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It's not easy being green: DL could be 'sustainable community'

Could Detroit Lakes be the next sustainable community in Minnesota?

That's a question the Izaak Walton League is asking city and county officials, offering help if the answer is yes.

Rolf Nordstrom, director of Upper Minnesota Hydrogen Initiative and an Ike, spoke at a luncheon for city and county officials, staff and planners. He presented a sustainable community challenge, saying there are communities in Minnesota already jumping on the opportunity.

"I don't believe the sky is falling, but there are cracks in the ceiling," he said. "Many of the world's ecosystems are under a lot of stress."

But he pointed out, "slowing down and being less bad" isn't going to solve the problem either.

"The environment doesn't just belong to environmentalists, it's the basis for all civilization," he added.

When looking to have a sustainable community, Nordstrom said there are three goals to satisfy -- economy, environment and community members.

To reach those goals, there are four strategies.

n Improve energy and material efficiency by 70-90 percent, basically become "more efficient."

n Mimic biological systems.

n Provide services more than products. For example, he said, people don't care about their refrigerators but rather the cold they provide.

n Protect and re-invest in natural assets.

One city in Minnesota already taking steps to become sustainable is Madelia, in the southern part of the state.

Some of those steps could include arranging housing developments to add larger open green spaces. Another is the direction a building is built to face, utilizing the sun. Or reusing water -- "gray water" -- for toilets.

Others include using fly ash instead of concrete, making use of solar panels and wind turbines, employing ground-source heating and cooling systems, and creatively using rain gardens, green roofs and carpet squares rather than having to replace entire rooms of carpet.

"What can we do to make this the norm?" he asked. "It's not something freaky or political, whether it's right or left (wing). There's not a shortage of ideas."

He said while the ideas are there, what is missing is the visibility and marketing of those ideas.

That's something he's trying to change with the Sustainable Community Challenge.

Nordstrom said he is looking for a few communities throughout Minnesota to become sustainable and to let the Izaak Walton League help, financially and with resources. He said some cities that have expressed interest include Northfield and Duluth.

But he is looking for a long-term commitment from the cities so the sustainable idea is just that, sustainable, and not a "flash in the pan."