Protecting the future

Greenspring honors Earth Day with initiatives all year long

Created date

March 23rd, 2020
Dan Ancona (left) works with Greenspring staff member Son Nguyen to collect contributions to the community’s resident-inspired plastic bag recycling program.

Dan Ancona (left) works with Greenspring staff member Son Nguyen to collect contributions to the community’s resident-inspired plastic bag recycling program.

April 22, 2020, will mark the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. According to the website,, “The theme for Earth Day 2020 is climate action. The enormous challenge—but also the vast opportunities—of action on climate change have distinguished the issue as the most pressing topic for the 50th anniversary.”

For community members at Greenspring, an Erickson Living-managed community in Springfield, Va., Earth Day celebrations pay tribute to the year-round efforts made across campus to be good stewards of the Earth’s resources.

“What strikes me about Greenspring is the genuine sensitivity to environmental issues,” says Dan Ancona, chairman of Greenspring’s environmental subcommittee. “Many of us had careers with federal and state environmental agencies or in the commercial sector, while others simply recognize the importance of protecting our environment for the sake of our grandchildren.”

Leading the charge

Fully supported by Greenspring management, the nine-member environmental subcommittee of the Resident Council’s general services committee meets monthly to focus on actions that conserve resources, reduce waste and pollution, recycle more, while maintaining or improving the quality of life at Greenspring.

“Our mission is very important to us, and as a group, I believe that we’ve made significant environmentally important contributions to our community,” says Dan.

Last year, the subcommittee launched a campaign to collect the thin-film plastic bags used by local grocery stores and for takeout meals at Greenspring. 

“These bags cannot be placed in the traditional blue buckets for recycling,” says Dan. “That meant that residents needed to drive to their grocery store for disposal. We wanted to make it easier for our neighbors.”

Bins for the bags were placed at several, convenient locations throughout the community. Then, working in partnership with nearby Springfield Elementary School’s environmental club, the bags are picked up and taken to a local company that chops up the bags and uses them in the creation of artificial lumber. The lumber is then used for decking and outdoor furniture.

“We have some of these benches at Greenspring,” says Dan. “We laugh because the bags came back.”

As a result of these efforts, Springfield Elementary School recently placed seventh out of 177 similarly sized Virginia schools in the tonnage of bags collected last year. 

“Our partnership with the school was a shot in the arm for their club,” says Dan. “Not only is Springfield Elementary collecting and recycling a record number of bags, but more students are joining the club. The teachers tell us that the students love working in partnership with seniors.”

Civic minded

Greenspring is also working with state officials to reduce excessive salting used for melting ice and snow on sidewalks and roads. As part of the salt management program sponsored by the State of Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, Greenspring volunteers provide input and management practices with neighboring communities. 

“After a storm, salt contamination in Fairfax County creeks reaches dangerous levels,” says Dan. “We do our part by sharing best practices on limited salt use.”

Other initiatives over the last few years include replacing 6,000 exterior doors and windows throughout Greenspring with new energy-efficient units; incorporating charging stations for electric vehicles into the design of the new parking structure; preparing a study on the use of solar water heaters; and planning the installation of motion-detecting light switches in community laundry rooms and other sites that are frequently unoccupied.

“We enjoy an excellent working relationship with general services staff, maintaining open dialogue,” says Dan. “This is essential in the success of our efforts.”

Earth Day 

Each year, in recognition of Earth Day, the Greenspring community celebrates successes while sharing information vital to their efforts. The celebration typically lasts three days with programming on the in-house TV channel, a nature walk, and a widely attended Earth Day Expo on April 21, featuring both community groups and outside exhibitors.

“Recognizing Earth Day is important because it’s an opportunity to engage residents and staff and educate both about this year’s theme, ‘Working Together to Live Green,’” says Lorraine Schmidt, an environmental subcommittee member who organizes the expo with neighbor Jean Boltz.

And when Earth Day festivities end, the hard-working members of the environmental subcommittee will continue to share their passion for protecting their community.

“I believe that we are as successful as we are because people care about the environment,” says Dan. “And while we’ve enjoyed some major accomplishments, our little projects are just as important. We recently added additional trash cans in all our garages to cover all exits as a way of eliminating waste blowing around and to make it easier for our neighbors. It all goes back to our mission to improve the quality of our lives as well as those who come after us.”