Asked to define sustainability, the activist, career counselor, workshop leader, and author on the subject Melissa Everett initially demurred. "It's a pretty big ball of wax," she admitted. Later she came back with as definitive an answer as she saw was possible: "Sustainable living is not one-size-fits-all. It's about living richly within our means in personal and environmental terms through ingenuity, cooperation, and taking a fresh look at what matters."
As the director of the new Sustainable Living Resource Center (SLRC) in Cottekill, which opened its doors to the public for the first time at its opening celebration on July 1, Everett considers sustainability to be both a communal and an individual concept. Naturally, she said, depending on where you live, a sustainable lifestyle "means different things to different people." For common ground, Everett tends to turn to the teachings of longtime sustainability educators and practitioners Dana and Dennis Meadows, who "suggest that [sustainability is] about 'meeting our material needs materially and our non-material needs non-materially,' such as our needs for the recognition of others, for stimulation, for expression," she explained.
The SLRC is a longtime project of the organization Sustainable Hudson Valley (SHV), of which Everett is a member. It is also the brainchild of Manna Jo Greene, a well-known environmental activist who makes her home in Cottekill and is the environmental director of Hudson River Sloop Clearwater. "If someone comes to the building to learn about 'green building' or renewable energy, they'll discover information on their own local CSA or permaculture or sustainable building practices," says Greene. The multipurpose building includes space for meetings, workshops and seminars, as well as a sustainability resource library of books, videotapes, journals, displays, and databases on topics including sustainable buildings, agriculture, economics, health and healing, Internet access, and sample building materials for reference by building professionals and consumers.
SLRC was constructed largely out of the desire to "show what the average person can do with the average paycheck" in terms of sustainability, Everett said. "That's something that both SHV and Manna Jo Greene [founder of SHV] have been interested in for a long time."
Greene donated part of her land for the building of the SLRC. When her daughter died of AIDS about 10 years ago, Greene told the approximately 50 people who gathered at the SLRC's opening, she vowed to create a legacy in her honor. The SLRC has been built on the location of the cottage in which Greene's daughter lived. "For me it has also been a grieving process, a letting go," Greene announced while addressing the opening's crowd.
The SLRC building features a 30' hexagonal-shaped space with a cathedral ceiling which can accommodate up to 50 people. At the center's opening, the space remained cool and comfortable despite the humid weather, as well as light-filled even as the sun set-a testament to the soundness of the sustainable building principles on which it was created.
With a foundation made from salvaged concrete blocks, the building was framed using sustainably-harvested, local rough-cut lumber and super-insulated with cellulose fiber made of recycled newspaper. It is heated by a small propane instantaneous water heater via an energy-efficient radiant floor and passive solar gain. Throughout the building are double- and triple-paned low E windows and skylights for maximum natural lighting. A charmingly framed "truth window," featured in the center's foyer, reveals the building's double-studded and strapped framing that holds 8" of uninterrupted, densely packed insulation (which increases to 12" in ceiling). The center also features a radon ventilation system; a rainwater collection system is being installed.
"The main purpose of the building was to cross-fertilize the various ideas and principles of sustainability," says Greene. According to Everett, building the center was the only way to prove that sustainable buildings actually work. In human nature, seeing means believing, so the most effective teaching method is hands-on, using models. Since people naturally "seek approval or oblivion or self-expression," says Everett, the best way to convince folks to adopt sustainable lifestyles is to "walk the talk." People "imitate models," she explained. "They respond to peer influences, incentives and sanctions. They do what they are reminded to do."
Construction on the center began in the summer of 1999, using donated, salvaged, reused and recycled materials, along with thousands of hours of paid labor and volunteer help over the past five years by area building professionals and community members. In fact, the list of contributors to be thanked for their help in the building's construction was so long-and as such, every bit as inspiring as the celebratory music and spoken word performances that followed-that Greene and Everett took turns reading it aloud to the opening crowd's applause.
Altogether, individual monetary donations for the building totaled over $24,000, covering the costs of energy-efficient windows, supplies, and the general building fund. Among the more notable contributions to the SLRC were more than 400 concrete blocks for the building's foundation which were collected from SUNY New Paltz students' year-end "Save the Reusable" program. The building's roof shingles are seconds that were donated by Owen-Corning. Verizon contributed dense-packed cellulose insulation made of recycled phonebooks, through the insulation's manufacturer, Applegate. Paint was obtained from the Ulster County Resource Recovery Agency's household hazardous waste "Swap Shop." A gray-water tank was donated by Woodstock Plumbing, and a set of solar hot water panels came from Gifford Quality Insulation. Bathroom fixtures, lumber and insulation were reused from a previous portion of the building that was deconstructed to build the center. Several of the windows, doors and ice shielding for the first layer of roofing were donated by the Hudson Valley Materials Exchange. Some SHV members, like Hattie Langsford, who donated an additional door, also contributed many miscellaneous items.
At the center's opening, Everett and Greene invited the public to help determine what its offerings will be. Later on, Everett explained that the people behind the new SLRC are "doing [their] best to develop programs that reflect the psychology of behavior change, which tells us that people don't always do what's in their 'rational' best interest."
In planning stages are "educational programs that let people be whatever flavor they are and bring their whole selves into the conversation, and that help folks develop social support structures for smarter choices."
SHV's vision is "to be a catalyst for creating the much-needed transition to lifestyles and practices that will create a truly sustainable future here in the Hudson Valley," Everett explains. True to their word, the group passed out flyers at the opening with the heading "Everybody loves the Hudson Valley?sometimes a little too much," in an effort to begin the community conversations necessary to jumpstart the kind of sustainable development Everett calls "the next industrial revolution."
As a nonpartisan organization, practical think-tank, network of innovators, and information clearinghouse, SHV is poised to create an arena of "huge creativity and potential," Everett said. But the group is determined not to impose any agenda on that arena. "Listening to community inputs, visions, capacities, and so on will guide the organization as it develops," Everett says. "In particular, because we have a good network of experienced people working on sustainable development in many local, regional and wider settings, we can support projects that are initiated by members and friends and provide a kind of incubator-not literally but in spirit." So the sky is literally the limit for what SLRC hopes to accomplish in the future. Says Greene, "As the building is used and known of, more and more people will want to use it , and it will take on a life of its own."
The Sustainable Living Resource Center is located at 150 Cottekill Road (off Route 213 between Rosendale and High Falls). Annual membership is available at $20 (basic). Contact Melissa Everett at (845) 679-9597 or email@example.com, or visit www.hvscn.org. The Center's fall calendar includes monthly Green Building and Renewable Energy Salons; sustainable development study groups; speaker training; an interfaith gathering on stewardship in purchasing choices; a university faculty exploration of hands-on education opportunities; and briefings on sustainable development planning for elected officials and active citizens.
Upcoming events include:
- Wednesday, August 4, 6-8 pm: The Next Industrial Revolution, narrated by Susan Sarandon, showcases the work of "green" builders and industrial designers William McDonough and Michael Braungart.
- Wednesday, September 8, 5:30-8:30PM Sustainable Business Sail aboard Clearwater offers a chance for sustainable networking. The event benefits SLRC's business outreach programs.