BNA's New SALT Chair: Katy Wolf

Hi, I’m Katy. I’ve lived in North and Northeast Portland for the past six years. I moved to the Boise Neighborhood near Mississippi Avenue two years ago, around the time when I was starting to get curious about what I could do to make a concrete, positive impact in sustainability in my city and neighborhood. So I recently started a neighborhood sustainability group called Sustainable Mississippi. I intend for its values to include respecting diversity and history, and being non-judgmental and inclusive.

 

Everyone knows that many people come to Portland because of its image and reputation in sustainability. But it’s not easy being green in a first world country that values convenience, status symbols, and material wealth. I have slowly taken a lot of positive green steps in my personal life, and I’m fortunate and grateful to work at a Gold Sustainability at Work certified office. For me, it’s a big incentive to work there. I also make shopping decisions based on sustainable values, which marketers and retailers all know well about -- greenwashing is all the rage these days. Greenwashing is labeling something as sustainable when it really isn’t. It alleviates a psychological feeling of guilt with no commitment or change in behavior. Seeing through greenwashing and becoming aware of sustainable options is sort of like putting on the eyeglasses in They Live, and suddenly seeing a horrifying reality that we are complicit in.

 

Now, that part of my brain won’t turn off. I see things that bother me more often. When I saw overflowing trash cans on Mississippi, it was a great motivator for me to ask myself what I could do about it.  According to this recent Slate article, my subconscious guilt manifested as disgust. So my response was a tingling sensation of responsibility from the “community-minded” part of my brain. I found out that other business districts such as Alberta and St. Johns have replaced or introduced new trash cans and recycling bins, whose artistic elements reflect their community’s identity and feeling. My neighborhood of  Mississippi Ave. seems ready for a similar kind of update. Through that seed of a project, I have formed Sustainable Mississippi and joined the Boise Neighborhood Association’s Board as a the Safety and Livability Chair, so that I can do much more than just address the trash can problem.

 

I hope this group will bring together neighborhood residents to learn from each other and provide opportunities for creative, collaborative problem solving and open dialogue. I’d like to model this group after Sustainable Overlook, which has done some really cool projects in its first four years:

  • Film events with home cooked food, drinks and discussion.
  • Summer yard sale: Saturday is sale day, Sunday is free-for-all day
  • Earth Day cleanup with Master Recyclers, and tomatoes-for-trash exchange
  • Intersection repair with street paint, planter boxes with native plants
  • Residential seismic retrofitting free assessments and DIY workshop
  • Pesticide-free garden tours
  • DIY food classes

Beyond residents, my goal and hope is that Sustainable Mississippi will also reach businesses, schools, churches, and neighborhood-run events. Immediate goals are:

  • Increasing recycling and composting options for events

  • Increasing awareness of green purchasing choices for businesses

  • Helping businesses become Sustainability at Work certified

  • Quantifying existing and potential improvements in green choices at a neighborhood or street level

 

If this sounds like the kind of stuff you’d like to be a part of, or if you have ideas, questions or concerns, please reach out! Over the winter, we can research and plan how to achieve these goals by next spring and summer, and roll them out through events and outreach. These projects are going to be impactful, exciting and fun. The Boise Neighborhood Association recently put their support behind this initiative, and the Mississippi Business Association has been very receptive and encouraging. To learn more, please visit Sustainable Mississippi’s website and Facebook page. Our first meetup event is January 25 at 4 pm at Bar Bar, where we’ll talk about our interests and ideas for sustainability projects this year.