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Launched in May of 2009, the SusBus brings education, awareness raising activities, and sustainable living opportunities to both traditional venues like schools and festivals, but more importantly to places like sports-related events, concerts, conventions and other non-green events.

By Sunni Mace and Eric Carpenter, The Global View Foundation Posted Feb 2, 2010

susbusIt started as an idea, a dream, a cause to fight for and not much more. Colorado Springs is not what anyone would call green or progressive, and has been the brunt of jokes about ultra-conservatism for years, but without the radical groups. Known as a military, religious, and oil & gas town, this little city was beyond the environmental trenches, truly out in “No-Man’s Land”.

But it is a great place to live. A cute downtown and satellite centers, lots of good people, and thanks to an all out battle for 20 years, just now coming around to center. Just don’t ask for a veggie burger, where to compost your corn-cups, or put high-minded ideas on the agenda. The farmer’s market is finally taking off, and on those cool evenings you can find one of Colorado Spring’s interesting little oddities – a green school bus parked on the street with Earth Flags waving from the racks, solar panels glistening in the sun, and a small band of passionate people pushing the envelope in a small western town.

It has taken a lot for the Community Sustainability Bus, or SusBus, to get off the ground, but now that it is rolling, the community is getting behind it, slowly and cautiously. Launched in May of 2009 and built by a small, but inventive team, the SusBus brings education, awareness raising activities, and sustainable living opportunities to both traditional venues like schools and festivals, but more importantly to places like sports-related events, concerts, conventions and other non-green events. That is not to say it has been easy.

…the non-confrontational appproach is working….most of the time.

The hardest times bring out the best in people that is for sure. Beyond the cross-eyed looks, calls of “Hey honey, look at the hippies. They got all dressed up.”, and the occasional conflict, the non-confrontational appproach is working….most of the time. “We should have seen it coming”, says Mark Joyous the founder of this small band called EarthSeeds, “But we didn’t.” Anyone in the area could have told you that leaving a bright green school bus with Earth images, banners, and a giant sign that says EarthSeeds.org in a dark parking lot over a weekend would have been a bad idea, but it could have been worse. “At least they didn’t slash the tires, put sugar in the gas tank or get access to the engine” says Mark, “but I guess that type didn’t read The Monkey Wrench Gang.” What is a little petty vandalism and larceny between community members? That is not to say there have not been good times, revelations for the unenlightened, and a lot of good, but taking glass solar panels off the bus at night is a no-brainer. The first of many lessons.

sustainable-busImagine a country music festival, a lot of cheap beer, work boots, checked shirts and John Deere hats. A perfect opportunity to reach out to the community, park a green bus in the parking lot, set up the exhibits and talk to folks. The reaction was not exactly what we expected. “I could not believe the mix of people that came up and talked to us. Yeh, there were a lot of funny looks, off-color comments, and the like, but then there are the gems that keep us coming back.” It started with one inebriated rancher, a silly little exhibit with small solar panels, and a request to change the radio station they powered. OK, NPR was probably a bad choice considering the venue. But what came next was a little surprising, and a lot of fun. He got on the bike and peddled his way to an electricity-generating frenzy and then asked the magic question. “So what is this solar thing all about?” It was a hard sell, but locking in the price of energy for 25 years, with a warranty, is a good idea. And yes, they are made in America, a local guy installs them, and yes, they pay for themselves in less than ten years and the rest is gravy. “I am not going to say he went out and invested a few grand in a system, but at least he thought about it!!” Say Joyous.

It was a hard sell, but locking in the price of energy for 25 years, with a warranty, is a good idea.

And then there are the kids, the true targets for all of this. They are the future of America, and progress in action, when they put down their cell-phones and games and get involved. Who knew that a giant beach ball that has photo-realistic pictures of the Earth from space could be such an engaging tool for teaching kids about our planet and so much fun, but it is! “Wow, look at the clouds.” “Is this where we live?” “Why is this part all brown and what are those white spots?” “Those are mountains with snow on them” says a mom. “In the summer too?” And so education comes full circle. “It’s pretty cool to watch the kids peddle the bike, do the activities on the laptop and play with the giant (6-foot) EarthBall” says one of the EarthSeeds volunteers. “They ask cool questions and you can really see the gears start turning.”

sustainable_bus-2There have been hard times too. Getting “asked to leave” more than a few times, the police stopping by and looking through things because being green is probable cause, and in some cases a few close calls with the patrons. “But none of that means beans, when a teenager comes up and is very glad to see us, is happy to see someone stepping out of the box, and tells us about what she is doing for the cause” says Eric Carpenter, the Executive Director of the Global View Foundation which funds and manages the SusBus. “It provides more than just education, marketing for green businesses, and new ideas….the SusBus provides hope for our planet and that is the most powerful thing.”

For now, the SusBus is packed up for the winter and undergoing a retrofit, to prepare for the 40th Anniversary of Earth Day in April, and another season of community outreach. It might be getting a few new friends too, in Denver and other cities. Only this time they will be old transit buses, instead of a school bus, but they will still be green, strong and powerful, like the small teams that build them.

Eric Carpenter is the Executive Director of the Global View Foundation. For more information on the SusBus Project or the Global View Foundation visit susbus.org.

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