The Green Team

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While the old saying goes, “It’s not easy being green,” the staff, corporate board and residents of Pennswood Village have proven just how extra time and effort can really pay off when protecting the environment.

The community is working towards a Gold LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification on its addition and renovation to Barclay House Assisted Living. But it does not end there as an environmental concerns committee and the dedicated staff and corporate board of Pennswood are constantly making a difference for its residents and surroundings one step at a time.

“We make sure we’re paying attention to the environment, our residents and the surrounding community’s needs,” said Pete McBrien, Facilities Director. “It is a fundamental part of our Quaker values and how Pennswood has functioned since its opening in 1980.”

According to Pete, the largest initiative Pennswood has undertaken is its 150 geothermal wells that have been installed 500-feet deep. This state-of-the-art system will take advantage of the constant 57-degree ground temperature to help heat and cool the health center and community building depending on the time of year.

“We shut down our boilers and our cooling towers,” said Pete. “This is great since there will be no mechanical pumps running.”

This is just one of the many projects that have received support from the residents of Pennswood. Through the community’s environmental concerns and landscaping committees, individuals can provide their input on any potential or current ecological issues.

“The great thing about Pennswood is we work as a community with our staff, corporate board and 450 residents. This collaboration of people with many diverse backgrounds allows us to find a solution that works well for Pennswood,” said Pete. “The emphasis on sustainable and green design for buildings and our site came from this collaboration.”

The chairman of the environmental concerns committee, Hans Nord, has been part of the organization for the 12 years he has lived at Pennswood. A former electrical engineer, he came to the community with his wife who has Parkinson’s disease and is now receiving the necessary care. Having visited his cousin on several occasions prior to his own move, he was well acquainted with the area and knew it would be a great fit. “It’s a very nice set-up here,” said Hans. “Pennswood just seemed to be the best community.”

And who would not want to be a part of a community that is making beneficial changes? For Hans, it is especially important since the environment has always been a prominent interest in his life.

“In some cases, the staff and corporate board have taken the committee’s issues into consideration,” he said, “But the initiative to be green is an extension of the community’s long-time belief that it must be a good steward of the land.”

The idea of storm water conservation, also a major ongoing project for Pennswood, was sparked through the community’s partnership with the Middletown Township that developed several years ago.

In this process, the storm water enters a series of wetlands created on the Pennswood campus where water seeps through the ground. Groups of large rocks slow the water down, eliminating the sediment and allowing the water to regenerate and recharge the ground. “This attracts all kinds of wildlife, which is really beautiful for the residents to see,” said Pete.

Aside from the wildlife, residents can enjoy the environmentally advanced walkways that were installed earlier this year. Featuring terracotta-toned high-density paving tiles made of recycled rubber tires, this innovative material reduces the world’s waste from tires in landfills. Each square foot of tile uses the rubber of a whole automobile tire. By the end of the year, Pennswood plans to have enough tiles to keep 25 tons of waste tires from going into a landfill.

Secretary of the environmental concerns committee, Len Shapiro is a former engineer who also brought his expertise in construction to the community after moving with his wife from their secluded house in a wooded area.

Wanting to leave the maintenance of their home behind, they were very aware of Pennswood and its reputation. “We were looking for a place where we would be surrounded by people that were intellectually active,” said Len. “The variety of programs they had here was what attracted us, and we have not been disappointed.”

Pleased with the forward thinking of the staff and corporate board, it is the activism of the residents that has far surpassed Len’s expectations. “The people here make a lot of contributions to volunteer work outside of our campus,” he said. According to Len, his peers have also been making a large effort to organize their trash and recyclable materials and are quite active in maintaining gardens on the premises.

While there are about 100 committees to choose from, Len belongs to other environmentally-friendly organizations as the coordinator of the Adopt-a-Road committee and the conductor of group discussions on the Science section of the New York Times.

The LEED certification program encourages the adoption of sustainable green building and development practice while serving as the nationally accepted benchmark for the design, construction and operation of high-performance green buildings. There are several other initiatives Pennswood has taken in compliance with LEED, including shuttle services for individuals who want to utilize public transportation, waterless urinals that save 40,000 gallons of water per urinal, green cleaning products and the use of materials with low VOC (volatile organic compounds) in new carpets and paints.

The environmental advocacy will not stop there. According to Hans and Len, there are still quite a few items on the 14-member committee’s agenda and even more environmental programs currently at the community.

And there is no question that the staff and corporate board will try its best when addressing these issues. As Len said, “Pennswood is very concerned about energy issues, not just from a cost point of view, but from the public interest view.”

Though it is not necessarily easy being green, the proactive staff, corporate board and influential environmentalists of this community have certainly proven to be an inspiration to others when it comes to making positive changes for the earth.

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