You may have come across West Roxbury Saves Energy (WRSE) Steering Committee member Karen Sauer at Roche Bros in 2008 or out on Centre Street on Earth Day 2009 when she appeared in outfits she made out of more than 350 plastic bags, the amount the average person uses in one year.
Her goal? To educate local shoppers about the environmental and societal cost of plastics, to encourage recycling, and to reduce our dependence on plastic and petroleum products.
On each occasion, Sauer distributed more than 200 reusable grocery bags, donated by Roche Bros in 2008 and by Macy's Liquors and CVS in 2009. Her outfit boldly illustrates the difference one person can make to the environment by choosing reusable bags over plastic.
West Roxbury Saves Energy is a community-based organization committed to spreading the word that individuals can save money and the environment by making positive choices. WRSE provides strategies, resources, and information, encouraging residents of West Roxbury (and beyond) to make informed decisions about patterns of energy use and their environmental impact.
"I came up with the idea of starting a green group in West Roxbury because I desperately wanted to help combat climate change. I'd heard of similar groups in other towns in and around Boston - and the country, for that matter - that were really making a difference," Steering Committee Chairwoman Rickie Harvey said when asked about the origin of the group.
"I started doing research and learned that individuals could choose to do many things that would help the environment and that I could work to spread this word and help alleviate some of my frustration with the federal government's lack of action on this front."
So she founded West Roxbury Saves Energy (WRSE). WRSE provides information and resources about saving energy and conserving resources on its website, offering simple, easy steps residents of West Roxbury can take to save energy, money and the climate.
WRSE also holds several events each year. In the past two years these have included a Do-It-Yourself Winterizing Workshop, the reusable-bag giveaways, a Green Business Forum, "Smart Energy" parties, and "Low-Carbon Diet" groups.
The volunteer steering committee for WRSE includes Rickie Harvey, Chair, Jane Kilgannon, Gretchen O'Neill, Parker Porfilio, Ray Porfilio Jr and Karen Sauer.
WRSE members often pitch in to help other like-minded local groups, such as Boston Shines, who they helped plant flowers along Centre Street, and NSTAR's Energy Wizard program, which members helped bring to area schools. the program features Joules, the official NSTAR Energy Wizard, who dazzles students with fun facts and teaches them "magic tricks" to use at home to conserve energy.
In September WRSE hosted its largest event to date, a Renew Boston program at the West Roxbury Library, where about 80 homeowners learned about opportunities for free energy-saving measures including energy audits, winterizing, and insulation solutions available through Renew Boston.
WRSE's Rickie Harvey also writes a monthly column called WRSE Ecophiles, which appears on WRSE's website.
"Our hope is to raise awareness that there are many easy choices we can all make that both help the environment and our wallets. When we work together and make small steps individually, they combine to make a big difference," Harvey said.
"Many problems in the world can't be significantly addressed by individuals changing their behavior, but climate change is an area that truly can be," Harvey said.
WRSE is supported by grants from NSTAR, National Grid, and Waves Car Wash, and receives support from the MWRA and local merchants including West on Centre Restaurant, Roche Bros., Atlas True Value Hardware, Macy's Liquors, CVS Pharmacy-Centre Street, Super Flash T-Shirts, West Roxbury Pub Restaurant and King Shade.
With a mailing list of approximately 200 people and thousands of web hits since launching in October 2008, WRSE is making a difference. And their success has been noted. In 2009, WRSE won the Mayor's Green Residential Leadership Award, according to Harvey.
From the WRSE website:
Some Not-so-fun Facts about Plastic Bags
- Only 2 percent of all plastic bags used in the U.S. get recycled
- Plastic bags take from 500 to 1,000 years to break down in a landfill
- The U.S. uses 100 billion plastic bags annually
- Making those bags requires 12 million barrels of oil