The Green Team
The fourth annual Bethesda Magazine Green Awards, held in partnership with Bethesda Green.
Server Tim Caffrey has good reason to smile: MoCo’s Founding Farmers restaurant is getting lots of recognition for its environmental focus. Photography by Darren Higgins
A private school committed to using solar and wind power for energy. A restaurant supporting research to help save honeybees. A businesswoman determined to provide more local produce to county residents.
These are among the five winners of the fourth annual Bethesda Magazine Green Awards, held in partnership with Bethesda Green. The winners were chosen from about 40 nominees from Montgomery County and Upper Northwest D.C. This year’s winners represent different aspects of our community, but they have at least one thing in common: a commitment to promoting a more sustainable way of life. >>
MoCo’s Founding Farmers
2013 Green Awards Category: Restaurants and food markets that have significantly incorporated green practices into their culture and operations
A display case at MoCo’s Founding Farmers restaurant in Potomac is filled with jars of honey, their amber so rich it seems imbued with the sunlight streaming through the front windows.
The honey comes from hives at The George Washington University in Washington, D.C., where researchers—with financial support from the restaurant’s owners—are trying to figure out why honeybee populations have plummeted in recent years.
It’s a problem that hits home for the restaurant and its two sister operations in D.C., which are majority owned by the North Dakota Farmers Union, because honeybees are essential pollinators for many crops.
Supporting such important research is one way the restaurants give back, says Garrett Park resident Dan Simons, co-founder of Vucurevich Simons Advisory Group. The Kensington-based restaurant consultancy is part-owner and manager of the three establishments.
A holistic approach to environmental consciousness is evident throughout MoCo’s Founding Farmers, which received LEED silver certification after satisfying some of the most stringent energy- and environment-focused “green building” standards. To reduce waste, the restaurant uses compost bins and operates its own water filtration system, which removes impurities from tap water before it’s served in reusable glass jars.
The three restaurants also showcase local food whenever possible, and serve their own brand of whiskey and gin made at a Virginia distillery. Dawn Vileno, vice president of operations, says sourcing locally year-round is the hardest part of being “green” because of the difficulty in finding off-season suppliers. But she says customers appreciate the effort.
Simons says he enjoys the challenge of striving for sustainability at the restaurants, which serve 15,000 to 18,000 diners weekly. “We try to see the business through the eyes of the farmer,” he says. “That’s so different from looking through the lens of the financial statement. It allows us to take the long view.”
Farm to Freezer
2013 Green Awards Category: Businesses or nonprofit organizations that have created an innovative green product, are selling an innovative green service and/or promoting a green lifestyle
Cheryl Kollin has a business degree and runs her own enterprise. But the founder of Bethesda-based Full Plate Ventures is focused as much on social issues as profit margins. She wants to put locally grown produce on dinner tables year-round.
“On the one hand, you have surplus food—some of it rotting in the fields; on the other, hungry people. …To me that’s a crime,” says Kollin, 56, whose Full Plate Ventures consults on good food practices to environmentally friendly companies and organizations.
Her company’s latest initiative, Farm to Freezer, relies on volunteers to turn surplus summer and fall produce from farmers markets into blanched and roasted vegetables in a local church kitchen. The prepared food, which is frozen in 10-ounce bags, will be distributed to needy county residents during the winter by the nonprofit Manna Food Center in Gaithersburg.
“It’s a great partnership [that provides] really nutrient-rich food to people year-round,” says Jenna Umbriac, Manna’s director of nutrition programs. She says this year’s supply will only be enough to distribute to Manna food pantries in December, but she’s hopeful that Kollin’s enterprise could provide more frozen fare in years to come.
This fall, Full Plate Ventures is also using farmers market produce to make tomato sauce and ratatouille that will be sold at area grocery stores, including Mixed Greens Market in Poolesville. Proceeds will help finance the company’s growth.
Kollin came up with the idea for Farm to Freezer after learning about the spoilage of excess produce. In 2012, she launched a pilot program with Bethesda Cares that helped feed 2,500 of the latter’s homeless clients.
This year, Kollin recruited more collaborators and expanded Farm to Freezer into a full-blown “social enterprise” that produced hundreds of bags weekly during the growing season from spring to fall.
“People love that it’s locally grown, locally produced and has a social mission,” Kollin says. She hopes to expand into preparing winter vegetables and eventually to sell products to restaurants, schools and other institutions.
Melvin J. Berman Hebrew Academy
2013 Green Awards Category: Community groups (neighborhood associations, faith-based organizations, schools) that have significantly incorporated green practices into their culture and operations
The flat-screen monitor hanging near the reception desk at the Melvin J. Berman Hebrew Academy in Rockville tells the story: It shows how much energy the school’s 800 solar panels are producing and estimates how many households and coffeemakers those panels could power.
The technology is state of the art, but it’s also a reminder that the private school’s conservation efforts align with its traditional Jewish values, Headmaster Joshua Levisohn says.
“We want everyone associated with the school to know they have a responsibility to see themselves as part of the whole,” he says. “Environmental consciousness is very much in line with this.”
The Jewish day school, which serves about 700 students in prekindergarten through 12th grade, has strived to make its 20-acre campus more eco-friendly over the past decade. The school now has three gardens, including a vegetable and flower garden that serves as an outdoor classroom, and a rain garden that helps absorb and filter stormwater runoff.
Solar panels, installed two years ago, generated more than 1 million kilowatt hours of renewable energy last year, or about 18 percent of the school’s total energy usage. The school shaved $41,976, or 18 percent, off of its electricity bill, says Jennifer Zukerman, the academy’s director of development. The school buys the rest of its power from the Silver Spring clean energy company Clean Currents, and designates 50 percent of its annual electric bill to purchase credits that support wind power.
Plus, Levisohn says, a recent challenge to cut resource consumption by 5 percent led to a nearly 25 percent reduction in paper use.
All of these efforts have led the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to name the school a Green Power Partner for the past three years. This year, the EPA ranked the school 18th in the nation for green power usage by elementary and secondary schools.
2013 Green Awards Category: Individuals who are actively promoting and living a green lifestyle
Brian Detwiler’s friends and family say he’s just a regular guy who loves playing soccer and enjoys adopting new technology, like his Honda Fit EV electric car. But the 34-year-old corpo-rate lawyer takes recycling so seriously that they also playfully refer to him as “Recyclo”—their version of a recycling superhero.
The Chevy Chase resident says he’s fine with good-natured ribbing if it leads others to join him in trying to live a more environmentally friendly lifestyle.
“There are only a couple of people who call me that,” he protests. “It’s kind of a playful thing, but it gives me hope that my actions may inspire other people to see that recycling is not that much trouble. It takes such a little effort to change your lifestyle.”
Detwiler, whose interest in environmental protection began in college, avoids ingredients that have been linked to water pollution, such as the sodium lauryl sulfate found in most shampoo and toothpaste. He uses a push lawn mower, and walks or bicycles to work at Riverbed Technology in downtown Bethesda.
Soon after moving into their home two years ago, Detwiler and his wife, Kate, installed solar panels despite a real estate agent’s warning that the panels might lower their property value. And earlier this year they took possession of the first Honda electric-only vehicle on the East Coast and installed a charging station in their garage.
Kate, who nominated her husband for this award, says she has come to enjoy the couple’s role as adopters of “green” technology. “He’s converted me and we’ve converted our friends,” she says.
Mike Roswell, 32, of Fairfax Station, Va., came up with the “Recyclo” moniker when he and Detwiler lived together nearly a decade ago. He says Detwiler has broadened his image of an environmentalist.
“He’s not hugging trees or wearing hemp clothing,” Roswell says. “He’s a regular, mild-mannered guy.”
2013 Green Awards Category: Businesses or nonprofits that have significantly incorporated green practices into their culture and operations
Abt Associates, a global research firm with offices in Bethesda, prides itself on the brainpower it applies to projects for clients in fields as diverse as the U.S. health care system and international development. So it’s no surprise that it employed the same approach when adopting an environmental sustainability policy last year, President and CEO Kathleen L. Flanagan says.
Abt executives calculated the company’s greenhouse gas footprint by investigating every aspect of operations—from use of office supplies to employee commuting habits—at its Bethesda location, where more than half of its 3,000 employees work, as well as at its other offices worldwide.
Then the company took action, including an overhaul of its office supply procurement process and the reuse of some items to reduce purchases, says Olga Faktorovich-Allen, manager of Abt’s Environmental Sustainability Program. Executives began substituting online documents for hard copies and scheduling teleconferences and online meetings to cut back on air travel. The company also doubled a subsidy for employees who commute to work on public transportation, and added a new bike subsidy program, Allen says.
In addition, Abt sponsors a community-supported agriculture program run by Potomac-based Norman’s Farm Market. About 30 Abt employees participate by paying upfront for produce that’s also available for other employees to purchase on site each week.
Abt installed compost bins in office kitchens and made it easier for employees to recycle by no longer requiring them to sort items. In Bethesda, trash output has declined by more than 35,000 pounds over the past year through recycling and a switch in office kitchens to reusable plates and silverware made from recycled steel.
Abt publically acknowledged its commitments in September by issuing its first report to The Climate Registry, a standardized, international clearinghouse tracking emissions by companies, governments and other institutions.
Promoting sustainability “breeds innovation,” Allen says. “You start looking at your everyday activities through the lens of sustainability. And when you save natural resources, it also translates into saving money. That’s why it’s a no-brainer.”
About Bethesda Green
The 2013 Bethesda Magazine Green Awards are presented in partnership with Bethesda Green. Founded in 2008, Bethesda Green provides businesses, government and the community with programs and services that promote a healthy economy and sustainable living practices that reduce our impact on the environment. The local nonprofit houses a green business incubator for startup companies, and creates programs to inspire action and educate the public through online tools. It also hosts a center that showcases green products and services.
With key partners in the business and nonprofit communities and in Montgomery County government, Bethesda Green also installs and maintains recycling bins in downtown Bethesda, and promotes local food and agriculture, energy efficiency and renewable energy at home and in the commercial sector.
Bethesda Green participates in numerous events—held at schools and business gatherings, and in neighborhoods and faith-based communities—that educate people about sustainable living practices. Its annual Bethesda Green Gala, at which the Green Awards were presented, took place Oct. 3 in Bethesda.
For more information about Bethesda Green, go to www.bethesdagreen.org.
Christine MacDonald is a freelance reporter who specializes in environmental reporting. She lives in Washington, D.C.