IT'S EASY BEING GREEN
For Ed Murtagh, environmentalism has been a lifelong journey.
“Over time, I’ve been inspired learning about all the opportunities we have to have to help the environment,” said Murtagh, one of the founders and original members of Green Wheaton, a nonprofit for environmental outreach, education and collaboration.
“Our goal is to promote our community as a model of green and sustainable living,” said Green Wheaton executive director Wendy Howard. “People here are stakeholders in their communities. Everyone wants to thrive. We’ve done some good things on our own, but the greater successes have always been when we’ve collaborated.”
A primary example of such success is the installation of 18 Big Belly solar dual trash and recycling compactors throughout the city of Wheaton. The units send a signal to the local CleanSafe team when they are full, saving both time and energy so sanitation workers don’t have to check each unit every day.
One of the original goals of Green Wheaton, Murtagh said, was to have an organized voice on why sustainability and green living is vital, in the midst of the city’s ongoing redevelopment project. “Green,” he said, can mean anything from buildings under LEED construction standards to energy efficient lighting to actual green spaces – parks and gardens.
“We want people to know this is a community that takes sustainability seriously,” he said.
“For me, personally, a greener Wheaton means there is a walkable place for me to go,” said Howard. “I want to be able to walk to the shopping. I want a place where I can meet my neighbors. I'd like to see a physical green space, a park. I want a place where I can bring my clients. I love to go to local businesses. It's a community that is environmentally friendly.”
GARDENS FOR GOOD
Green Wheaton, said Howard, is a public/private partnership, which works in tandem with both local businesses and residents, and with governmental bodies, including the City of Wheaton, the Department of Environmental Protection and the Montgomery County Department of Economic Development.
“Having an organization is important for influencing elected officials,” Murtagh said.
The organization works to spread awareness of sustainable opportunities such as the emPOWER Maryland home energy audit, and to be watchdogs throughout the city revitalization.
“We are looking forward to (the redevelopment),” said Howard, “but we want to make sure it enhances the community. It’s great to have buildings come in, but we want to make sure we have green spaces.”
Green Wheaton created a community garden with a rainscape to reduce runoff. A rainscape or rain garden, is a garden in a small depression, which can collect rainwater and use it to help plants grow. This not only prevents runoff, it also reduces water waste. Natural fresh water is used for garden plants, rather than from a hose or faucet. Water used inside the house can even be recycled via a sump pump.
“We’re learning to manage stormwater,” said Murtagh, “and trying to get people to use stormwater for gardens.”
An overview of the Montgomery County Department of Environmental Protection RainScapes Program, and the importance of good water runoff management practices for a healthy watershed. This video focuses on explaining what a rain garden is how it helps control water runoff, and how to put one in you own yard!
An increasing number of people, he said, are installing rain barrels in their gardens, thanks to the awareness and education being spread by the members of Green Wheaton.
The headwaters of Sligo Creek are in Wheaton, which makes runoff maintenance and creek restoration a vital part of Green Wheaton’s work. Stormwater runoff essentially means that dirty water (water that runs through streets, etc. collecting contaminants), gets pushed into the creek via storm drains. Installation of more rainscapes and rain barrels is helping to prevent runoff into the creek and restore the watershed.
THE GREEN TEAM
Green Wheaton sponsors community events, including public service days, paper shredding days for recycling, or community clean-ups. More than 100 people joined the efforts on Martin Luther King Service Day, Murtagh said. The group hosts a local gathering – Green Drinks – to bring together fellow green-minded neighbors.
“People need an organized effort to engage the public,” he said. “A few dedicated people working together can make a big difference.”
Local artist and photographer Joanne Miller recently received a grant from the Arts and Humanities Council of Montgomery County to lead a yearlong series of arts and nature walks in collaboration with Green Wheaton.
For most events, said Howard, Green Wheaton has been able to partner with local business that are working to increase their green practices, including Hollywood East Café. Janet Yu, the owner of the dim sum café, has worked to increase energy efficiency, creating a business that is both more sustainable and more economically sound.
“A new project is to provide a specific resource to businesses, help businesses to make it easy to find out about resources and things they can do,” said Howard. “We're trying to take advantage of the information and knowledge we possess and give it out to everyone else.”
About the Author: Holly Leber is the editorial director of the Daily Do Good. She, too, enjoys green spaces and loves to go to a local business.