Since the first Earth Day was observed in 1970, many of us have set aside April 22 as an opportunity to join in environmental clean-up and restoration projects. But how do you bring Earth Day ethics home and practice them from day to day throughout the year?
Jen Voichick conceived one possible answer to this question six years ago. Perceiving both a public demand and a critical mass of new, environmentally oriented businesses in the area, the director of Habitat for Humanity's ReStore invited some of those vendors to participate in an Earth Day celebration at her building-materials recycling center on Madison's east side.
'What I really wanted to do was offer this to the community,' remembers Voichick. 'I felt like it was our duty as an environmentally oriented store.'
The idea took off like the late Gaylord Nelson's original concept for Earth Day itself. Scheduled for noon-4 p.m. Saturday, April 21, this year's celebration will feature 27 exhibitors 'at least,' says Voichick. 'We're gonna have a big tent in the sideyard' next to Habitat ReStore, 208 Cottage Grove Rd.
Among this year's participating exhibitors: Blue Heron Natural Builders Guild, which uses natural, nontoxic materials and methods to construct energy-efficient homes; Citizens Energy Cooperative, which helps its members produce and use renewable energy; Eco-Friendly Flooring, a wholesaler and installer of sustainable floor materials such as bamboo, reclaimed woods and recycled metal and glass tiles; Full Spectrum Solar, which has designed and installed grid-connected photovoltaic and solar thermal systems for the likes of the Willy Street Co-op and Yahara River View Apartments; and Green Jeans, a distributor of cotton-fiber batting insulation derived from recycled denim.
Voichick notes that other exhibitors will provide opportunities to explore subjects ranging from rain barrels to recycling and composting. First-time attendees 'can expect a huge offering of information and some hands-on opportunities. There's gonna be a lot of show and tell, a lot of demos, a lot of solar panels, a Community Car.'
Activities for kids are also planned, along with food from Copps, Cub Foods, Culver's, Glass Nickel, Oscar Mayer, Willy Street Co-op and a handful of other contributors. Voichick adds that the event has drawn 400 to 500 people in recent years ' an indication of the demand for vendors' products and services in this niche.
The event is, of course, in the enlightened self-interest of Habitat ReStore and its volunteer-driven efforts to divert reusable building materials and fixtures away from landfills for use in new construction. 'So far we've diverted 3,500 tons in five and a half years,' notes Voichick, adding that sales of those materials have generated enough money to build 15 Habitat for Humanity homes.
Saturday's celebration represents an opportunity for ReStore and the event's exhibitors to engage in symbiosis. 'I think that the overall general concept is the effort to reduce waste,' Voichick observes. 'It's a way for us to support each other by doing this.'
Saturday's event at ReStore dovetails neatly with Madison Environmental Group's open house from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. the following day, April 22 ' Earth Day proper ' at 25 N. Pinckney St., featuring Fullcircle Furniture and Interiors, Casa Kit Homes and Community Car.
This weekend's events also complement such initiatives as the Madison Stuff Exchange co-sponsored by the city and Dane County, the local Freecycling network and the Green Guide to Greater Madison, a publication of the Greater Madison Convention & Visitors Bureau, observes Voichick.
'The mainstream is accepting this concern that we have that we can reduce waste,' she says. 'We're sort of at a threshold.'