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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

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Jennifer Thomas: Celebrate efforts big and small to protect the environment

Jennifer Thomas

By Jennifer Thomas

This past Saturday, a billion people in over 193 countries joined together to celebrate the 53rd Earth Day. We in the Pacific Northwest can take tremendous pride in the people and milestone moments from our region that are tied to the movement.

Denis Hayes, raised in the southwest Washington town of Camas, was the national coordinator of the first Earth Day in 1970. For over 50 years, Hayes has served as a global environmental leader including chairing both international and Seattle’s Bullitt Foundation which boasts, “the world’s greenest office building.”

In 1974, Spokane hosted the first environmentally themed world’s fair. Expo ’74, officially the International Exposition on the Environment, adopted the motto, “Celebrating America’s Fresh New Environment.” On opening day, organizers released 1,974 trout into the Spokane River to underscore the cleaned up river. Over 5 million global visitors attended the sixth -month exposition.

The 20th Earth Day in 1990 involved the “Earth Day 20 Peace Climb.” This Mount Everest expedition was led by Seattle’s world-famous mountaineer Jim Whitaker (who was the first American to summit Mount Everest in 1963). On April 22, 1990, Whitaker and climbers from the Soviet Union and China called President George H.W. Bush and thousands of Earth Day supporters who had gathered in the town of George, Washington, from their Mount Everest base camp by satellite phone. Whitaker pledged his commitment to world peace and the environment. In addition to reaching the summit, the effort cleaned over 2 tons of trash from the mountain.

Whether collecting trash at the top of the world or keeping the banks of the Spokane River beautiful, every environmental action should be lauded. I’d like to thank the Spokane Riverkeeper sponsors, including Greenstone Homes and volunteers for continuing their annual river clean up last Saturday. We are fortunate to have so many local community groups, faith-based organizations, educators, students, businesses, and our civil servants who prioritize our environment into their missions and practices throughout the year.

When I learned of the international 2023 Earth Day theme “Invest in Our Planet,” I spoke with friends and colleagues about ways to highlight new and exciting local investments in our planet. The outcome was the creation of the “Inland Northwest Energy Innovation Celebration.”

KHQ featured stories this past weekend highlighting a few Inland Northwest Energy Innovation Celebration examples. They included:

• CarbonQuest, a local startup that has created a solution to a critical challenge mentioned above, the built environment. CarbonQuest founder Dave Curry shared with KHQ that the company has designed, built, deployed and installed the first system in the world that captures carbon from buildings before it is emitted into the atmosphere. What’s more, the carbon is then mineralized in the manufacturing process of concrete blocks. The first system is currently being utilized in a large apartment building in New York City, with several more systems set to be installed in New York shortly; the company is also in active negotiations with multiple clients ranging from apartment buildings to hospitals and universities.

• Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories is a global leader in technologies that protect, monitor and control electric power systems. Schweitzer was founded by Dr. Edmund Schweitzer in 1984 and has grown from a handful of employees to over 6,000 worldwide. SEL’s corporate headquarters remain in Pullman. The company recently invested in building a $100 million, state-of-the art printed circuit board manufacturing facility in Moscow, Idaho, that uses one-tenth of the water that a traditional PCB facility of its size would use. This commitment to conservation is not only good for the environment but is also a recruiting and retention talking point to an increasingly environmentally conscious workforce.

• Spokane Home Builders Association members are leading the way in mindful home building. The commitment to using sustainable materials, award-winning design, and energy efficient appliances has ensured that today’s new homes are the greenest and cleanest ever built. New homes, be they single family, duplex, or multifamily do not emit significant greenhouse gases.

The home building industry is actively addressing the built environment, especially the great many homes constructed prior to the advances that are incorporated in new homes. SHBA members work with homeowners to identify strategies to save energy and water, improve indoor air quality, and increase overall efficiencies in current homes.

There are those that say that little to no progress is being made addressing climate change in our region. And yet, Washington state consistently tops lists ranking environmental protection and stewardship. We have deep roots in the Earth Day movement, not only thinking globally and acting locally, but innovating locally and making significant impact globally.

Jennifer Thomas is public affairs director for the Spokane Home Builders Association.