Argonne Showcases Sustainable Activities at Earth Day Fair
Employee-driven eco-groups take spotlight at Thursday's event.
Much of the research that goes on at the Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory focuses on efficiency.
So it’s only fitting that its employees live that mission by integrating green activities into their daily lives around the lab.
Those employee-driven initiatives were on full display Thursday during Argonne’s Earth Day celebration, which included a fair where groups such as the Argonne Garden Club and its on-campus bike program shared their solutions for incorporating environmentally friendlier activities into the workday.
The Lemont-area lab began recognizing Earth Day in the early 1990s. But its celebration really took off five years ago when the lab’s pollution prevention director, Greg Kulma, assumed coordination duties.
Through the Earth Day event, Kulma said he hopes to raise employees’ awareness of what they can do both on the job and at home to live more sustainably.
“You can recognize efficiency more quickly when a lot of people are in one place,” he said. “If everyone recycles one can it adds up in a hurry.”
Kulma himself rides his bike to work 10 months out of the year, something computer systems administrator John Valdes said about two dozen Argonne employees do on a daily basis.
During two specific weeks in May and June, Valdes coordinates bike-to-work weeks where he encourages all employees to cycle their way to Argonne.
He typically gets about 60 takers—one of whom bikes nearly 40 miles from Elgin to Argonne’s grounds.
On campus, Incident Investigations Program Manager Betsy Grom said many employees eschew their cars for bikes during brief treks around campus through Argonne’s bike share program.
“People do a lot of traveling between buildings,” Grom said. “The distance can be prohibitive to walk but they can bike it in a few minutes.”
More than one-third of Argonne’s 3,000 employees have taken the cycling training course required for participation in the program.
With 250 plots of land available for tending, the Argonne Garden Club offers employees a way to blend stress relief with environmental sustainability.
Staff members started cultivating about 50 plots around campus four years ago, filling the gardens with everything from native plants and vegetables.
About a year ago they organized as an official club whose 130 members will soon begin hosting plant exchanges, guest speakers and monthly meetings, said club president Erika Benda.
“One of the most important benefits is it’s social,” Benda said. “And putting their hands in the soil is a stress reliever people look forward to.”
Club members can grow whatever they want as long as they don't use chemicals, which Benda said leads to harvests rich with organic vegetables.
Kulma said all of these activities fit into the bigger picture of President Barack Obama’s goal for federal agencies to work toward greater sustainability.
“People don’t think that what they do is important,” he said. “But if one or two people start with a rain barrel or composting, it can make a big difference. … Sometimes it just takes a person saying I’m interested, and I’m going to make it happen.”