From the first conception of the Aldo Leopold Legacy Center, the foundation staff and board endeavored to achieve what Aldo Leopold described as “the oldest task in human history: to live on a piece of land without spoiling it.” With Aldo Leopold’s words and land ethic as a constant guide, the Legacy Center was completed in 2007 as LEED Certified Platinum. The U.S. Green Building Council awarded the center the highest score ever given at the time for its energy efficiency, use of local and non-toxic materials, and considerations for the landscape. However, due to the explosion of handheld devices such as phones and tablets, the addition of the Future Leaders Center (FLC), and greater-than-anticipated staffing and visitation at the Legacy Center, the foundation has never quite reached one of its main goals: net zero energy usage.
This year, thanks to the funding opportunities provided by several renewable energy foundations and businesses (listed below), we saw our chance to finally close the gap.
The project, titled Electrifying the Land Ethic, began with consultation. We received expert advice from Keith and Lisa Kahlow at All Sky Energy, Eric Udelhofen at OneEnergy Renewables, and Jeremy Huhnstock at Adams-Columbia Electrical Cooperative. At the end of May, All Sky Energy began installing a photovoltaic system (solar panels) on the south-facing roof of the FLC. Next came panels on the southeast-facing roof of the Legacy Center’s Outlook Meeting Wing, adding to the system of solar panels already in place. Finally, the technicians assembled two sets of ground-mounted panels, one near the FLC and one on the west side of the Legacy Center. By including both roof-mounted and ground-mounted panels, we will take advantage of the best spots for solar capture around the foundation’s multiple buildings. As a whole, this system is expected to get us to the net zero energy milestone – the solar panels will produce more energy than we use at the Legacy Center and FLC. We estimate that we will reduce our CO2 emissions by 70,868 metric tons. As an added benefit, the money saved in operating expenses will be reinvested in other aspects of the foundation’s land stewardship and environmental education work.
Along with increasing our solar power capacity, we have also acquired two electric trucks thanks to the Kohler Trust for Historic Preservation, the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin Office of Energy Innovation, RENEW Wisconsin EVs for Good, the Brookby Foundation, and Maritz Automotive. These trucks will serve a variety of purposes: transporting people and tools for field work, acting as a remote power source for events at the Shack, and demonstrating the capability of electric vehicles in more rugged environments. By replacing our combustion engine stewardship vehicles with these EVs, we will reduce our CO2 emissions by another 11 metric tons annually.
The support of our expert partners and Leopold Foundation community members has given us the unique ability to undertake this project. We recognize that solar panels, electric vehicles, and other sustainable energy technologies are not always accessible to every organization or household (and that the technologies themselves have a ways to go before they are fully sustainable). Yet there are many resources available that could very well open a door to renewable energy in your life. Our project partners provide information, consultation, installation, funding, and more to those interested in reducing their energy and environmental impact. Their websites are linked below for further exploration of renewable energy options.
As we approach the 75th anniversary of Aldo Leopold’s A Sand County Almanac, one question keeps popping up around the foundation: how do we demonstrate a land ethic in the 21st Century? A land ethic, as described by Aldo Leopold, involves recognizing ourselves as “plain members and citizens” of the land community and treating our fellow members with care and respect. In the 1930s and 40s, the Leopold family expressed their land ethic by actively restoring the degraded land around the Shack while experiencing life without the resource-heavy amenities of modern city living. We have continued their legacy of land restoration, but foregoing modern conveniences isn’t usually feasible: we want to provide our supporters (like you!) with a beautiful facility to visit and engaging programs to attend in-person and virtually. These goals require a level of infrastructure and technology beyond what the Leopolds had at the Shack.
And yet, decisions the foundation has made about infrastructure and technology have actually become a key form of demonstrating a land ethic. We may not be able to avoid a footprint on the landscape or all energy use, but we can leverage smart design and renewable energy to minimize our negative impact and avoid fossil fuels. We may not be able to forego motorized vehicles in land stewardship work, but we can use vehicles that don’t produce harmful emissions. Through the Electrifying the Land Ethic project, we are continuing to make decisions that will allow us to provide our visitors with rich experiences while still prioritizing care for our common home.
Interested in learning more? Attend our Workshop with Experts to help Electrify YOU!