A Healthy Environment for Ideas

By Rachel Bassler

When I was little, every student in my class was given a sapling to plant for Earth Day. I planted mine in my back yard, and it took root. It’s been 15 years now, and it’s healthy, strong, and growing.

A big idea starts the same way: you plant the seed, nurture it, and give it room to grow. I recently got a look at some ideas that could become giants during the Innovations WorkGroup (IWG) meeting in Seattle.

The IWG meets to select innovative projects in land management that will receive funding through EPA’s Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response. To date, more than 85 projects have been funded, which have dealt with innovative approaches to home deconstruction, energy production through methane capture, and brownfields reuse.

I got a good look at some of the ideas at the meeting. One of the most interesting looked at the problem of Alaskan open dump contamination in the face of climate change-induced permafrost reductions. With no permafrost, hundreds of dumps are directly contaminating vital drinking water sources. This project will create new, green jobs for villagers to monitor contaminants.

Another project involved the City of Charleston, South Carolina which is currently faced with the challenge of revitalizing a blighted downtown area without demolishing underutilized or abandoned buildings. The project will test the viability of creating a vertical farm from an abandoned parking lot (which pioneers an approach to building a green roof by capturing rain water to use as feed for a nearby farm) and an energy management system. The project also promotes green building technologies and will reduce landfill waste.

In the end, 11 projects were selected for funding. These projects won’t revolutionize environmental protection all by themselves, but by demonstrating success on a small scale, they have the potential to start something big. It will be exciting to see what these ideas grow into, and I’m glad I was there when the seed was planted.

About the author: Rachel Bassler is a Management and Program Assistant in the STEP program, in the Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response. She has been with EPA over a year and is working toward her Master’s at George Washington University in Washington, DC .

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