will generate about 600 kWh per month, or 7,200 kWh for the year. In 2017, the family averaged about 528 kWh of electricity consumed per month (6,335 kWh for the entire year) – which means the system will meet or exceed 100% of the electricity his family will use.   Solar Unit on House

Ways to Save Energy

If a homeowner wants to have a solar system installed, there are several options. Buying the entire system requires cash upfront, but selling renewable energy certificates (RECs) could help offset the initial out-of-pocket costs. This option also allows the homeowner to benefit from federal and state tax rebates and credits. Using a Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) reduces the upfront costs to zero, but many solar companies require homeowner contracts to purchase all the power that the system produces at a locked-in rate. Srini chose this option and was able to get a guaranteed rate of $.08 per kWh, which is better than the Maryland state average of nearly $.13 per kWh. Leasing agreements are similar to PPAs, but the homeowner also pays an additional cost towards the equipment, which they will then own at the end of the contract. If your home isn’t a good candidate for solar, you can participate in the Maryland Community Solar Pilot Program, which allows you to either purchase or lease a “share” in a community solar project or start a project with your neighbors. An energy bill credit is received each month for the energy your share produces. This program also gives renters and apartment dwellers a way to support solar power.  

A close-up view of Srini’s solar readings

  Other solar options include participating in a solar cooperative, where homeowners take advantage of collective buying power to install PV systems more economically. Montgomery County is home to a number of successful solar co-ops, thanks to the organizing efforts of the Solar United Neighbors of Maryland. If your home already has solar, you can add energy storage to your system, which allows for energy storage during the day to be used at night or during a power outage.  And if you install energy storage in 2018, there is a new Maryland state tax credit you can take advantage of for both residential and commercial properties.  

Trimming the Fat

In addition to the solar conversion, Srini did a few other things to help make his home more energy efficient, including changing almost all of the light bulbs from the CFLs the builder supplied to LEDs. He also used a $150 Washington Gas rebate to get a Nest thermostat (final cost was $100) with a second Nest Thermostat provided for free by his solar company. Both of them are controlled from a smartphone, as are outdoor porch and garage lights, the garage door, and the security system. “All of these controls give me more ways to save energy,” Srini said.  

Where to Start

The best way to see if solar is right for you may be to just call a North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP)-certified solar installer and ask questions. “I highly encourage all homeowners to consider talking to residential solar companies, even if you don’t have any idea what is this all about,” Srini added. “The best way to go about it is to contact at least three solar companies, short list at least two to do your roof survey and prepare your design. With that design and offered panels, compare them both and select one company. Also get them to explain all available options to buy/lease or power purchase agreement. Talk to them about warranty issues too.”

Green Business Certification: Developer and caterer on common ground

Green Business Certification: Developer and caterer on common ground
A look at how two fundamentally different companies — Green Plate Catering, which specializes in vegan and vegetarian fare and uses sustainably produced local, seasonal and organic ingredients, and The Maven Group, a real estate and investment services firm that works to develop and redevelop contaminated or “stigmatized” properties – work to minimize their carbon footprint for the good of both the planet and their businesses. This is the third of a three-part series (read part 1 and part 2 here).
When Green Plate Catering started as a brown bag vegetarian lunch service in 1983, the idea of sustainability wasn’t quite the same as it is today. Still, owner Kit Wood understood the importance of maintaining certain ideals. “We liked to buy local and from farmers and producers who utilize sustainable practices and avoid using pesticides,” she said. “By supporting farmers in our communities that use those practices, it means fewer contaminants in the ground water.”
S.Schooler on Solar Panel Roof

S.Schooler on Solar Panel Roof

When The Maven Group began in 1995, Stuart Schooler, managing member, said environmental concerns were made a priority from the beginning. For example, they rerouted residential geothermal loops to avoid adversely effecting aquatic life in a nearby creek. “These are the tradeoffs you run into in doing, and being committed to, renewable energy work,” Stuart said.  

Walking (and Biking!) the Walk

At both organizations, carbon footprint reduction becomes a way of life for everyone associated with the companies – including how they work and how they get to work.
Butternut Squash Bisque that Green Plate Catering made and donated at a Shepherds Table Event

Butternut Squash Bisque that Green Plate Catering made and donated at a Shepherds Table Event

Most at Green Plate Catering live nearby and walk to work. They also carpool to events and have pow wows on how they can do things for the business that are better and greener. In addition to regular employee training on things like composting, the company uses green cleaning products, separates all event recyclables from trash, and even reaches into garbage bins after events to claim things that are compostable or can be recycled. In encouraging an environmentally friendly atmosphere, The Maven Group uses a comprehensive Employee Orientation Reference Manual that includes a big focus on sustainability. For example, the company encourages its employees to use electric and hybrid vehicles. They also subsidize employee Metro SmarTrip passes and buy bicycles for employees who move closer to the office to enable them to peddle to work. Stuart often dons a bike helmet, too, leaving his plug-in hybrid car at home to bike the 5.5 miles to work whenever he can.  

Sound Practices

To help eliminate as much waste as possible, Green Plate Catering uses actual silverware and real linen table cloths and napkins for events, and also offers reusable plates and glassware rentals to clients as an environmentally beneficial option. Although it’s important for Green Plate to cater to its vegan and vegetarian clients, its menu has expanded over the years to include meat and poultry, and Kit has developed relationships with merchants who contract with area farms whose livestock and poultry eat a species-appropriate diet and live in pastured environments. They also consult the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch guidelines to select seafood that’s fished or farmed in ways that support a healthy ocean. Focusing on environmental sustainability also means pursuing efficiencies. Seeking to find ways to use space that would otherwise go to waste, The Maven Group, with their affiliate Rockville Solar Group, decided on a very significant energy saving initiative. Originally intending to put a wind turbine on the site of its Rockville Ice Rink before discovering it was prohibited by land-use restrictions, they instead conceived the idea to install an 865,000 kWh photovoltaic solar panel energy system for the facility – the second-largest solar panel installation in the state.  
Rockville Ice Arena

Rockville Ice Arena with solar panels

  Their embrace of sustainability includes a commitment not to cut down mature trees or build on wetlands when developing land. “There’re enough industrial properties in need of redevelopment so there’s no need to be cutting down trees,” Stuart said.  

The Benefits of Certification

“The certification process is thorough and can definitely help businesses looking to green their operations and reduce their environmental impact,” Stuart said. Having been a Montgomery County Certified Green Business for about two years, Kit said she would encourage other businesses to get the process going because it’s worth the effort in order to begin a solid and sustainable path. “Why are we here? It’s not just to make money,” she said. “It’s to benefit each other and to leave the earth in good or better shape.”
Article by Kimberly Hodges and Felicia Hodges