Green Giants: Wood Acres Elementary School, The Town of Poolesville, Wendy Howard, Alan Pultyniewicz and Glenstone
These are among the five winners of the Bethesda Magazine Green Champions Awards, held in partnership with Bethesda Green.
A BETHESDA PUBLIC SCHOOL that holds a weekly contest to determine which grade generates the least lunchroom trash. A Potomac art museum that’s gone chemical-free on its 200-acre grounds. A local businesswoman who promotes environmental sustainability to her high-tech clients.
These are among the five winners of the Bethesda Magazine Green Champions Awards, held in partnership with Bethesda Green. Chosen by the magazine and Bethesda Green, this year’s winners represent different parts of our community, but have at least one thing in common: a commitment to promoting a more sustainable way of life. >>
WOOD ACRES ELEMENTARY SCHOOL
From a competition called “Trashless Tuesday” to conserving energy by turning off lights and computers, students at Bethesda’s Wood Acres Elementary School are learning what it means to go green.
The school is in the third year of an initiative to teach students and staff how to be more environmentally friendly. The initiative was created by three parents who wanted to reduce Wood Acres’ carbon footprint, Principal Marita Sherburne says.
Students in kindergarten through fifth grade have learned to reduce electricity consumption in the school by turning off lights and computers when they’re not being used, and they’ve turned trash into art by using castoff school supplies in craft projects.
Wood Acres also has an outdoor classroom where students have grown lettuce, one of the activities that helped the school achieve Green Schools certification in May from the Maryland Association for Environmental & Outdoor Education.
“We’ve definitely changed some habits,” Sherburne says.
One of the most popular activities is “Trashless Tuesday,” a weekly competition to determine which grade generates the least lunchroom trash. It’s evolved into a fierce rivalry and has helped the school recycle as much as 75 percent of its lunchroom trash, parent Kate Mindlin says.
“The first time we did it, it was kind of hard,” fifth-grader Mason Kelly, 10, says of the competition. “But it got easier and easier.”
Several students were so inspired by the green initiative that they created a YouTube video about ways to make a difference locally and globally on issues such as climate change.
Jen Khovananth, mother of two students and one of the parents who created the initiative, says “it’s blossomed into a major program with all these parents helping out,” including Patrick Kelly, Mason’s father, who built the school a custom recycling cabinet for free.
Mindlin says she realized last year how much the school has achieved when it applied for the Green Schools certification with the help of GreenKids, an educational outreach program of the Audubon Naturalist Society.
“I’ve had parents who see me out on the street and say, ‘I just want to let you know I’m so proud of our school,’ ” Mindlin says.
THE TOWN OF POOLESVILLE
With the opening earlier this year of a 6-acre solar array, Poolesville—with just under 5,000 residents—became one of only two Montgomery County communities and one of four in the state to produce renewable energy.
The solar panels, installed at the town’s wastewater treatment plant, produce enough electricity to run the treatment plant and keep the lights on in the town hall, according to Town Manager Wade Yost. The 1.1-megawatt installation is owned and operated by a Pennsylvania gas company, which sells electricity to the town. The county’s other municipal solar installation is at the Seneca Wastewater Treatment Plant in Germantown.
Power generated by the solar array is likely to reduce the town’s energy costs by as much as $20,000 in 2014, Yost says. The installation also serves as a teaching tool about renewable energy for Poolesville High School’s global ecology magnet program.
“It’s a big feather in the town’s cap both from a financial and an environmental standpoint,” says Eddie Kuhlman, the former president of The Commissioners of Poolesville who co-led the effort for the solar-array initiative.
The town, located in the middle of the county’s 93,000-acre Agricultural Reserve, is making other changes to protect and preserve the environment. The commissioners rewrote local zoning laws to make it easier for residents to install wind turbines and solar panels, and in 2008 authorized a new town hall parking lot that uses permeable pavement to help rainwater filter naturally into the ground. That move, coupled with investments in the city’s wastewater infrastructure, have reduced the amount of polluted stormwater passing through the wastewater treatment plant, says Jim Brown, president of the commissioners.
The town also is replacing streetlights with more environmentally friendly LED bulbs that use less electricity.
Wendy Howard started working in information technology long before anyone worried about the carbon footprint of Internet servers or whether to try double-sided printing to save paper. But the high-tech consultant has always been passionate about protecting the environment, and she eventually incorporated green practices into her business.
“What I love about technology is there’s always something new to be had. Fortunately, a lot of it is environmentally friendly,” says Howard, 53, a Wheaton resident who launched Silver Spring-based WH Consulting in 1992 and currently serves as executive director of GreenWheaton, a local nonprofit that promotes environmental sustainability.
Her motto? Good environmental practice is also good for business.
“People want to be green,” says Howard, who finds that her reputation for providing practical suggestions draws clients.
“I don’t expect people to do it all at once. I think that’s the greatest fear people have—that they’ll have to throw out all their stuff and start again,” she says. Instead, she encourages a gradual approach. When upgrading equipment, for example, she suggests opting for a laptop that requires only about half the energy needed to run a desktop computer, or posting reports and brochures online to reduce or eliminate the need to print.
“Once you see others doing it, you say: ‘Hey, I can do that. That’s not so hard to do,’ ” she says. “It really motivates people.”
Ed Murtagh, president of GreenWheaton’s board of directors, says Howard knows how to inspire people working in the environmental, business and nonprofit sectors to unite behind a common cause. “She can get people to be enthusiastic about things and bring in people from different backgrounds who don’t usually want to work together,” he says.
Jennifer Russel, the former president of Montgomery Women, a group dedicated to the advancement of women in business and politics, says Howard “embodies the concepts of advocacy.” In 2013, the group selected Howard for its Phyllis Campbell Newsome Rising Star Award, which honors up-and-coming local professionals.
“Wendy really believes in what she does,” Russel says.
Alan Pultyniewicz loves when residents try to stump him with questions about Montgomery County’s recycling program. As recycling coordinator for the Division of Solid Waste Services of the county’s Department of Environmental Protection, he never tires of explaining what happens to recyclables after they’re picked up off the curb, or of promoting the county’s goal of recycling 70 percent of collected trash by 2020.
“They sort of test you and really want to know the details,” says Pultyniewicz, 39, who has been with the county’s solid waste division since 2000 and today oversees both commercial and residential recycling programs.
Philip Palmer, site manager at the Riviera of Chevy Chase condominiums on East West Highway, says it’s difficult to stump Pultyniewicz with questions related to local recycling efforts.
As a volunteer with the county’s recycling outreach team, Palmer travels with Pultyniewicz to area events. The men hand out brochures explaining the county’s recycling program, play games designed to educate the public and perform show-and-tell using a bin filled with a milk carton, aluminum cans and other sample recyclables.
At the Montgomery County Agricultural Fair last summer Palmer couldn’t answer a question about whether garden hoses can be recycled, but Pultyniewicz responded “no” without hesitation. “I’m impressed by him every time,” Palmer says.
Pultyniewicz proudly notes that the county currently recycles about 60 percent of its trash—everything from a variety of plastics to old clothing. Montgomery is one of Maryland’s top recyclers, routinely vying with Harford County to claim the state’s highest waste diversion rate and performing well above the Maryland and national recycling rates of 45.4 percent and 34.5 percent, respectively, according to state data.
“I get a great feeling of satisfaction knowing I’m making a positive impact in the region,” Pultyniewicz says.
From a pesticide-free lawn to energy-efficient lightbulbs spotlighting works by renowned artists, the private art museum Glenstone in Potomac epitomizes the commitment of its owners and staff to environmental sustainability.
“You can’t think in the long term without thinking about sustainability,” says Tony Cerveny, Glenstone’s director of operations.
Danaher Corp. co-founder Mitchell Rales and his wife, Emily, an art historian and curator, opened the museum of post-World War II and contemporary art in 2006 on a 200-acre former foxhunting estate. The property is also the family’s home, and the Rales have taken steps to make the buildings and grounds more environmentally sustainable.
A new museum building under construction is expected to be certified by the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design program, says Laura Linton, Glenstone’s chief administrative officer. And about a year ago, Glenstone hired nationally known natural lawn care expert Paul Tukey, who has served as a consultant since 2010, as its chief sustainability officer.
Tukey has eliminated the use of chemicals on the grounds, creating what he says is one of the largest pesticide-free lawns on the East Coast. Since joining the staff, he has begun experimenting with natural methods of combating invasive plants and created a “green team” of staff members to reduce the environmental impact of Glenstone’s operations. Team members include finance and human resources director Mary Beth Tsikalas, who says she now considers the environmental impact of items before making purchases.
“It’s easier now than it used to be because there are a lot more [eco-friendly] choices,” she says.
Glenstone’s 30-member staff also has embraced recycling, succeeding in increasing the amount of trash recycled monthly from about 47 percent in September 2013 to about 70 percent in July 2014. Efforts include lunchroom composting and the use of compostable paper towels in restrooms used by the administrative staff. The compost is used to fertilize the Glenstone grounds.
Tukey says the staff is determined to consistently recycle 70 percent of all of its trash every month—a benchmark Montgomery County says it hopes to achieve in 2020. “Our own goal is to get to 70 percent now because we want to be leaders,” he says.
Christine MacDonald is a freelance reporter who specializes in environmental reporting. She lives in Washington, D.C. To comment on these stories, email email@example.com.