Got sustainability?

By IAN DONNIS  |  June 4, 2008

Getting out of your car is another big one, and using our mass transit system. Carpooling, bicycling, getting to know your neighbors, and reducing your driving is a big one. The Union of Concerned Scientists say that transit and reducing driving is the big one.

Eating lower on the food chain, [as well as supporting local agriculture, through farmers’ markers, community-supporter agriculture, and the like], is a huge sustainable step. The Union of Concerned Scientists says this is the second-most important area for us to focus on. On an acre of farmland, you can grow about 250 pounds of beef, or you can grow 25,000 pounds of potatoes. So eating lower on the food chain — eating more fruits, vegetables, grains, and cereals grown directly, as opposed to cycling them through livestock will reduce your carbon foot print, it will reduce your ecological footprint.

Apeiron's Sustainable Living Festival is this weekend. Talk a little about what the festival means for the organization and what some of the highlights will be.
This is our biggest annual event. It’s in its seventh year. We have close to 100 vendors this year, which is the most we’ve ever had. We have over 60 workshops, which is the most we’ve ever had. It’s a two-day festival this year, which is one of the new things that we have this year. Day two is going to have a different focus. We have fewer workshops, but the workshops are longer, so it allows people to go a little more in-depth.

How do you measure the progress that Apeiron has made since it was founded?
That’s a really good question. What our intention is to have our goals, and metrics, and measureables linked to external data in the state, as if to say vehicles miles traveled are decreasing, mass transit ridership is up, energy usage is down, regional food production is up. That’s what we as organization hope to be linking our successes and failures to, but we’re not there yet.

[By way of other measures], the demand for our services and the idea [of sustainability], and the people who are talking about environmental building now, versus back when we started, is just like night and day: The fact that the [state] Department of Education just mandated high-performance construction for all schools; Governor Carcieri’s executive order [related to green building certification]; Mayor Cicilline’s contest about green design for affordable housing; RI Housing’s KeepSpace communities initiative, to build model sustainable communities. I think they’re all indications that the ideas that we’re getting are coming out there.  

You've talked about how we live in a symptom-based culture. What are some of your thoughts on the most effective ways of overcoming that?
I have a tendency, when I am asked questions like this, to get sort of existential. I think it’s a question of, what is humanity — why are we here? What are our roles, what are our lives to be about? And I believe that one of the great assets and skills that we as human beings have is the ability to create. We do that with our jobs, we do that with our relationships. We build houses, we build companies, or [things] as simple as a work of art or a piece of music, or a novel — all acts of creation. To the degree that we can be creating, consciously, the types of communities that we want to have, I think that will really serve us in the long term.

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