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Energy consumption questions permeate work and personal life

At work and in her personal life, Juliet Sinisterra applies planning processes and green-building know-how from her experience as an architect to shape communities and create sustainable homes.

For example, unlike many who are considering buying an HDTV, Juliet Sinisterra researched those TV’s energy consumption.  She found that few, except for some with small screens have an Energy-Star rating.  Some large flat-screen TVs use more electricity than a refrigerator, she said.

Through several new services at Community-Minded Enterprises (CME), she promotes initiatives that help CME fulfill its mission of creating “vibrant, inclusive, resilient communities.”

Juliet Sinisterra
Juliet Sinisterra

With the Northwest Ecobuilding Guild, Juliet educates people on natural and green building, and develops architectural designs to make new buildings carbon neutral by 2030.  She said that 40 percent of greenhouse gas emissions come from buildings.

 At home, she conserves energy, consumes less, researches purchases and uses renewables.    

For a workshop at the 2008 Bioneers Conference, she told of ways to enhance “the built environment,” build community and reduce carbon emissions.

After graduating from Gonzaga Prep and Washington State University, where she earned a five-year professional degree in architecture in 1993, Juliet worked for a year with the Fremont Public Association in Seattle’s Low-Income Housing Institute and for five years with a private architectural firm, developing museum plans and public projects.

On returning to Spokane, she worked a year with Integrus Architects to design the Barbieri Student Center at Gonzaga Prep to create spaces for students to gather and build community.

When her children were young, Juliet worked at home on small architectural projects and remodeled a 1911 house, blowing insulation into walls, adding storm windows, installing a tankless on-demand hot water heater, and using recycled tile, fir flooring and nontoxic wood finishes and paints.

In 2005, she participated in a visioning workshop to help design the Saranac at 25 W. Main, became involved with the Ecobuilding Guild and began writing a column on sustainable living for Out There monthly. 

In preparing the columns, Juliet learned about biodiesel fuel, perma-culture, conservation practices, composting plant waste, preserving old buildings, alternative energy, green-collar jobs and steady state economies.

“I interviewed experts.  One was Dan Baumgarten of Community-Minded Enterprises,” she said.    Learning CME shared her interest in strengthening sustainability and building communities, Juliet began working there in 2007. 

With her help, Community-Minded Enterprises has launched several new services, including:

• Green Business Consulting Services assesses day-to-day operations of businesses—procurement, energy and water use, transportation and waste—to offer holistic advice in improving sustainability. 

• Computer Support Services assess, install and maintain hardware, software, networks, databases and internet security at below-market rates for local nonprofits and microenterprises.

• Capacity Building for Nonprofits, funded through a three-year federal Compassion Capital Fund grant, assists 10 partner agencies—Crosswalk, Project Hope, Odyssey Youth Center, Camp Fire, Martin Luther King, Jr., Family Outreach Center, A Cup of Cool Water, Boys and Girls Club, Youth Family Connections, Childbirth and Parenting Alone and the East Central Community Center. The Partners Empowered for Youth assist with new equipment, board development, volunteer recruitment, appropriate technology and personnel assessment.

Juliet said the fund supports youth entrepreneurial activities such as the Green Collar Jobs Task Force and programs that increase youth access to and training in green ecology and economy.

“Green-collar jobs provide paths out of poverty for people without a college education,” Juliet said.

With the Department of Ecology, CME hopes to develop a curriculum on youth and community sustainability with urban agriculture, green building, energy conservation, resource protection and recovery, and renewable energy.

CME is implementing only the urban agriculture curriculum to engage at-risk youth by building resilience and self-confidence for 14- to 21-year-olds while building awareness of issues such as climate change. 

In September, Juliet connected the national Green for All movement, Partners for Empowered Youth and the Northwest Ecobuilding Guild to co-sponsor a Day of Action, “Green Jobs Now.”  Volunteers built a cob oven beside a community garden in West Central Spokane.

With Northwest Ecobuilding Guild, she is spreading information about building strategies to reduce carbon emissions through straw-bale construction, comprehensive weatherization, energy efficiency and water conservation.

Juliet suggests enhancing building ecology with 1) passive solar, 2) recycled materials for carpet and insulation, 3) composting toilets, 4) recycling waste water from sinks and washers for the garden, 5) landscaping with native plants that need little water, 6) nontoxic interior finishes, 7) small square-footage sealed houses with small heating units or solar panels powering a furnace, 8) solar-powered air-to-air exchangers to maintain air quality and 9) insulating walls around refrigerators.

Beyond developing new sustainable technologies and techniques, Juliet challenges people to look at their lifestyles so their homes will produce less carbon.

It starts with using less electricity and producing more electricity with solar energy, she said.

“In the 1950s, the average home had six electrical appliances.  Today the average home has 26 big and small appliances,” she said. 

As people seek to go green, Juliet advises simpler living.

“Solar panels are effective, but expensive,” she said, “so before we turn to solar, we need to live smaller.  Life can be rich and abundant living smaller.

“In my house, we recycle everything—cereal boxes, magazines, bottles and cans.  I compost.  I hang clothes to dry in the summer.  I use compact florescent light bulbs.  I keep heat at 65 in the day and turn it down to 55 at night.

“When I buy something, I ask if I need it or if I can buy it second hand.  I also ask about its durability,” Juliet said, pointing out that every day Americans dispose of more than 400,000 cell phones. “We don’t have the energy to sustain a throw-away society.”

Juliet grows organic food and cans apricots, apples, pears and plums.  She buys organic at organic stores and farmers markets.  Her children think it’s normal to turn off lights, throw vegetable scraps on the compost pile, pick raspberries at Green Bluff and help with canning. 

 “Even with all I do, I found in calculating my ecological footprint that it would take 2.2 earths to sustain my lifestyle.  I still need to cut back,” she said.

“My faith influences me to have a sense of social concern, a connection with the earth and an appreciation of the beauty in life,” said Juliet, who attends St. Augustine Catholic Church.  “Other religious traditions, such as practicing yoga and meditation enhance my faith.”

For information, call 209-2859.

Copyright © January 2009 - The Fig Tree