The powerful presence of the coal plant on Billings was impossible to miss. Foreboding coal stacks dominated the skyline as we arrived yesterday and immediately ignited my prejudice towards the town as a paradigm of the pollution and climate change issues we were here to learn about.
But listening to Ed explain his life and work today snubbed my preconceived notions of the town as just a “dirty” place. As a green architect for High Plains Architects, Ed spent the day explaining and showing us first hand the work he’s devoted his life to. My lack of sleep from the our first night of camping was forgotten as I listened to the enthusiasm for which those at High Plains transform buildings from energy consuming machines into conserving and self-generating units.
The fact he presented that buildings in the U.S. take up seventy-five percent of the nations electricity and half of all the energy use particularly resonated with me—especially since the solutions Ed and the rest of the High Plains staff work to implement are often very simple and economic ones. It was refreshing to hear such an emphasis on reducing energy use instead of simply exploring alternatives that allow for continuing excess energy use.
The very building we met in was designed with almost entirely reused material and laid out in such a way that sunlight and proper insulation provided nearly all of the lighting, heating, and cooling needs. A sparkly down-cycled glass driveway, compost garden, sunflower seed desk, and solar panels also adorned the building, adding to the many efforts taken to make it as sustainable as possible.
The design focus was a nice reminder that habit and mentality changes stemming from energy and resource conservation must play a central role in our ability to maintain a healthy lifestyle for ourselves and the land. Although investing and using cleaner energy is important, there are numerous easy ways that we can make an impact by just reducing.
As we cycled through Billings touring buildings that stood as economical examples of successful green architecture, Ed inspired me with his outlook and ability to bring positive change to Billings. I was especially struck by the inability of hurdles to halt Ed’s sustainable design projects and by the deep power of community. At the town’s library construction site, we stopped to listen how pressure from an organized few within the town allowed for a change of the libraries original plans as just an ordinary building, to a LEED building design.
It’s easy for me to believe that cutting back in using our resources needs to happen, but just as easy for me to pawn off the responsibility of making those reductions to companies, businesses, or other people. Finishing the day with a meal at Ed’s quaint, beautiful home restored faith in me that sustainable living and design is feasible to the average person. The lack of an air-conditioner or car for the home complimented the compost heap and low flush toilets. It was nice and inspiring to see how much could be accomplished within the community and at the individual level by a motivated few.