The Free Press, Mankato, MN

February 6, 2013

Studying energy empowers young people

By Amanda Dyslin
Free Press Staff Writer

MANKATO — Sleepy Eye/St. Mary’s students collected 665 pounds of Christmas lights to recycle, and they’re researching how to recycle blue jeans into insulation.

Westbrook/Walnut Grove students put up a wind turbine and took part in a reusable diaper project for developing countries.

Gibbon-Fairfax-Winthrop students also did Christmas lights recycling and made improvements to a composting system.

And students from West High School — where teams of YES! Youth Energy Summit students from each of these schools gathered Wednesday — monitor a new electric metering system and are looking into changing the polystyrene foam lunch trays into reusable plastic.

“You’re starting young,” said Eric Lennartson of Paulsen Architects, who led a discussion called “Energy Efficiency Through Standards” to begin the day.

The mission of YES! is to empower young people to partner with their communities through economic and environmental team-based projects. Representatives from the Southwest Initiative Foundation, one of the program partners, helped organize a day of activities for the YES! Winter Workshop, themed “Energy Reduction and Green Building in Mankato.”

Lennartson taught the students about the green-building standards for such Mankato buildings as the Justice Center, the Public Safety Center and Rosa Parks Elementary School.

He discussed commonly known energy-efficient elements, such as solar panels and geothermal heating and also a few newer products, such as dual flush toilets that handle solid and liquid waste differently from the standard toilet.

Green building practices are becoming the norm in building standards, and many times those “green elements” go unnoticed by most people, Lennartson said. The Riverside Regional Pet Shelter, for example, has rain gardens surrounding the building, as well as permeable pavers in part of its lot, that aid in water absorption but may appear as just decorative elements.

Paulsen Architects has become known for its Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (better known as LEED) certification process. Created by The U.S. Green Building Council, LEED standards, focusing on environmentally friendly construction, can be quite involved.

But Lennartson wanted the students to know that their families can choose their own individual ways to go green. He directed them to the Minnesota Energy Challenge, an action guide for reducing waste. Some of the site’s easy tips include turning your thermostat down just 2 degrees in the winter; using fans instead of window air conditioners on cool summer nights; and taking the bus to work or school.

“Everybody has different reasons for trying to go green,” he said.

After Lennartson’s presentation, the students looked at West’s electric metering system and then were bused to Gustavus Adolphus College for a lecture by physics professor Chuck Neiderriter about measuring energy usage and using alternative energy.”

The students took a rooftop tour of Olin Hall to see equipment and learned from Jim Dontje, of the Johnson Center for Environmental Education, about Beck Hall, which is expected to be certified LEED Platinum, the highest ranking.

The students capped off the day with a tour and discussion of Rosa Parks Elementary School and a Q&A with Greg Borchert of Paulsen Architects.