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Sustainable living

Silver Spring community preserves, protects natural resources

Created date

January 10th, 2017
Members of the Riderwood Sustainability Committee.

Jim Henkelman-Bahn (left), cochair of the Riderwood Sustainability Committee, and Anne Blackburn, member of the committee.

When it comes to protecting the earth and its natural resources, the people living and working at Riderwood are most definitely doing their part. Residents and staff members at the Erickson Living community in Silver Spring, Md., recently teamed up to form a sustainability committee cochaired by resident Jim Henkleman-Bahn and Riderwood Executive Director Gary Hibbs. 

The committee aims to “protect and enhance the ecosystems that support life at Riderwood, regionally and globally.”

“We are aiming to be a premier residential retirement community as far as sustainability is concerned,” Jim says. 

The committee’s first priority is to move Riderwood toward the use of solar energy. Currently, management is working with an outside firm to explore the options for installing solar panels, and the sustainability committee hopes to be able to make progress on the initiative by the end of this year. 

Small changes, big difference

Already, the committee has made headway toward sustainability in other areas. 

At the committee’s urging, the dining services department agreed to make at least one vegetarian or vegan entrée available at every meal. 

With the help of the general services staff, residents have started sending their old or no longer needed walkers and canes to countries where access to these items is limited. 

When furniture in the common areas is replaced, the old pieces are now donated to Habitat for Humanity.

“There was a cost to throw them away, and they are all reusable,” Jim says. “We are trying to create that type of mentality.”

The sustainability committee has also outlined a number of other goals. They are in the process of transitioning the community to LED light bulbs and have requested that new buildings be LEED certified. 

Even some of the small changes they’re implementing, such as turning off the hot tub in the aquatics center at night, shutting off kitchen grills when they aren’t in use, and limiting the use of fertilizers with harmful chemicals on campus grounds, can make a big difference over time given the size of the community.

Projects that the sustainability committee hopes to tackle in the future include switching to hybrid/electric vehicles when shuttles and other campus vehicles need to be replaced, converting the indoor swimming pool from chlorine to saline, and increasing the number of outdoor plants that attract butterflies and bees. 

A community affair

The sustainability committee evolved out of another resident-run group that formed a few years ago, and organizes the screening of environmentally focused documentaries at Riderwood. 

They have shown films like Cowspiracy, which explores the environmental impact of the dairy and livestock industries, and The Human Experiment, an expose on the harmful hidden chemicals in many common products. 

Residents showed an interest in the issues highlighted by those kinds of documentaries, so when Hibbs became executive director, Jim and other residents approached him to discuss how Riderwood could improve its efforts toward sustainability. 

“He encouraged us to form this other group that has more ability to get things done because the staff is right there and ready to help,” Jim says. 

The committee, which consists of six residents and six staff members, is rich in knowledge about different aspects of sustainability. 

Resident George Hunter, for instance, has closely followed the development of the solar energy industry, so he is able to offer expertise to that subcommittee. 

Meanwhile, fellow community member Anne Blackburn has managed Riderwood’s natural wildlife habitat for many years and brings that experience to the committee. 

“It is amazing the areas people are already involved in relative to the environment,” Jim says. 

For his part, Jim, a retired University of Maryland professor, says he became interested in sustainability through his broader focus on issues of social justice. He’s also learned about sustainability through his church, which is involved in green efforts and uses wind and solar electricity.

“Since Riderwood is my home now, I’m really interested in making it as sustainable as possible,” Jim says. “I am concerned about my grandchildren and the world they will have.”