Local efforts toward sustainability can yield social and ecological rewards.
A couple of weeks ago, I received an appeal from my local neighborhood association (WENA) to volunteer to build affordable window inserts for my neighbors.
Like many of you, I am wary of small homeowner organizations. They can too easily devolve into anti-change NIMBY groups, or become de facto-style police, controlling everything from mailbox colors to lawn length. But this endeavor seemed legit. So I signed up.
Doing so cost me very little—a day of my time. But the positive impacts went beyond my expectations. They deserve an accounting:
- New connections. First, I met about a dozen of my neighbors with who I had never spoken. One was a retired engineer. Another an artist. A young woman named Heather asked me to attend an upcoming environmental education fair called "Get Energized About Energy." Another volunteer introduced me to a local Climate Action Group and asked me to join.
- New skills. I'm an experienced carpenter but I'm always open to new tricks. The production of the window inserts involves many clever and portable jigs, clamps, and techniques. Perfected by a non-profit called Window Dressers, the whole process is brilliantly simple with application to many other woodworking projects.
- Eco-Impact. Over the course of the week of volunteerism, we collectively completed 500 winter window inserts for the city of Portland. Many will go to low-income residents. But here's the best part: These windows reduce heating costs (and CO2 offgassing) by 20 percent to 40 percent per home or apartment.
Are temporary window inserts that last 19 years the solution to climate change woes? Of course not. But the ripple effects from this project go far beyond its physical output.
There are some big ideas in our November/December issue, from some very smart people. But my experience with WENA has convinced me that policy, codes and smarter technology alone won't create a more sustainable future. We need buy-in and participation at the neighborhood level—along with more holistic, circular products and processes—to engineer a future that serves the many, yet makes room for the rest of life on Earth.