Lincoln on its Way to Being 'Green' City
The countertop in this kitchen is made of recycled mesquite butcherblock with an undermount bar sink. (Courtesy of Straw, Sticks and Bricks)
Their goal was simple: Offer products made from materials that do no further harm to the environment or its inhabitants, whether it be people, trees or animals.
Here’s some of what they sell: paper-based countertops; tiles made from river stones and recycled glass; wool carpet squares; Linoleum made from cork and linseed oil; clay plaster; sorghum wall panels; and flooring made from pepperwood, mesquite, palmwood and bamboo.
Not all of their products are made strictly from natural or recycled materials. For example, customers may find native grasses, leaves or rose petals embedded in acrylic. But the couple and their growing customer base can live with such imperfections.
“It’s a better alternative to some of the traditional toxic materials out there,” Carlson said.
Today, the husband-and-wife team has a temporary store in the Haymarket and one in Kansas City, Mo. This spring, they plan to move to a more retail-friendly and spacious downtown location next to the Lincoln Children’s Museum.
Materials supplied by Straw Sticks&Bricks have been used in the new office addition to the Lower Platte South Natural Resources District and homes and businesses in Nebraska and throughout the region.
“This is the kind of place you go to because there’s not that many places like this around,” said Claudia Davis, a rural Malcolm resident who stopped by in search of natural plaster and pigments for a fireplace.
Straw Sticks&Bricks is an example of a business that is working to make Lincoln a more environmentally friendly community.
While not one of the top-ranking “green” cities in the United States, Lincoln has made significant strides in that direction in recent years and continues to do so.
Mayor Chris Beutler is bringing a new emphasis to green activities in the city by taking an existing environmental advisory committee and turning it into a mayoral task force with specific charges. The group, through subcommittees, will examine buildings, transportation, land use, education, communication and green infrastructure.
The Lincoln Electric System plans to develop a $1 million sustainable energy program, which could include more wind turbines, a methane recovery program and energy conservation kits for homeowners. And more businesses are finding ways to reduce waste, thereby saving energy, resources and money.
“My sense is that we are picking up momentum. There are more businesses and more organizations wanting to pay attention to green and sustainable development in their normal day-to-day activities,” said Cecil Steward, founder and president of the non-profit Joslyn Castle Institute for Sustainable Communities in Omaha.
A to Z Printing, for example, offers paper products from sustainable forests, said Miriah Zajic, vice present of administration. A year ago, the company obtained its certification for selling such paper from the Forest Stewardship Council, a nonprofit group devoted to responsible management of the world’s forests.
Zajic said the Lincoln company had a long history of doing “green” things that began with her mother and the company owner, Sue Quambusch, who began selling recycled-content paper in 1984. The company also offers an in-house recycling program for employees.
Carlson said one of the benefits of going green was creating healthier indoor environments. Paints, carpet and even new furniture can emit toxic petroleum and chemical fumes that can make people sick.
“We’re not selling only the greenest things out there. We’re selling options,” Carlson said.
City Recycling Coordinator Gene Hanlon believes Lincoln, given its geographic location, is “fairly progressive” when it comes to doing things green.
“Nebraska is not a hot bed of environmentalism like Oregon or Seattle, but I think we are making it. Businesses are very interested in reducing waste. The whole climate discussion, I think is getting people’s attention,” Hanlon said. “When businesses disregard waste material, they are are losing all of the energy wrapped up in that material.”
No one knows that better than Carrie Hakenkamp, executive director of WasteCap Nebraska, a nonprofit group that helps businesses recycle and reduce wastes. More than 80 businesses statewide are members of the Lincoln-based organization.
Lincoln Green By Design, made up of about 20 public and private groups, as well as local developers, is another organization that focuses on green building initiatives. It is trying to reduce energy use in buildings, promote green buildings, encourage diversity in energy generation, improve municipal fleets and encourage incentives to improve fuel efficiency.
The Lincoln Green Building Group, spearheaded by Joyce Coppinger, has promoted straw bales and other sustainable forms of construction for years, too.
Carlson said more and more people were joining the green movement. Some even consider it a “badge of honor” to have a home or business built with environmentally friendly materials.
“People are concerned about it here,” Carlson said, referring to the environment and global warming. “I think people want to do something. They just need outlets for it.”
Said Hanlon: “One challenge people need to be aware of is we need to educate ourselves on environmental issues and our personal carbon footprint and analyze what is the best way to live more lightly on the planet.”
Learn more at: www.atozprint.com
Story by: Algis J. Laukaitis of the Lincoln Journal Star