Asian Americans are jumping into sustainability, from advocating food-waste recycling and using renewable energy to building sutainable homes and telling others about natural foods. While helping the environment may be challenging for some because it requires green – money that is – the Seattleites we have chosen are doing just that, reflecting a consciousness of long-term sustainability in the API community.
1.) Yale Wong: Founder and CEO, General Biodiesel
Wong retired in 2004 after running his broadband Internet company for 11 years. Out of curiosity he looked into the biodiesel business and found a compelling opportunity there. He founded General Biodiesel (GB) which converts cooking oil–either vegetable or animal fat-based—into fuel and stores it in vats at GB. One gallon of oil becomes one gallon of biodiesel, and “that is all there is to renewable energy,” he said. The City of Seattle buys biodiesel from GB, as well as Seaport Petroleum, which distributes biodiesel to major gas stations.But building GB was a big risk for Wong.
“I had to convince my family to invest a large amount of our capital and spend the next 10 years of our life diving deeply into this,” he said. “We had already made it. We didn’t have to work anymore.”
Wong’s work, however, is paying off. There has been talk of expanding GB to two out-of-state locations, as well as overseas.
2.) Candace Chin: The International District’s queen of compost
When it isn’t rainy, Chin rides her bike around the ID, talking to restaurants about how recycling their food scraps and composting could save their businesses money, and the planet too. She is the Business District Waste Management Coordinator for the Chinatown International District Business Improvement Area, and works on contract with Seattle Public Utilities to inform local businesses about sustainability regulations. But while she says, “Most restaurant owners don’t have time to do research [because] they have to get food on the table [for customers],” her works serve the under-served by acquainting local businesses with new citywide regulations on recycling and composting.
3.) Millie Leung and David Huang: Sustainable home for three, please
This couple is not only expecting their first baby (a girl) in the summer, but a new, sustainable home in Bellevue, too.
“We feel like being sustainable is becoming a necessity,” Leung said. “It’s no longer a fancy thing to do.”
Among the green features they chose for their home are extra-thick styrofoam insulation, an underground water collection tank that could save up to 51,000 gallons of water a year, and individual electrical wiring for every room to effectively monitor electricity use.
Building green comes with a premium, Huang said, but it pays off later with lower utility costs. Once finished, the house will be part of a study on sustainable housing. Huang owns local architectural firm Modus V Studio Architects and designed the home.
The couple hosts educational tours of their home every month, which are open to the public. Learn more at their Web site, greenconcepthome.com.
4.) Kelly Ogilvie: Founder and CEO, Blue Marble Energy
Anaerobic fermentation may be used to brew beer, but it could also save our “blue marble” – planet Earth. Seattle-based Blue Marble Energy is using that technology to refine food and yard waste, grass clippings, industrial waste and algae to make biogas and biochemicals that serve as carbon-neutral alternatives to petroleum, as well as making products such as fertilizers, artificial flavorings and medicine.
These biochemicals are taking center stage as oil reserves dwindle. According to the CIA World Factbook, the United States used 19.5 million barrels of oil per day in 2008.
“While the environmental debate has centered around oil as an energy issue, it is in fact an everything issue,” Olgilvie said in a video on the Blue Marble Energy Web site. “Most folks don’t realize that quite literally, everything around us comes from oil.”
5.) Karen Gaudette: Food blogger, PCC Natural Markets
Sustainability doesn’t get any closer than your dinner plate. That’s why Karen Gaudette, former Seattle Times food writer and now PCC Natural Markets food writer, talks not only about local and organic ingredients you can cook with, but green issues and the environment too.
Gaudette uses Twitter, a popular social networking and micro-blogging service, to spread the word about sustainability.
“I create a digest for my followers,” Gaudette said. “It helps them learn through short bits of news and information. I try to accumulate stuff I’m interested in and I have a sense they’ll be interested too.”
These greenies aren’t the only ones who can make a difference. They are among thousands of local people and businesses that are changing their lifestyles and practices in the interest of sustainability.
“Just start with small steps,” Leung said. “Recycle and pay attention to what you’re putting back into the Earth.”