News & Politics

Washingtonian Green Awards

Celebrating Washingtonians who preserve and protect our environment through education, by promoting green building, and by teaching the importance of living green.

Bob Nixon, Founder, Earth Conservation Corps

What’s a Hollywood filmmaker doing out on the Anacostia River with a boatload of kids?

Bob Nixon was one of the producers of Gorillas in the Mist, the movie about wildlife activist Dian Fossey. He promised Fossey he would volunteer to do something to help the environment. Shortly after Fossey was killed, Nixon saw a photo of Lower Beaver Dam Creek in the District—and saw a chance to fulfill his promise.

In 1992, Nixon moved to Washington to launch Earth Conservation Corps, a program that teaches at-risk teens and young adults about conservation and river-restoration skills. Many are from the neighborhoods that border the Anacostia.

Participants give 1,700 hours to cleaning up the environment, protecting endangered wildlife, and conducting community outreach and environmental-education programs. Corps members earn stipends and AmeriCorps scholarships and get health-insurance and childcare benefits.

There are still big challenges, Nixon says. Sewage flows into the river every time it rains. But the fish are back, there are three osprey nests on Frederick Douglass Bridge, eagles once again soar over the Anacostia, and 85 percent of Earth Conservation Corps graduates go on to higher education or jobs.

The Tower Companies, Green-building pioneers

The Tower Companies are fierce proponents of sustainable design and construction. One of the nation’s largest buyers of green power, Tower buys wind energy for its 13 buildings.

Tower built the country’s first certified LEED—Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design—apartment complex in Silver Spring. Blair Towns uses 30 percent less water and 20 percent less energy than conventional buildings.

In 2002, the Tower Building in Rockville was named Green Office Building of the Year by the Apartment and Office Building Association; it features recycled materials and innovations that save energy and improve indoor air quality. A new project, 2000 Tower Oaks Boulevard in Rockville, is the world’s largest office building built using Vedic architectural concepts, which hold that a structure’s orientation and other features can improve employee health.

Three generations of the Abramson family are involved in the company, but it’s Jeffrey Abramson who is the most passionate about green building. “When I read how much of all the energy in the US was consumed by office buildings,” he says, “I felt that we could redefine the way we develop buildings to make them assets to the environment.”

Flo Stone, Founder, Environmental Film Festival

Soon after she moved to Washington from New York in 1984, Flo Stone began greening her new hometown—she was one of the founders of Trees for Georgetown, a project that planted 1,300 trees in the city.

In 1993, she started planting a different kind of seed. Stone created the Environmental Film Festival to educate people about issues facing the planet. Sixteen years later, it’s the largest festival of its kind, attracting such filmmakers as David Attenborough and naturalists including E.O. Wilson. This spring, thousands of children and adults watched 115 films at 46 venues around Washington.

“We hold the firm conviction that film can magically transmit the endless fascination and critical importance of our environment,” she says. Audiences agree. “The one question we aren’t asked anymore is ‘Will an environmental film make a difference?’ ”

Wendy Rieger, Anchor, Channel 4

Forget Kermit the Frog—Wendy Rieger is out to prove it is easy being green. For the past three years, her Tuesday “Going Green” segments have shown Channel 4 news viewers how they can lead more ecofriendly lives.

“It was Wendy who inspired us to go organic—even our pets,” said one viewer.

Her segments are now aired nationwide. The network also told other affiliates around the country to start doing their own green coverage.

Rieger says she’s been learning along with her audience. Since her first “Going Green” broadcast—about a woman who discovered she was allergic to chemicals in her house—Rieger has been inundated with viewer suggestions on ways to save energy. Her Green Room blog includes resources as well as personal experiences.

“It’s easy to change a couple of things—change a few light bulbs, wash clothes in cold water,” Rieger says. “We want people to do this joyfully.”

Joan Kelsch, Arlington County Environmental planner

“Local government is where you can really impact things,” says Arlington environmental planner Joan Kelsch. She has led the effort to get developers to construct buildings that “sit more lightly on the land,” using less energy and water and generating less waste.

Arlington offers incentives—certified green buildings can get a “density bonus” permitting developers to build bigger buildings. It’s an idea being copied around the country. The county’s Green Home Choice Program shows homeowners how to save up to 40 percent in energy costs.

Kelsch also heads the Intergovernmental Green Building Group, working to create a regional strategy for environmentally friendly development. “She’s the expert,” says George Nichols of the Metropolitan Council of Governments. “She can move local governments.”

A Foreign Service brat, Kelsch grew up all over the world. Going to high school in India, she says, made her aware of how much the environment affects quality of life. She studied geology at Williams College, worked for the Natural Resources Defense Fund, got a master’s at Yale’s forestry school, and then came back to Washington.

Says Kelsch: “This is where it all comes together.”

Patrick F. Noonan, Founder and chair emeritus The Conservation Fund

Patrick Noonan says he’s a child of the Chesapeake. Growing up around Washington, he fell in love with the bay and its history. Thanks to Noonan’s efforts and the coalition he created, Congress designated Captain John Smith’s route around the bay as the nation’s first historic water trail.

Noonan has been instrumental in creating more than 20 national parks, including the Civil War battlefield of Antietam, site of the bloodiest battle in American history.

Noonan began his career with the Maryland–National Capital Park and Planning Commission. He joined the Nature Conservancy as an intern in 1969 and was named president of the group four years later at age 29.

He started the Conservation Fund in 1985, the same year he won a “genius” grant from the MacArthur Foundation for his pioneering work creating partnerships between business and environmental groups. The fund has conserved 250,000 acres of ecologically significant land around the Chesapeake and continues to protect vulnerable land in the watershed.

“The Chesapeake is an American treasure,” he says. “It has nurtured and inspired us and will continue to do so for future generations depending on our actions today.”

This article appears in the May 2008 issue of Washingtonian. To see more articles in this issue, click here.