Oak Crest residents spearhead community-wide sustainable practices

By Maria Wiering
mwiering@CatholicReview.org

Twitter: @ReviewWiering
PARKVILLE – On Tuesdays, John Grudzien is up before dawn, rifling through his neighbors’ recycling, ensuring no rogue piece of trash has been buried among their bins’ contents.
If he discovers an offender, he often leaves a gentle reminder – a note with a list of approved materials.
Grudzien, 91, is a resident of Oak Crest, an Erickson Living senior housing community, and a member of its Recycling Plus committee, which spreads the word on green-living initiatives.
Comprised of residents and staff members, the committee formed five years ago to promote Oak Crest’s recycling program. As the community’s sustainable offerings grew, so did the scope of the group. Now they are in-house promoters of chemical-free cleaning, low-flow water faucets and efficient energy use.
Young adults are often hailed as the “green generation” for the attention they give to protecting the environment, but Oak Crest’s Recycling Plus members share the same passion. Members of what journalist Tom Brokaw memorably dubbed “the Greatest Generation,” they lived through the Depression and World War II and were schooled in the virtues of thrift and selflessness.
“I’ve been recycling all my life,” declared resident Margaret Ingram, 81, who recalls collecting scrap metal and rubber to aid the war effort. Her 79-year-old Recycling Plus colleague, Ruth Pundt, filled her childhood wagon for the same cause.
Oak Crest has long been resourceful when it came to reusing and recycling things within its community, residents and staff said, pointing to an in-house thrift store that sells used items donated by residents.
In recent years, “green efforts” have expanded to exterior LED lights that reduced energy consumption, chemical-free landscaping and interior pest control and using mugs rather than Styrofoam cups. The 85-acre property is a certified wildlife habitat, with native grasses and wild animals. Residents recycle electronics, clothes hangers and greeting cards.
When it was time to re-roof the community’s continuing care center in 2009, Oak Crest opted for a “green roof” with plantings to minimize stormwater runoff, improve air quality and extend the roof’s longevity.
The community’s efforts attracted the attention of Baltimore Business Journal, which named Oak Crest Village “Green Business of the Year” in 2011.
Sustainable initiatives are “essential to keep the earth going as it is, and as pure as it can (be), for our children, our grandchildren, our great-grandchildren and so on,” said Pundt, Recycling Plus’ chairperson.
“You have to do this because the Bible tells you to,” she added. “God wants us to be good stewards and take care of the earth and all its creatures. We’re just following his directive.”
In addition to morally upright, Oak Crest’s efforts are also cost-effective, Grudzien said. By recycling, the community has cut its monthly trash in half, down to 35 tons, saving the facility about $48,000 annually.
Laurie Loverde, Oak Crest’s facilities manager, said the housekeeping staff has reported improved health, and fewer sick days, since switching to green cleaners. Now Loverde’s team is considering replacing its last chemical hold-out – disinfectant – with steam cleaning.
“There is an initial cost to every sustainable project that you look at,” said Joyce Malone, Oak Crest’s director of general services, “but typically the return on that investment is substantial.”

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