Values in Common: Environmental Sustainability and Cooperation

This article appeared in The Other Paper, South Burlington’s community newspaper. In it, Fred Kosnitsky, who attends Camp Common Ground with his family (pictured at right), draws parallels between Common Ground Center’s values and the values that have driven South Burlington’s entry in the Georgetown University Energy Prize competition.
Eye on the Prize: Common Ground
Let’s take a break from our series on Hometown Heroes this week and look at some heroics happening outside our city limits. Last week my family and I had the good fortune to go to a week long family camp called Camp Common Ground. Located at the Common Ground Center in Starksboro, it was a chance for us to join families of different ethnicities and races with kids from newborns to teens to have fun and relax and play and create. So what’s the connection to South Burlington’s participation in the Georgetown University Energy Prize (GUEP) competition? I found two parallel lines of thought that connect the two.
First, the Common Ground Center is, as is South Burlington, at the forefront of adopting new and uncommon practices and technologies for energy savings and environmental sustainability. For example, the Center is powered completely by solar power. From the offices and kitchen/dining hall to the activity buildings and the shared bath house, the sun keeps everything running. Most campers stay either in tents or in cabins without electricity, but the Eco-Lodge, a place for families with babies or other special needs, is also solar powered.
Water use is also conserved in several ways. There are low flow showerheads and low flush toilets as well as waterless urinals. Campers and staff also try to practice conservation techniques such as not running the faucet unnecessarily. And conserving water means conserving energy (it takes energy to both clean and pump the water)!
Food for the campers is another important arena that Common Ground models a sustainable path. All the meals are vegetarian, which means that tremendous amounts of water and land and energy are saved compared to a meat rich diet. We feasted on delicious meals from many lands, including India, Japan, Mexico, Italy, Turkey, and more. And just about all the vegetables come from farmers who lease land at the Center itself. Talk about eating local!
The second parallel I noticed was Camp Common Ground’s emphasis on building community. Kids interacting with other kids of all ages was the rule, and kids and adults reveled in playing with each other too. My wife was delighted to have three pre-teen boys ask her to join them for a game of Rummi-Kub. Grown ups eagerly mentored youngsters in everything from art to archery, bubbles to baseball. The culture of camp was to honor compassion, cooperation, and collaboration.
And it’s not that healthy competition didn’t abound. There were ping pong and archery tournaments, a camp wide Quidditch match, and the annual boys/men versus girls/women softball game (which by the way ended in a twelve to nine “tie” – I have to confess that the girls/women won). But the spirit of all these competitions was one of fun and inclusivity and helping all the participants to do the best they can.
And so it is with the GUEP competition. Here in South Burlington, the Energy Committee and the city are trying to be as inclusive as possible, creating ways for everyone to participate. And we are striving to get everyone to do the best that they can, be it making small changes in their homes and businesses or adopting new renewable technologies or even mentoring their families, friends and neighbors in becoming energy smart. And while we are competing with other communities for the grand prize, we are also collaborating and sharing ideas and programs. We know that each community will be a winner by improving energy savings, and down the road even non-participating communities will benefit from our experiences.
So in the spirit of cooperation and collaboration, good luck to South Burlington and good luck to all our fellow competitors. And good luck to all the peoples of the world as we strive for environmental sustainability and cooperation. After all, we all share Common Ground.