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Shades of Green

Six local environmentalists shaping Cincinnati's sustainable future

By Chris Charlson · April 13th, 2011 · Special

Perhaps you envision yourself as environmentally conscious. You recycle, drive a hybrid, compost and even use a water reclamation system. Don’t get me wrong, that’s great, but there are a number of local folks who are taking it to the next level. Not only do they educate others on sustainable living, but they themselves have become catalysts for change. Here’s a closer look at what six of the most ecologically conscious persons in our city are doing personally and in the community to promote green living.

Mark Fisher
Cincinnati Zoo Senior Director of Facilities and Planning

Mark Fisher (pictured above) knows sustainability. As the senior director of facilities and planning at the Cincinnati Zoo, Fisher has helped transition the facility into one of the city’s leaders in going green by not only improving the environment, but also saving a huge bundle of cash along the way. Fisher says the zoo’s 1.3 million visitors per year get a first-hand look at features such as storm water management systems, rain gardens, high-efficiency lighting and its most recent addition, the 1.56 megawatt solar canopy that saves the facility 20 percent in electricity.

Fisher says he finds it especially irritating that “going green” has taken on a negative or quasi-political identity during the last decade. He says ignorance and lack of education on sustainability prevails among all income levels and throughout all parts of the country. He says the zoo easily disproves the argument that going green costs too much or has few financial benefits, as last year the facility saved $2.5 million in energy costs.

“So we’re here to say it does make financial sense,” he says. “Here’s the data, here’s the numbers, here’s the blueprint, and I just don’t know any other facility’s director, CEO or CFO that wouldn’t say, ‘Yeah that makes sense. Let’s invest back in our facility, not pull away.’ It’s a full cultural shift, and the whole issue is, we can afford to go green.”

Dan Korman
Owner of Park and Vine/Cycling Activist


When talking about “going green,” locals can’t help but recognize Cincinnati’s resident green guru, Dan Korman. As the owner of Park Vine, located at 1202 Main St., Korman’s sanctuary offers an eclectic mix of urban eco-products and environmental education all bundled in pseudo-art-clad minimalism. Korman says his passion for the environment coupled with his Cincinnati roots drew him back from Chicago to open the store on Vine Street in 2007, then eventually relocating in 2010 to the store’s larger current location. For Korman, living green isn’t our future, it’s our today. He says there is a cultural shift occuring in terms of people preferring to live local as opposed to global by buying organic and locally grown food and paying a bit more for products considered eco-friendly. He says the store’s symbiotic relationship in the community is key for continued success.

“Not only is our store helping to revitalize Main Street and Over-the-Rhine, but the street and the neighborhood are revitalizing us, too, keeping us vital, shall I say,” Korman says.

“We have a very supportive community in the neighborhood and around the city as well.”

Jess Linz
Queen City Bike Program Director for Bicycle Friendly Destinations


Instead of paying upwards of $4 a gallon for gas, Jess Linz suggests a more active and ecological means of transportation. As Queen City Bike’s program coordinator for Bicycle Friendly Destinations, Linz helps encourage others in Cincinnati to hit the road on two wheels instead of driving. Linz says the nonprofit organization helped the city pass the Bicycle Transportation Plan in 2010, a comprehensive strategy for supporting bicycling through road improvement, increased driver awareness and police support. Linz says she became heavily involved in cycling after graduating from UC and choosing not to own a car. Her journey eventually led her Mobo Bicycle Cooperative where she says she gained empowering skills in bicycle repair, then in turn volunteered to teach the classes to others. She says she hopes residents will get the message and leave their cars in the garage for a change.

“Bike Friendly Destinations strives to make evident that bicycle transportation is beneficial to the individual, the organization or business, the community and the greater city,” she says. “Riding a bicycle for practical purposes saves time, money, reduces stress, improves wellness and health and is good for the local economy.”

Brewster Rhoads
Paddlefest Organizer


There’s no better way to bond with the environment than getting within inches of Cincinnati’s largest natural resource: the Ohio River. As organizer of Cincinnati’s 10th-annual Paddlefest, Brewster Rhoads encourages children and adults to enjoy what is now the nation’s largest kayaking and canoeing event, with more than 2,000 in attendance last year. The eco-friendly weekend also features a Kid’s Outdoor Adventure Expo where Brewster says more than 3,000 kids (primarily from the inner city) will learn about sustaining the environment and water education and safety. As a part of the Ohio Citizens Advocate Organization and as former Governor Ted Strickland’s regional director for southwest Ohio, Brewster says he’s been involved in environmental advocacy since the early ’80s. He says both businesses and residents in the area are finally getting it in terms of sustainability, with the region boasting many LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certified schools and local businesses such as P&G committing to net zero waste for new construction.

“I think there’s a growing awareness that the key to our region’s economic future is the businesses, government, organizations and residents becoming much more energy efficient — producing less waste, recycling and educating kids on the importance of being environmentally responsible,” he says. “The greener our region is perceived, the more likely we’ll be to attract and retain the type of industry and business that we need.”

Jim and Eileen Schenk
Owners of Imago Earth Center


As licensed social workers, Eileen and Jim Schenk recognize a growing sense of discontent among people regardless of economic status — they have determined the reason to be a disconnect with the planet. In response, the couple created Imago, an ecological educational center in Price Hill where people can reconnect with nature. Jim says they started the grassroots, environmental organization more than 30 years ago in an attempt to help people understand and have a better appreciation of nature and its spirituality. The facility includes the Model Earth Center, an ecological resource facility that educates school children, church groups and other organizations each year about the delicate balance of our environment. The center also helped create an eco-village neighborhood where people support each other in living sustainable lives, as well as 35 acres of land purchased as part of a preservation effort with the belief that all species deserve the right to survive. Jim says change is gradual, but he is noticing a difference.

“I always tell people when we started Imago we were a fringe organization and now we’re middle of the road — not totally true, but that whole interest in ecology has grown significantly,” he says. “I’m not sure if it’s grown enough, I’m not sure if we’re going to survive as a species because of what we’re doing to the planet, but at least we’re beginning to move in the right direction.”

Valerie Taylor
Creator of Cincinnati Locavore Blog


When Valerie Taylor started the Cincinnati Locavore blog, she says her sole intent was to continue buying locally grown produce after farmers markets were closed for the season. She says she never expected the series of events that would lead her to become known as the green gal in town, with more than 1,500 people now participating in the site.

Not long after starting Locavore, she became an advocate for raising chickens after the Village of Montgomery tried to ban the practice. After educating city officials on the practicality of chickens, the city approached her about starting a farmers market in Montgomery, which is now in its second year. In addition, Taylor monitors the Cincinnati East Group for freecycling in the area, a practice that allows people to exchange items instead of sending them to a landfill. She says it’s all grown in an organic fashion. And even though some people in town seem to be getting the message, she fears it’s just not enough.

“I don’t think a lot of people really understand the meaning of the word sustainable,” she says. “If we are doing things that are not sustainable, that means somewhere along the line we all can’t keep doing it and still all survive. We’re going to starve to death, run out of energy, pollute the waters so badly that they can’t recover — I find it astounding that anyone wouldn’t want to live more sustainably.”

[Check out CityBeat's full 2011 Green Issue here.]



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