Twitterers to Follow

Attending the Aspen Environment Forum this summer gave me the opportunity to listen to environmental conversations from some of the leading thinkers on environmental, sustainability, and social issues.  Of the many wonderful speakers attending the forum, three individuals stand out for their significant contributions to these issues and their presence on social media.  An added bonus for me is that I was lucky enough to meet these gentlemen and share brief conversations regarding their work.  If you are seeking perspective on critical environmental issues, these professionals have much to offer.

Jonathan Foley is the director of the Institute on the Environment at the University of Minnesota, where he is a professor and McKnight Presidential Chair in the Department of Ecology, Evolution and Behavior. Mr. Foley focuses on the sustainability of civilization and the global environment.  He speaks often of global food security and land use issues and has a depth of knowledge regarding climate, ecosystems and the biosphere. You can find him on Twitter at

Bill Chameides is the dean of Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment and has over 30 years in academia.  He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and served for three-years as the chief scientist of Environmental Defense Fund.  Mr Chameides is considered one of the most highly influential scientists and scholars worldwide and has received numerous awards.  He was appointed the Vice Chair of the Committee on America’s Comate Choices in 2008 to develop a multidecadal road map for America’s response to climate change.  Follow him on Twitter at

Hari Sreenivassan reports for the PBS NewsHour as an online and on-air correspondent.  Previously Mr. Sreenivassan has reported for CBS and ABC news programs. He has won a number of Outstanding Broadcast Story Awards from the South Asian Journalists Association.  Known for his prolific use of social media and ability to cover environmental, political, and societal issues, Mr. Sreenivassan brings energy and clarity to important issues. Look for him on Facebook, Google+.  You can find him on Twitter at

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LinkedIn? Not Yet!

How do I feel about LinkedIn?  I would say it depends on what you are trying to accomplish.  For professionals and entrepreneurs seeking networking opportunities, LinkedIn can be a valuable tool for making important contacts, finding jobs, and researching companies.  Some possible negatives of LinkedIn include the responsibility of keeping profiles updated and the fact that free members don’t have direct access to people beyond their primary connections.

Recently I began the process of creating a LinkedIn profile and stopped after entering my name.  Why the hesitation?  For starters, I’m an educator and wasn’t comfortable disclosing information that would identify the district where I work.  Secondly, I would like for my profile to reflect my MSIS  in Sustainability degree once I’ve graduated in December. Finally, I asked myself, “Why do I need a LinkedIn account and is it worth my time right now?”  Since I couldn’t clearly define specific reasons to complete the process, I decided to pass for now.  Perhaps in the future I will jump into the LinkedIn world when it is more relevant to my career.

Am I saying that educators can’t benefit from professional networking sites?  Not at all! A quick search for educational networking sites revealed that there are a plethora of networks available for teachers including Ning, BuddyPress, Elgg, Diigo, and many more.  Will I join any of these groups?  Perhaps, I will join in the future if I can find the time.


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The Charleston Park Conservancy

The Charleston Parks Conservancy is dedicated to opening doors to individuals and communities in Charleston, South Carolina who wish to “get engaged with their parks and greenspace in a variety of positive ways.” They accomplish this by partnering with the city and various organizations and communities who work, play and live around the parks. The Conservancy is a network of advocates who support the parks. By utilizing social media and more traditional communication approaches, they maximize their exposure to citizens while fulfilling their mission.  The purpose of all efforts, both offline and online, is to engage individuals, groups, and communities in the parks.  A variety of opportunities are available to citizens and groups including: community garden work, concerts, after school educational programs, a variety of garden classes, beautification, and much more.  Social media is utilized as a tool to engage the citizens of Charleston by communicating upcoming events, promoting fundraising efforts, and providing educational information that supports conservation and environmental awareness.

The marketing campaign includes the use of Facebook, YouTube, Flicker, and Foursquare. Conservancy volunteers post blogs on various park activities and the official website is easy to navigate and visually pleasing. While it is difficult to find fault with the campaign, there is one area that is lacking.  The Charleston Parks Conservancy does not seem to provide information or links to engage children and teens. Since this age demographic is more inclined to utilize the various components of social media, it is incumbent on the Conservancy to engage them in this way. By doing so, the Charleston Parks Conservancy can cultivate healthy relations with its youngest citizens and create relationships that will lead to a more engaged citizenry in the years to come.

While I have never visited the city of Charleston, I hope to visit in the near. When I do, I will be sure to visit as many parks as possible and will utilize the website to gain information on upcoming events. The Conservancy should be proud of their efforts and congratulated on the progressive manner in which they are engaging the public.

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A Conversation with Ian, My Social Media Guru

I had the opportunity to have a virtual conversation with Ian Salmon this week regarding social media in the workplace.  Ian is the Suzuki Strings instructor at my school and is the most social media savvy person I know.

As a person who straddles the Baby Boomer and Generation X populations, I find that I’m inclined to value efficiency, balance, privacy, and independence. When it comes to work I just want to get things done without fuss or complications.  When it comes to communication, I expect a quick responses and consensus.  Ian, on the other hand, is a true Millenial even though he has some attributes that fit the Gen X crowd as well.  Ian is completely comfortable with technology, has a strong opinion about a variety of topics, displays great creativity, and does not shy away for challenges or controversy.

I can think of so many examples how we are different in regards to attitudes and uses for social media.  When it comes to Facebook, Ian is so much more transparent than I am.  He seems comfortable posting comments and links to interviews, videos, and articles that are of interest to him – even when they can be viewed as controversial by some.  He does not shy away from posts that challenge his position but remains civil in his responses.  As for me, I usually avoid any hint of self-disclosure regarding my religious, political, or social beliefs.

Our attitudes regarding the role of social media are different as well. Ian would like to be able to utilize social media much more at work in order to facilitate communication between himself and his students and their parents. Unfortunately he is unable to do this due to security measures imposed at the district level.  Ian values accessibility to his students.  I, on the other hand, am not sure that I want that level of connectivity.  When I’m away from school, I want to shed the teacher role and be just “me”.

For all of our differences, I have found that Ian has been one of my greatest teachers over the last two years.  He encourages me to consider all of the positive ways that social media can enhance my life.  He has also taught me that just because he doesn’t acknowledge every email or text that I send him, it doesn’t mean that he isn’t paying attention and responding.

When I asked Ian what he thinks the greatest challenge of using social media to reach multiple generations is, he responded:

“Simply put: learning curve. The internet is fast and I’m just talking about bandwith. Keep it simple, accessible and with a low learning curve. Don’t change what already works unless you have to. Educate the people before your change layouts. Don’t let them wake up to a foreign set of frames in their browser window. I guarantee that on the day that Facebook streamlined their latest interface, “Timeline”, onto all use profiles, Twitter saw an increase in user activity.”

Ian’s perspective on the role of social media is appreciated.  As it relates to school communication, there is great room for improvement.  In order to reach more students we can use Facebook to reach Gen Y, Gen X and the Baby Boomer grandparents.  Relying on traditional communication through our phone messaging system and notes home will reach the families who lack connectivity. We can also utilize email blasts and text messaging for  Baby Boomers, community sponsors, and parents. It might be interesting to use twitter to post live updates of special events as well. I’m looking forward to the possibilities!

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Social Media – Friend or Foe?

While I might be in the minority, I’m going to risk admitting that I believe for every positive benefit of social media there is likely a potential downside. Don’t get me wrong, I liked seeing Aunt Pat’s photos from her road trip to Alaska this summer and Skyping with my friends from around the world is a great way to stay in touch. The problem is that spending too much time with social media can sometimes get in the way of true interpersonal relationships and real life experiences.

A quick online search revealed a number of possible negative consequences from overuse of social media.  Of greatest concern to me is Nature Deficit Disorder where children are completely disengaged from the natural world as they spend increasing time online, texting, gaming, and watching TV. The results can lead to poorer interpersonal skills, inability to focus, and decreased physical fitness. The blog Nature on Demand by clinical psychotherapist Patricia Hasbach makes a compelling case for this point. See:

Social media stress also seems to be occurring more readily with some as people struggle to keep up with their ever-expanding profiles and contacts.  Social Media Stress? There’s an app for that! by Jeremy Wagstaff comments on an app created by Nestle that is designed to give young social media users a break from the stress of posting updates. Yes, this is a real app.  See:

Finally, there are some who suggest that while social media might keep us connected to friends and family, it might also provide a false perception of close interpersonal relationships and, in some situations, lead to even greater feelings of isolation. See:

These are only a few of the potential negatives consequences of social media. As with any vice, a little balance and moderation can prevent the negative and enhance the positive aspects of this medium.  The following videos demonstrate a lighter look at what happens when things go too far.  Enjoy!

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Microchips, Windmills, and Birds – Oh my!

The cohort group wound up our sustainability tour in Dallas County on Saturday.  The weather was absolutely beautiful for January and the tours provided some wonderful examples of the many faces of LEED buildings.

The day started out at Texas Instruments on Renner Road in Richardson.  Paul Westbrook, Sustainable Development Manager, led our tour.  I felt fortunate to finally meet Mr. Westbrook because his name is often mentioned in sustainability circles in North Texas.  Mr. Westbrook is clearly a visionary and has a great passion for sustainability.

We began with a presentation that covered the history of the facility. The project began in 2003 when Westbrook and other key players met with Amory Lovins and the Rocky Mountain Institute (see my previous blog about Rocky Mountain Institute). The 3 day design charette helped to clarify the vision of the project and in 2004 the project was funded. Construction was completed in 2006. The goal of reducing the cost of FAB by 30% was realized and less than 1% of the costs were related to LEED certification items – thus proving that LEED does not necessarily have to cost more. 

Photo source:

There were a number of very impressive sustainability features at the facility, but there are a few that stood out to me.  During the construction phase, a “dumpster policeman” was hired to make sure that construction waste was sorted into appropriate bins which resulted in 90% recycling of construction materials.  Secondly, the large property (92 acres) is irrigated by a pond located at the northeast corner of the property.  Instead of traditional landscaping, the majority of the land is sewn in native grasses that are mowed twice a year. The hay is sold which generates a profit for the company. Finally, the company is focusing on reducing the energy, emissions, water, and materials waste cost per unit in production.  This allows them to normalize the energy use at all facilities that will help the planet and improve their bottom line.

Even though I understand very little about the specifics of microchip production, I’m impressed with their efforts toward sustainability.  I also enjoyed viewing the manufacturing facility and, for a moment, felt that I had stepped into a science fiction movie! I truly feel that these large corporations can have a tremendous impact on other businesses and it is my greatest hope that other tech industries will embrace sustainability as well. Here is a video that explains a little more about microchips:

See for the annual corporate citizenship report for TI for more information about their progressive sustainability initiatives.

From TI, we traveled only a few miles to Plano, where I discovered a small model of my dream facility.  As I neared the property, I saw it – a windmill!  It was then that I knew I was going to like this building.  The Plano Environmental Education Center is a relatively small project but it beautifully demonstrates many of the components of a sustainable building.  Citizens visiting the facility can view photovoltaic panels, cisterns, a living roof, thermal solar water heater, and the wind turbine. The building features dual flush toilets, recycled products, natural lighting, an energy recovery system and structural insulated panels (SIPs) as well as insulated concrete forms (ICFs).

The landscape is still under construction but will feature native Texas landscaping and a discovery garden for children.  Unfortunately, the city is currently in Stage 4 water rationing and they are postponing some installation until water restrictions are relaxed somewhat.  The facility hosts a variety of free educational programs related to sustainable living throughout the year and is available for lease as well. This site is the perfect place for teaching Education for Sustainability across the lifespan. It is my hope that this facility will serve as a model for other local municipalities. I’m impressed with Plano’s vision and willingness to designate funds during a tight economy to invest in sustainability.

The final stop on our tour was the Trinity River Audubon Center. Dana Wilson, Volunteer Coordinator, was our guide. Ms. Wilson gave us a brief history of the project and described how the facility recently earned the LEED Gold certification. The site is located along the Trinity River on land that was once a deep woods landfill. The land was reclaimed after moving 1.5 million tons of garbage and rehabilitating the area.  The building features a vegetative roof, east Texas bamboo flooring, walls that are made from 60% concrete and 40% fly ash, reduced denim insulation, angled glass windows (to prevent bird strikes), deep overhangs, natural lighting, a 33,000 gallon cistern, cradle to cradle furniture, and solar panels.  There are educational facilities, a number of trails, ponds, and exhibitions.

The facility offers a number of classes about birding and hosts regular bird counts which draws in avid birders from around the area.  In addition to bird watching, the trails provide opportunities for people to interact with nature and observe a variety of wildlife.  On our short hike to the river, our group observed deer tracks and some unidentified tracks. Were those dog or coyote prints? The next time I visit I plan to bring my field guide so that I can identify some of the tracks.

The project was funded, in part, by: the City of Dallas, The Meadows Foundation, the Eugene McDermott Foundation, the Boone Family Foundation, Nissan North America, and the Garden Club Committee of the Junior League of Dallas.  Clearly this project had great support from the community and it is a gift to all the citizens of Dallas County.  I’m wondering how many people visit the center each year.  There were not many visitors when we were taking our tour, but it is winter.  Perhaps there are many more visitors during the warmer months.  I plan to return when school dismisses in early June and I’ll have my field guide and binoculars ready!

Photo source:

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Room for Improvement in D/FW Air, Land, and Water

On Thursday night our class welcomed speakers from the North Central Council of Governments (NCTCOG) and the Texas AgriLife Extension service. I wish that I could say that the evening’s speakers left me feeling optimistic about the current state of environmental affairs in the region, but it did not.  Instead, the information presented was a stark reminder of the serious issues that we face here in the metroplex.  I am thankful that there are very talented and intelligent individuals working to help solve some of the pressing challenges facing us in relation to air quality and water use, but I realize that it is going to take all us doing our part to improve air quality and save water.

Our first speakers were from the Air Texas department of NCTCOG. Mindy Mize is the Program Manager and Whitney Vandiver is the Communication Specialist for this program.  These ladies are actively involved in the planning, education, and implementation of a number of initiatives that are designed to help North Texas reach attainment of the EPA air quality emission standards.  At this time, North Texas is in non-attainment in the areas of carbon, ozone, and lead levels in a 9 county area.

The Air Texas division responsibilities include: reducing congestion, enhancing air quality, and reducing emissions. They are working to reduce the following 6 criteria pollutants:

  1. Carbon Monoxide
  2. Lead
  3. Nitrogen Oxides
  4. Ozone
  5. Particular Matter
  6. Sulfur Dioxide

I asked the presenters about the implications of non-attainment and they stated that our area can loose federal highway funds and businesses will be discouraged from relocating here due to tighter restrictions if something is not done to remedy the situation.  At the human level it is obvious that unhealthy air will have devastating effects on the health of our citizens – especially the young and elderly.

So, what can be done?  Several suggestions were provided:

  • Understanding Ozone Season
  • Learn the Air Quality Index (AQI)
  • Listen/watch for Air pollution watches and warnings
  • Sign up for air pollution watches
  • Observe the speed limit
  • Use mass transit
  • Walk/bike to work or errands
  • Bring your lunch to work/school
  • Avoid idling
  • Combine trips or drive less
  • Confirm you are up-to-date on regular vehicle maintenance and state emissions and safety inspection
  • Use energy star appliances and switch to compact fluorescent light bulbs
  • Tell others about air quality program

In addition to individual changes, NCTCOG has a number of programs that are designed to incentivize individuals and businesses to improve the emissions of their vehicles. There is much more to learn about what NCTCOG and others are doing to improve air quality in the area.  See the following links for more information:

Our second speaker of the evening was Steve Chaney.  Steve is the Horticulturalist for the Tarrant County Texas AgriLife Extension Service and he spoke to us about sustainable gardening practices, water conservation and landscaping.

I found the information that he presented regarding the current drought in Texas to be sobering.  It is projected that Texas will lose 5 – 15 million trees this year due to the current drought.  He also discussed current lake levels and informed us that current predictions indicate that if trends continue 2/3 of states will short of water in 5 years.  To add to matters, our water quality is being compromised due to pollution runoff from a variety of sources.  Texas currently uses between 8 and 9 billion of water per day, aquifers are recharged at a rate of 4 to 5 billion gallons per day. Our water issues will be further complicated in the future due to increasing populations and forecasts more a continuation of the current drought.

What can be done?  Fortunately, many things are possible but it will require that individuals, businesses, and the government take action.  Some suggestions are included in the Basic Principles of Sustainable Landscaping:

  • Planning and design
  • Soil analysis and preparation
  • Plant selection
  • Practical turf areas
  • Efficient irrigation
  • Mulch
  • Landscape best management practices

Mr. Chaney recommends that people consider landscaping their yards with 1/3 turf, 1/3 planting beds, and 1/3 permeable hardscape that will reduce the need for irrigation and reduce water cost.  An added bonus is that these landscapes require less mowing which reduces air pollution and time spent mowing.

I plan to do my part to reduce water consumption, and free up some time, by following Mr. Chaney’s recommendation in my own yard.  Because my lot is ½ acre, I need a landscape that is water wise and requires little maintenance.  There are many qualified landscape designers in the area that specialize in native Texas landscapes.  There are also many online resources that provide information for free.  Below are some links that I’ll be using as I transform my lawn into a sustainable, beautiful oasis.

Photo and data sources:

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