On this blog, we post recent sustainability news to help people learn about initiatives and events related to sustainability in Central Wisconsin.

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Study Suggests Combinations of ‘Safe” Chemicals May Increase Cancer Risk

From Los Angeles Times, July 1, 2015

Lots of chemicals are considered safe in low doses. But what happens when you ingest a little bit of a lot of different chemicals over time? In some cases, these combinations may conspire to increase your risk of cancer, according to a new report.

Read full article.

How to Eat Healthy and Save the Planet

pickingfoodFrom The Guardian, June 29, 2015

As dietitians increasingly focus on the environment, they’re finding that what’s better for the earth is usually also better for the body.

Dietitians and food companies are awaiting the US Department of Agriculture’s highly anticipated new dietary guidelines by the end of this year with one key question in mind: will they include environmental considerations?

Interested in a diet that’s as good for the planet as it is for you?

Eat more of this:
-Beans, beans the musical fruit
-Organic fruits and vegetables
-Protein-packed vegetables, legumes, nuts and seeds
-Pasture-raised eggs
-Small amounts of high quality grass-fed beef and dairy

Eat less of this:
-Packaged, highly processed foods
-Bottled water
-Fresh-flown fish
-Conventionally raised poultry, pork, beef, or dairy products

Read Full Article.

New Research Suggests Nature Walks are Good for Your Brain

naturewalkFrom The Washington Post, June 29, 2015

New research suggests a 90-minute nature walk can lead to less rumination – a risk factor for depression.

In the past several months, a bevy of studies have added to a growing literature on the mental and physical benefits of spending time outdoors. That includes recent research showing that short micro-breaks spent looking at a nature scene have a rejuvenating effect on the brain — boosting levels of attention — and also that kids who attend schools featuring more greenery fare better on cognitive tests.

And Monday, yet another addition to the literature arrived — but this time with an added twist. It’s a cognitive neuroscience study, meaning not only that benefits from a nature experience were captured in an experiment, but also that their apparent neural signature was observed through brain scans.

Read full article.

Solar Users, Advocates Remain Optimistic About Energy’s Future in Wisconsin

From Wisconsin Public Radio, June 24, 2015

Solar energy users and advocates at this past weekend’s Midwest Renewable Energy Fair near Stevens Point said they’re optimistic about solar’s growth, despite controversial rate decisions by the state’s utility regulation agency.

Last year, the Public Service Commission allowed some power companies to increase their fixed monthly rate for customers, and in some cases approved charging new solar users more to be part of the electrical grid. Some in the solar industry feared there would be a drop-off in new customers due to people deciding it would no longer worth it to invest $10,000 or more for solar panels, photovoltaic inverters and other gear.

For now, however, there are signs the growth in solar isn’t stopping.

Read full article.

Local Car Wash with an Everybody Wins Attitude, Including the Planet!



Water Works

By Chelsey Ehlers, June 24, 2015

Did you know that a typical car wash can use up to 200 gallons of water? Or that washing your car at home with a garden hose can use as much as 250 gallons? Water Works Car Wash, headquartered in Wisconsin Rapids, Wisconsin uses only a quarter of that with amounts ranging from ONLY 15 to 50 gallons! All depending on the type of wash and size of vehicle! Water Works Car Wash has two locations, the original, in Wisconsin Rapids and a new location in Stevens Point just opened this spring. The Stevens Point wash is fully functional, but is in hopes of expanding with the acquisition of a neighboring lot! This expansion will allow for all the Wisconsin Rapid features and then some!


The arc at the beginning of the Car Wash assembly, note the Certified Earth Friendly logo.

Cutting down the amount of water used isn’t the only sustainable practice in which Sheldon Ferkey and his team utilize. They’ve adopted a business model that specializes in less water, less energy, less chemicals, and a lower bottom line. This lower bottom line is a big deal because this allows them “wiggle room” to do fun things for their customers. Such fun things include a $3 basic wash, a Saturday morning early bird special, and free vacuums! It’s important to them to incorporate their customers into the business model with these neat savings opportunities, as it corresponds with their “everybody wins” philosophy. Sheldon says, “It’s now smarter both environmentally and financially to be organic and/or green, a few years ago you paid a premium, if you could find these types of products, now it’s what the people want, standards have changed, it’s what makes sense and they’re more affordable.”

Okay folks, back to why they’re so “Earth Friendly”! Besides using less water and electricity due to new advanced equipment and technology, they also reuse water, have energy efficient lighting systems, and use Earth Friendly chemicals, soaps, and fluids. They’re certified “Earth Friendly” through their chemical supplier who performs an audit of chemicals, via a flow test, every 90 days and of water every 6 months. This is a certification that can be revoked if they do not continue to comply with set standards.

Using less water is greatly due to the large advancements in technologies over the past 10 or so years. When the Ferkey’s began their car wash research about 10 years ago, water and energy conservation wasn’t a concern, utilities were relatively cheap allowing for a lack of care. When the Wisconsin Rapids site was purchased about 3 years ago, Sheldon noticed a huge change, now water and energy conservation measures were being incorporated and that excited him! Equipment now can determine size and shape of vehicle to determine how much water, soap, and dry time to provide. Sheldon installed state of the art systems and equipment, participated in trials for chemicals and equipment and continues to do so today. He knows that someone needs to be trying these things for the companies in order for them to continue to advance their work and he’s willing provide that service and maintain the partnership.

Not only does Water Works use less water, they also reuse as much as possible. About 80-85% of the water used in the wash is reclaimed water from previous washes! They have an onsite reclaiming and recycling system which consists of 4 underground tanks to collect and filter out solids and impurities after flowing through the floor drains of the wash basin.


This is the logo on the control system for the Dry N’ Shine equipment

Energy saving occurs with the drying systems as well. On the touchless wash, the dryers are incorporated into the moving mechanism that travels over the vehicle as the water and soaps are sprayed on. This incorporation allows the vehicle to be dried more efficiently as the dryer only runs while the vehicle is below it. The dry time is based on the exterior air temperature, and the center dryers will turn off while over the bed of a pick-up truck. The drying system on the other wash, in correlation with a blow drying system, uses a machine which dries and buffs the vehicle using a towel method. These Dry N’ Shine machines are the first in Wisconsin, come from a Michigan company, and use only 8hp to operate! Regular dryers usually use about 115 to 150hp!

Another major energy savings occurs in the lighting system. All exterior, signage, and equipment lights at both locations are LED lights. The Stevens Point location has LED lights everywhere. When the Rapids location was retrofitted 3 years ago, LED technology wasn’t as feasible and advanced as it is today, so all interior lights utilize the most energy efficient fluorescents that were available at the time. Sheldon said the saving surely add up! They also switched out all garage doors to full-length clear glass doors in order to allow as much natural light to enter the buildings as possible.


The container of food grade hydraulic lubricant

Almost all of the chemicals and soaps used are water-based and are created using a grading system based on how quick they break down into natural components. The major brand used is LUSTRA and comes from a chemical manufacturer called “CSI” in De Pere, Wisconsin. They do use one acid-based chemical but it is also one of the most friendly since it only takes 30 days to break down. Water Works also uses food-grade vegetable based hydraulic lubricant in all hydraulic lines within the business.

Why don’t all car washes function this way and act in a more environmentally friendly way? Cost could be a factor. The older washes may not want to retrofit, it can be very expensive up front, but Sheldon says the payback period can be rather short! For example, the reclamation system at Water Works was initially about $50,000, it paid for itself within 15 months! That’s not too bad! Sheldon also said that it can cost less than $1,000 to completely change over petroleum based hydraulic fluids to vegetable-based food grade fluids.

This new technology is available to everyone; it’s the way the industry has gone. According the Sheldon, there are newer carwashes who may actually have some of these types of equipment whether it’s a water recycling system, more energy efficient dryers, friendly chemicals, or equipment designed to conserve water; however, most of these washes fail to incorporate the customer. These washes tend to raise their bottom line, rather than share the savings with their customers by offering deals and free services.

After contacting a few other local carwashes, a few claimed to believe they had environmentally friendly chemicals or water reclamation systems, but the cheapest wash found was $5. Although many gas stations which contain washes offer a deal where you receive a dollar off when you purchase so many gallons, they don’t offer free services or an early bird special day.

Point WaterWorks Plan

The plan for the Stevens Point facility expansion

So what’s next for Sheldon at Water Works? Well, he said first they need to finish up their efforts in Stevens Point as expansion efforts were tabled in the last Planning and Zoning Committee meeting. He said the proposal is working its way through the political process. The expansion in Point would allow space for the vacuum stations, a future building expansion which would provide more wash bays, a better customer pathway for entering and exiting the facility, and lots of plants!

If your vehicle’s looking a little dull and in need of a quality quick wash that won’t hurt the planet or the pocket book, swing on into Water Works Car Wash! More information about the business, as well as special offers can be found on their website as well as on their Facebook page.

Midwest Renewable Energy Fair This Weekend!

MREA FAIR26th Annual Energy Fair begins Friday, June 19th and runs through Sunday, June 21st, 2015!

Located in Custer, Wisconsin.

Choose from 250+ Workshops!

Hear Inspiring Keynote Speakers!

Connect with 200+ Exhibitors!

Live Music and Entertainment!

Enjoy fresh, local food…..AND BEER!

Learn more here!

Plover-Based Solar Company Brings New Look to Sustainability

From Stevens Point City Times, June 11, 2015

Aaron Garrett-Schesch and Monica Romanoqski of Solar Nouveau a Plover-based solar company. (Contributed photo)

Aaron Garrett-Schesch and Monica Romanoqski of Solar Nouveau a Plover-based solar company. (Contributed photo)

A new Plover-based company is changing the sterile look of solar paneling.

 Solar Nouveau owner Aaron Garrett-Schesch is debuting his patented “Deco Daisy”- a decorative solar panel designed in the shape of a flower- at the Wisconsin Garden District Farmers Market in Milwaukee on June 13.

“Like its namesake does to honeybees, the agricultural green and yellow Deco Daisy draws people in with it’s presence,” Garrett-Schesch said in a news release.

Read full article.

Visit their website

Impact of Insecticides on the Cognitive Development of Six-Year-Old Children

From Medical Xpress, June 10, 2015

In an article published in the journal Environment International, researchers from Inserm (Inserm Unit 1085 – IRSET, the Institute of Research in Environmental and Occupational Health, Rennes), in association with the Laboratory for Developmental and Educational Psychology, LPDE (Rennes 2 University), provide new evidence of neurotoxicity in humans from pyrethroid insecticides, which are found in a wide variety of products and uses. An increase in the urinary levels of two pyrethroid metabolites (3-PBA and cis-DBCA) in children is associated with a significant decrease in their cognitive performances , particularly verbal comprehension and working memory. This study was carried out on nearly 300 mother and child pairs from the PELAGIE cohort (Brittany).

Note: The largest uses of pyrethroids in WI based on 2010 data, the most recent available:
Field corn: 46,000 pounds of Tefluthrin
Sweet corn for processing: 4,600 pounds of Befenthrin
Green beans for processing: 3,400 pounds of Befenthrin

Read full article.

Chemical Use on Corn, Potatoes Listed for 2014

From Wisconsin State Farmer, June 8, 2015field

Details on the 16 major herbicides applied on corn in 2014 and on the groups of fungicides, insecticides and herbicides applied to potatoes last year were reported recently by the Wisconsin field office of the National Agricultural Statistics Service.

Listed by herbicide type rather than by the several trade names for most of them, the highest use during 2014 on the state’s 4 million acres of corn was atrazine with 1.456 million pounds, followed closely by S-metolachlor with a total of 1.404 million pounds. The glyphosate isopropylamine formulation stood third on the list with 1.244 million pounds, while glyphosate potassium salt came in with 768,000 pounds in 2014.

For chemical applications on potatoes, the report listed 14 fungicide products. With and application on 96 percent of the state’s 64,000 acres of fall potatoes in 2014, chlorothalonil dominated in the fungicide category with a total of 543,000 pounds.

Note: The EPA lists chlorothalonil as “likely to cause cancer in humans”; metolachlor is listed as “possibly causes cancer in humans.” (Chemicals Evaluated for Carcinogenic Potential, EPA, 2013)


Read full article.

Food Fights Block EU-US Trade Deal

From  BBC News, June 10, 2015food

Food safety is a major stumbling block in EU-US talks aimed at creating the world’s biggest free trade zone. Top concerns include GMOs, pesticides and growth hormones.


Read full article.

Court Gives Obama a Climate Change Win

From New York Times, June 9, 2015

A federal court on Tuesday dismissed a lawsuit by the nation’s largest coal companies and 14 coal-producing states that sought to block one of President Obama’s signature climate change policies.

The lawsuit, Murray Energy v E.P.A. challenged the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed rule to reduce plante-warming greenhouse gas emissions from power plants. If enacted, the rule could shutter hundreds of such plants, freeze construction of future plants and slow demand for coal production in the United States.

The lawsuit was the first in a wave of expected legal challanges to the E.P.A. climate change rules. Legal experts say they expect some of those challenges to make it to the Supreme Court.

Among the lawyers arguing on behalf of the coal companies was Laurence H. Tribe, a renowned Harvard scholar of constitutional law and Mr. Obama’s former law school mentor.

Read full article.

Ontario First in North America to Curb Bee-Killing Neonicotinoid Pesticides

From The Star Queen’s Park, June 9, 2015 beeman

Ontario is moving to take the sting out of pesticides that are killing bees. On July 1, the province will become the first jurisdiction in North America to begin reducing the number of acres planted with neonicotinoid-coated corn and soybean seeds.

Agriculture Minister Jeff Leal said by 2017, the new rules should curb the acreage planted with such seeds by 80 percent.

“Farmers are environmental stewards of their land and this regulation will enable our province’s farmers to strengthen their approach to protecting their crops,” Leal said in a statement Tuesday.

The pesticide hinders the ability of bees – and 400 other pollinator species like birds and butterflies – to navigate, feed, or reproduce. It’s also blamed for making them more susceptible to illness.

Read full article.

Portage County Solar Group Buy Results; Wood County Group Buy Program Begins

From Northwind Renewable Energy website, June 5, 2015

In September 2014, North Wind kicked off our first solar electric system bulk buying program called the ‘Portage County Solar Group Buy”. Our goal was simple – to reach out and bring people together for an informational session, provide free solar site assessments, provide people with a discounted price on a solar electric installation, and support community non-profits.

One of Portage County Solar Group Buy Installations; a 24-module 6.6kW system in Stevens Point, WI.

One of Portage County Solar Group Buy Installations; a 24-module 6.6kW system in Stevens Point, WI.

As we close the books on Portage County Solar Group Buy, here are the results;

  • 15 participants
  • 348 solar panels installed totaling 95.765kW of capacity
  • Total of Group Buy discounts and program-end rebates realized by the participants; $18,084
  • $5,745 in donations to Portage County charities
  • 15 one-year memberships to Central Rivers Farmshed.

To summarize, the average system size was 23 panels or 6.38kW. That average system generated an average of 8,258kWh of energy.

The average system;

  • Installed cost: $25,571
  • Initial 2.5% Group Buy Discount: $639
  • Focus on Energy Incentive: $2,400
  • Value of 30% Federal Tax Credit: $6,759
  • Final Group Buy Rebate check: $630
  • Net Cost To Participants: $15,134
  • Saved the system owner about $1000 in electric bills in the first year.
  • Eliminated 5 tons of coal burning and 18,000 pounds of CO2 emissions each year.

Let’s do it again. This time, it is Wood County’s turn.

See full article and information to get involved in Wood County program here.

Creating a Custom Wisconsin Taste with Wisconsin Ingredients : Great Northern Distilling

By: Chelsey Ehlers, June 10, 2015

The barn boards on the wall are from 3 different barns across Wisconsin. The Chandelier was hand crafted by Brian utilizing materials on his own property.
The barn boards on the wall are from 3 different barns across Wisconsin. The Chandelier was hand crafted by Brian utilizing materials on his own property.

Great Northern Distilling, a local distillery in Plover, Wisconsin, is a relatively new business that focuses on sourcing as much as it can within a 150 mile radius of the distillery. In a recent interview with Brian Cummins, the president, head distiller, and co-founder, I gained insight into what they are doing as a sustainable-focused business.

What started as a conversation amongst friends in a “super cool” Twin Cities Warehouse District bar in early 2012 has become an award winning local distillery for Central Wisconsin in 2015. Each of the four main spirits, Potato Vodka, Herbalist Gin, Opportunity Rum, and Vanguard Whiskey has received a Silver or Bronze Medal at the San Francisco World Spirit which usually has over 1,800 submissions of spirits.

Although not all of the ingredients and products used throughout the process are from within the 150 mile radius, the distillery attempts to localize as many ingredients as possible. The main starchy/sugar-rich ingredients for beginning the process, potatoes and whole grains, are definitely from Wisconsin.

In fact, the potatoes for the vodka come from various local family farms all within about a two mile radius. Yes, you read that right, two miles! Brian says that they always try to partner with producers who can process or have a processor because the distillery doesn’t have the space or facilities to process in house.

Here is a Lonesome Stone Milling Whole Grain Wheat Flour label stating which specific farmer grew the contents within.
Here is a Lonesome Stone Milling Whole Grain Wheat Flour label stating which specific farmer grew the contents within.

Lonesome Stone Milling LLC out of Lone Rock, WI (120 miles from the distillery) allows for single farm sourcing as each package contains a label tracing the contents back to the farmer who grew the grain. Brian greatly supports this approach and recently decided to get all of his Whole Grain Wheat and Rye Flour through Lonesome Stone as a way to support single sourcing. His previous supplier, Briesse Malts, still supplies a few of the malting grains but since they couldn’t ensure that all the grains were coming from Wisconsin fields, Brian decided to find a distributor that could. Each month the distillery goes through about 1,500 to 2,000 pounds of malting grains.

To show how inspired and dedicated Brian and his crew are about local sourcing, flavor, and quality of their spirits, the folks of Great Northern Distilling go out each spring and hand pick new growth spruce tips from their personal as well as a few friends’ properties to ensure a quality and unique taste within their Herbalist Gin.

Although local does not always mean sustainable, Brian says that he tries to be a good steward to the resources being used and tries to influence the suppliers to be as sustainable as possible.

Some products they’d like to source local; however, they haven’t yet found a farm or establishment to help them out. They currently attain a majority of their botanicals for the Gin from Oregon. These botanicals, Juniper, Coriander (Cilantro seed), Rose Hips, and Lavender, were chosen because they either are grown or could grow in Wisconsin. So if you or someone you know grows these herbs and could help contribute to the demand of about 40 pounds a year, depending on the specific herb, contact the Center for Land Use Education or Great Northern Distilling!

Only about 20% of the overall budget is spent on these raw fermenting materials. From the fermenting materials budget 70% is spent on local sourcing of the ingredients! The remaining 80% of the overall budget is spent on typical business things like employee wages, taxes, labeling, bottles, barrels, etc.

The coffee table was constructed using barn beams from an old farm in Owen-Withe, WI.
The coffee table was constructed using barn beams from an old farm in Owen-Withe, WI.

Right now the distillery’s main focus is local sourcing as well as minimizing electricity use, as their building utilizes as much natural light as possible with many floor-to-ceiling windows and vaulted ceilings. They do have a modulated steamer/boiler that self regulates its flame in order to only generate as much heat as is needed at a given time. They had sustainability in mind throughout the designing and decorating process as well as much of the décor is reused, repurposed, hand-crafted, or locally created!

Looking into the future, Brian Cummins would like to mirror the example Central Waters Brewing Company is setting with implementing renewable energies. He would also like to continue expanding his partnerships with local farms and work on getting more of their ingredients, such as botanicals from a more local source. I would strongly encourage you to stop in and experience the rustic charm first hand as well as ask them to share a few of their many stories all while enjoying a handcrafted cocktail. To find out more about Great Northern Distillery and their Spirits, you can check out their website at www.greatnortherndistilling.com or their Facebook page.

Calling all milkweed: Federal pollinator plan needs a billion plants for monarch butterflies

From StarTribune, June 6, 2015

An ambitious federal plan calls for a billion milkweed plants along a Duluth-to-Texas corridor travled by butterflies.

Starting as soon as this fall, America’s heartland could begin to look strikingly different to a monarch butterfly fluttering sourth for the winter.

Oceans of corn would be dotted with islands of native plants. Homeowners would have fewer lawns – and a lot less mowing. Roadsides would grow thick with grasses and flowers. And more than a billion unruly milweek plants would pop up along a 200-mile-wide correidor along I-35 from Duluth to Texas.

That’s the ambitious vision buried in a national pollinator plan released recently by the White House – an epic attempt to save the gaudy symbol of the prairie from its steady slide toward the Endangered Species list. The key is milkwee, the one and only food source for monarch caterpillars, which has all but disappeared form Midwestern landscapes, thanks largely to GMO crops and the widespread use of Roundup.

Read full article.