A living future: Our connection with nature is key, says educator

Posted Online: Dec. 24, 2012, 9:48 am
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By Lindsay Hocker
Molly Steinwald knows a thing or two about sustainability. As the director of science education and research at Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens in Pittsburgh, she has working firsthand knowledge of the Phipps' new Center for Sustainable Landscapes, a 24,350-square-foot "living building" with an extremely low ecological footprint.

"Living," in this case, isn't just a poetic description: The center was designed "to mimic nature and function as ultra-efficiently as a flower. It will generate all of its own energy using photovoltaic solar panels, a vertical axis wind turbine, and geothermal wells, and take advantage of passive cooling, heating and lighting methods," says Steinwald.

In addition to producing its own energy, the Center for Sustainable Landscapes will treat and reuse water on-site. The building has a green roof, lagoon, rain gardens, permeable paved surfaces, constructed wetlands, and a water distillation system. It also is surrounded by native plants that provide wildlife habitat.

Steinwald will visit the Quad-Cities this month as the keynote speaker at the winter symposium at Augustana College. The symposium is focused on sustainability, and Steinwald's keynote addresses are open to the public. She will speak at 10 a.m. and again at 12:30 p.m. on Jan. 23 in Augustana's Centennial Hall, 3703 7th Ave., Rock Island.

Kristin Douglas, associate dean of curriculum and student academic success at Augustana, who also is symposium coordinator, says when the symposium committee members were searching for a keynote speaker, they wanted to find someone to speak about sustainability issues without getting too technical or mired in detail. Douglas says after learning Steinwald could talk about the new living building at Phipps, is an educator by trade, and also is a photographer who captures nature in urban settings, "we knew we had a speaker who could reach our symposium-day audience."

Douglas says she's excited to learn about the Center for Sustainable Landscapes, as well as the collaborative process that went into its design and building. She says the message she hopes to hear when Steinwald speaks is that there are many levels of action when it comes to sustainability — the corporate level, community level and individual level. "Action at each level is important, and there is something that each and every one of us can do differently that makes an important difference in our environment," Douglas says.

The overall theme of Steinwald's talk will be sustainability. "My primary message will be that no matter what talents and profession each of us has, no matter where we live or what background we are from, that we all are part of nature, that we all have a responsibility to care for the environment and humanity," she says.

Steinwald also will speak about green buildings, which she says "serve to inspire anyone who passes through their doors," but wants people to know that sustainability isn't just about constructing green buildings. "Sustainability is about working to change people's mindsets, values and behaviors," she says.

It's important, says Steinwald, not to lose sight of the fact that "society is made up of a wide variety of people with different backgrounds, stresses, motivations, needs; and that in order to create a truly sustainable society, environmentalists need to spend time understanding their audiences, appreciating them, and meeting them where they're at."

Lindsay Hocker is a Quad-Cities native who currently lives in Rock Island and regular contributes to Radish. For more information about Steinwald and the Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens, visit phipps.conservatory.org.


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