Gail of Green Living

The $5 Impact: The Burnt Orange goes GREEN

University of Texas at Austin

When I think of “green cities“, I think first of Seattle or Austin, Texas.  Their city governments have done a lot to green their communities.  But The University of Texas at Austin had not done so much.  And with over 50,000 students, its population is the size of a small town at least.  The University opened its Office of Sustainability in 2009, but the costs of carrying out the mission were expensive.  In 2011, the student body voted in a “green fee” of $5 per semester and $2.50 for a summer session, added to their fees.  This fee adds over half million dollars for projects.  Here are some examples of campus and campus life changes taking place:

  • Added gooseneck water fountains at high-traffic spots on campus to encourage students to fill their own water bottle.
  • Invasive plants removed from Waller Creek, so that student groups can enjoy the creek as well as monitor it through an Adopt-A-Stream program.
  • The Perry Castaneda Library has installed paper recycling bins inside and outside the library where more than 5,000 students use the facility each day.
  • A vacant lot in East Campus has been transformed into an organic micro-farm to grow fruits and vegetables to serve in campus dining rooms.
  • Students and faculty from the LBJ School of Public Affairs are now recycling and composting at their weekly luncheons.  More than 2,000 pounds of waste have been kept from landfills since this project began.
  • You’ve seen car charging stations; UT has installed a charging station outside the Perry Castaneda Library where students can charge their electronic devices, including electric scooters.
  • Additional bicycle parking has been installed across campus
  • The first large-scale tree nursery has been established for reforestation purposes.  It is located at the Pickle Research Campus.  The student-operated facility has the capacity for over 300,000 seedlings!

These are campus projects and do not reflect any efforts toward sustainability that classrooms, dorms and other campus groups and facilities are implementing on their own.  I can imagine there is a visual impact on the students and faculty that causes them to have a more responsible, sustainable lifestyle when they leave campus.

I think the students must feel they are getting a good return on their $5 investment in a greener campus.  HOOK ‘EM!

Information from the Alcalde, July/August 2012


GREEN Medical Center Home for Sale

3703 Drummond

This home for sale is in the Texas Medical Center area in Braes Heights.  This home proves you don’t have to be “hippy” to be green!

I am going to tell you all about it over several postings, because the design and building processes were thought through so well, with every detail considered, and every system working with the total package.  I am confident you will learn something about green building in Houston, TX, and the materials necessary to make the total package efficient.  The owner calls it a Building System that is specific to the U.S. Gulf coast.  So this system addresses the environmental stressors on a home, as well as sustainability, efficiency and long-term cost issues.  Instead of “traditional” home building, which is done for the day of sale, this one was built for the long haul!

The owner consulted with the inventor of an amazing radiant barrier, and he referred the owner to Texas A&M’s Energy Systems Lab.  The Aggies committed to a project where they would design, build, study and complete the Building System.  Together with the owner, they researched all the sub-systems typical in a house—the walls, attic, roof, HVAC, electrical, rain-water collection, etc., over 300 products and technologies.  They narrowed the list to include products and technologies that actually do work together.

The benchmark for the decision-making was always, “What makes sense?”.  They did not throw in materials and systems just for the sake of “going green”.  The return of investment was critical in their decisions.  Todd Rice, of Rice Residential Designs, took the components of the home that were chosen, and designed a beautiful home that fits in with other new homes in Braes Heights.  Interfield Group was the engineering firm chosen to carry out the ICF (Insulated Concrete Form) construction, and this group knew how to take the project through the “Fortified” rating process.  This was the first home in Houston to achieve this rating.

Choosing a builder became a challenge, because the green builders wanted to charge way too much, so the owner decided to form his own company, Durable Residential Builders, LLC.  Rice Residential Design introduced him to Jim Kuchenbrod, who had experience with this construction method, and he seemed to have the same level of passion as the owner, so they became partners.

In my next posting,  I will define the elements of this green home.  Meanwhile, if you are interested in seeing this home for sale or learning more about it, please contact me through my website,

“GREEN” Theatre

Creating a green business that works doesn’t happen overnight or without much thought and motivation.  Julie Ritchey, Founding and Artistic Director of The Filament Theatre Ensemble in Chicago has recently hired my daughter as the Managing Director of the theatre.  This is how I heard of their mission and motivation for being green.

The idea of a small theatre ensemble brings to my mind things like financial struggles, actors bringing in fast food purchased on the way to rehearsal after their last audition of the day elsewhere, and often times, working for less then they value themselves.  Actors dream of the day they can leave their “day job” to make a living where they are one with a community of fellow actors who stretch each other to be their best and who share in their belief system.  Well, The Filament has succeded in making this concept work!  I am presenting their mission statement for the theatre and will provide examples in future posts of how they live and work within their belief system.  Below is a portion of the mission statement from their website.

“A Note About Community, Imagination, and Sustainability These three ideas are inextricably linked to both each other  and to the values of the Filament Theatre Ensemble. One cannot build  community without celebrating the unique imaginations of the individuals who make that community. Communities are enriched when consumers support locally owned businesses, which is an important aspect of  sustainability. We strive to make theatre a sustainable lifestyle for  our community of artists, and always provide monetary compensation for  their extraordinary and imaginative work. Producing a show in an  environmentally responsible and sustainable way demands a great deal of  imagination and non-traditional approaches. With all the work we do –  whether during a production, audition, meeting, or outreach event – we  strive to make an investment in our audiences, our artists, and our  world. Through building and strengthening community, engaging and  challenging the imagination, and the use of sustainable business practices, we endeavor to leave the world a little better than the way  we found it.

Sustainability is a particularly tricky word, and one that gets  tossed around a lot these days, so we’re going to take an extra moment  here to focus on that word as we mean it. There are a couple of definitions in particular that strike a chord with the Filament Theatre Ensemble.  The United Nations World Commission on Environment and Development  describes sustainability as “meeting the needs of the current generation  without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their  own needs,” and the Center for Sustainable Communities says that  “sustainability emphasizes relationships rather than pieces in  isolation.”

The Filament Theatre Ensemble ceaselessly ventures to connect with  and explore the vast world around us. We value and honor this  interconnected web that makes up our relationships with each other and  with our world.  By emhasizing community, imagination, and  sustainability in all our work, we strive to make choices that have a  long-lasting positive impact across a broad spectrum, and not just  “pieces in isolation.””

Let me know of green businesses you own or support.  I am pleased to discover new ones more and more often these days!