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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Retirees gather to recognize Earth Day, discuss sustainable practices at event featuring Spokane Mayor Lisa Brown

Edy Thogersen doesn’t shop fast fashion much; she’s retired and said she’s not one to get caught up in the trends of the week.

But Thogersen still cares deeply about the issue, and would like to help address the implications fast fashion practices can have on the natural world. She said her granddaughter, who works for the world-renowned nonprofit Conservation International, opened her eyes to how harmful the industry could be.

“I feel passionately about this,” Thogersen said. “I mean, it just blew me away to learn how often clothes are just thrown out.”

Armed with the knowledge shared by her granddaughter, Thogersen entered the event center at Rockwood Retirement Communities on Monday to help open the eyes of her neighbors to the dangers of mass-produced, cheaply made clothing.

Close to 300 Rockwood residents and community members gathered to learn more about environmental issues, efforts to address them and ways they can get involved at the annual Earth Day celebration put on by the retirement community’s “Green Team.” Following a keynote speech from Spokane Mayor Lisa Brown, attendees circulated around a slew of tables and presentations from Green Team members and environmentally minded organizations.

Founded in 2007, the Green Team is comprised of nearly two-dozen community and staff members who meet regularly to discuss ways Rockwood and its residents can be better stewards of the environment. The group evaluates building and maintenance operations, oversees recycling and energy conservation efforts and puts on educational events like Monday’s gathering.

They’ve helped the South Hill location become a Backyard Wildlife Sanctuary, spurred the organization’s transition to reusable and compostable food containers for meals and helped start a compost to get some use out of the food waste on campus, said Rockwood spokeswoman Lisa VanMansum.

“This is an involved community,” VanMansum said. “We have some really fun events, and this is a group that has really gone gangbusters this year.”

The Green Team also played an instrumental role in reducing the amount of water used at Rockwood properties each year. Adam Schoenthal, irrigation specialist for the organization, said Rockwood tends to be one of the biggest water users in the area, but implementing Wi-Fi enabled equipment that uses weather data to time sprinklers helped cut total watering time last year by more than a third.

The Hydrawise sprinkler timers are set to prevent watering on days when the chance of rain is high, temperatures are too cold, or if it is too windy outside. They also increase irrigation time when temperatures climb above 90 degrees. Schoenthal said the new system, in addition to replacing and installing around 7,000 new sprinkler heads, has helped tremendously when it comes to water conservation.

“The residents were a huge part of that,” Schoenthal said as he presented the information from behind a table at the event. “And the technology has really helped out. Five years ago, this really wasn’t available.”

Thogersen said she joined the Green Team when she moved to Rockwood a little more than two years ago because she has always been environmentally minded. She grew up on the outskirts of Portland and developed a penchant for enjoying the wilderness around her at an early age.

“If you live in the Willamette Valley, you come to understand environmental issues quite easily,” Thogersen said. “I spent a great amount of time in the out of doors, and if you spend any time in the out of doors, it’s easy to see the destruction going on.”

Fast fashion contributes to rampant waste of what are non-compostable fabrics, plenty of pollution and a lot of water usage, and Thogersen said the sheer amount of all that waste and pollution is one of the reasons she decided to focus on that topic. She could not believe that most fast fashion clothing items are only worn seven times nowadays before being discarded, according to a 2015 study conducted by the British children’s charity Barnardo’s, and pointed that statistic out to almost all of her visitors Monday.

Thogersen passed out flyers with advice on how to help alleviate the damage done by fast fashion, which included thrift shopping, converting old shirts into cleaning rags and buying clothes made from organic or recycled materials.

“And if you buy something, make sure it is a good quality that you can wear again, again and again,” Thogersen said.

Also tabling at the event were representatives from the Inland Northwest Land Conservancy, Spokane Riverkeeper, the Gonzaga University Institute for Climate, Water, and the Environment, and the Spokane County Master Gardeners – who passed out free house plants to attendees. While some were specific to an organization, other presentations at the event’s tabling area were informational, giving tips on recycling, electric vehicles and environmentally friendly cleaning products.

Brown’s keynote touched a variety of Spokane issues, some environmentally related and some much more political, like her plans to put a $192.5 million public safety property tax proposal in front of the voters this fall.

Brown shared the city’s efforts to implement more sustainable and environmentally conscious practices, like steps being taken to comply with the state’s Clean Buildings bill, transitioning away from gas- and diesel-powered vehicles, and forming a team of city employees to assess how their departments could be improved.

Brown said that’s only a portion of the work called for in the city’s 2021 sustainability action plan, which appeared to lose steam under Brown’s predecessor, Nadine Woodward.

“I believe that the pandemic, some of the budget pressures facing the city and possibly some lack of focus, or coordination, within the city have maybe slowed things down a bit,” Brown said. “And so my administration is picking up this work, and we are focusing internal resources to prioritize it.”

Brown also touched on the significance of Expo ‘74 as the first world fair focused on the environment, and said the anniversary this summer is an opportunity for the city and the community to recommit to the values embedded throughout the event 50 years ago.

Anne Franke, a Rockwood resident of more than six years, said it was a shock to hear Brown say the budget and other city functions have not been well-managed in recent years, but she was encouraged to hear efforts are underway to rectify those missteps.

Franke said the event was informative, although she already contributes to environmental causes and efforts in whatever ways she can, whether it be recycling in her home, composting or reducing how much she drives. Franke said younger generations need to be a part of addressing issues within the city and the environment, as well, in order for real change to take place.

“We’re a lot older, so we’re limited in what we can do,” Franke said. “We do what we can on a personal level. Publicly, I know a lot of us vote.”

Green Team Chair Mary Beth Shinn said attendance nearly tripled this year compared to last, which she attributes to having Brown as a guest speaker. She’s excited to see how the event will continue to grow in the years to come, and credits the community for its success over the last few decades.

Shinn said Rockwood residents may be retired, but that doesn’t mean their work is done. Many still feel passionately about improving the world around them.

“Even the younger ones amongst us kind of have the sense that we should make our life count now,” Shinn said.