Think of Kansas and you might not imagine the most progressive or forward-thinking state in the union. This is "flyover" country, where for many years the flat, fertile Kansas soil and laid-back way of life kept bread, corn and meat on tables from the Atlantic to the Pacific. No need for great inventions or breakthrough technologies or trendsetting — just honest, hardworking Americans making a living and providing for their own.
Yes, we Kansans tend to approach big concerns in a small-step kind of way, but, gradually, what emerges are solid solutions and ideas uniquely our own. Here are seven that might help put Kansas on your green radar:
Greensburg and green building
This tiny town (population 900) in the western part of the state has a prophetic name. On May 4, 2007, a tornado completely destroyed Greensburg, leaving its residents with nothing but a will to rebuild and an idea — all new municipal buildings would be LEED Platinum, the highest standard of green building specified by the U.S. Green Building Council. And it happened. But beyond that, the citizens of Greensburg resolved to become leaders by example for sustainable living, building a chain of eco-homes to demonstrate, to America and to the world, ways ordinary people can live green. Prior to the tornado, the town was on the brink of extinction, like so many small communities in rural America. But, after rebuilding, eco-tourism has flourished and their economy and spirit have been revitalized. Visitors from all over the globe come to Greensburg to learn how to build a thriving green community.
Following Greensburg's example more locally, seven buildings in Kansas have earned some level of LEED certification (as of 2009). Johnson County, near Kansas City and one of the state's most populous areas, has committed to earning LEED status on all of its future government building projects.
Clean energy and green jobs
Kansans certainly know how to maximize their assets. What do you do with a flat, windy state? Build wind farms.
In 2010, Kansas was ranked seventh in the amount of clean energy it produces from wind and second in its wind energy potential. It has tripled its wind energy capacity since 2008.
According to a report from the Kansas Department of Labor, 3.4 percent of the state's employment base is in green jobs, mostly in increasing energy efficiency. And the number of jobs in clean energy grew by 51 percent between 1998 and 2007.
Education and environmental leadership
Kansas is focused on training the next generation of environmental leaders right! The Kansas Association for Conservation and Environmental Education (KACEE) has worked side-by-side for 40 years with state educators to raise the level of environmental literacy in our kids. They partner with 250+ schools in the state on environmental projects and lessons on stewardship. Through 17,000 KACEE-trained teachers, they estimate they've educated more than 350,000 kids on a wide range of environmental issues from water conservation to prairie habitat.
Kansas Green Schools is a network of schools in the state committed to sharing resources and information on working, learning and playing green. Its mission is to "foster an appreciation and understanding of air and water quality, climate change, energy, reduction and recycling of solid waste, and wildlife habitat."
Green is a common school color once Kansas students move on to college. Kansas State University's architecture program is ranked nationally and its curriculum is heavily geared toward sustainable building and LEED practices. Cloud County Community College in Concordia, Kans., offers an associate’s degree in Wind Energy Technology. Johnson County Community College in Overland Park, Kans., offers programs in residential energy auditing and sustainable agriculture and is developing a cutting-edge course of study for solar technology beginning this fall.
Kansas was built on the backbone of the family farm and the hard-learned lessons of sustainably-grown food, which are a quiet source of pride for our state. We have a flourishing local food market, despite our smelly reputation for more well-publicized commercial livestock operations, with 100+ farmers markets and more than 48 listings for community-supported agriculture arrangements on Local Harvest
. Kansas State University also operates a very well-respected and well-funded sustainable agriculture center and produces a popular buying guide for Kansas-grown fruits and vegetables.
So while Kansas might not make anyone's off-the-cuff "Top Green States" list, what it does have is a population of caring citizens quietly working to save and sustain our square corner of the planet. The above efforts and many, many more to come will continue to build on each other, until, as an article in the Chicago Journal dated May 14, 1889, predicted, " ... What Kansas will be in 50 years hence is beyond the comprehension of people now living."