Laughing Planet: Giving Mother Earth Something to Smile about
Laughing Planet restaurant is open for business at its new location in Woodfield Station. Catalan artwork is hung on the walls and adds a fresh pop of color to the funky decor. Placed on top of each table is a plastic dinosaur to keep customers company as they dive into one of Laughing Planet’s signature burritos. Customers might not realize that with each bite they are not only filling the stomachs with healthy food but also supporting sustainable living.
It’s 2:56 pm and Steve Mertz is finally able to sit down and take a break after the busy lunchtime rush at Laughing Planet. Mertz studied environmental science at Indiana University where he met Richard Satnick, who would eventually open the first Laughing Planet. The original Laughing Planet was located in a historical Victorian house by the Indiana University campus. But, soon the company wanted to move out West. Mertz says, “We did not want to live in a small liberal school in a conservative state.” Oregon proved to be the ideal location for the company. After Laughing Planets success in Portland, the company decided to open some restaurants in Eugene. Mertz says, “Eugene appreciates the importance of bicycle commuting.” Laughing Planet’s green business methods leave eco-friendly customers with a guilt free conscience. The first Eugene location is in the Jefferson Westside neighborhood on Blair Blvd.
The unique and quirky decorations give customers a chance to kick back in a fun environment, however it’s not all play for the employees. An average day for a Laughing Planet employee is hectic. Mertz says, “[We] hit the ground running as soon as the doors open.”
Aside from developing delicious and nutritious meals, Laughing Planet’s other goal is to decrease their environmental footprint. With a smile he points to the table and explains how the tables are made with recycled wood. In fact most of the decorations are purchased at second hand stores. On top of using recycled materials, each store has a compost. Local farmers often pick up the compost and use it for their crops.
Upon graduation Mertz asked himself, “Do I want to be a part of the problem or part of the solution.” Mertz opted for promoting change in his community.
The Buzz Café located on the University of Oregon campus is crowded as students duck in to dry off from the cold rain. At a table Morgan Henry sits back and relaxes after a full day of classes. It’s Thursday and the weekend is approaching.
While most college students reserve their Saturdays for curing a nasty hangover, Henry grabs his toolbox. The Center for the Advancement of Sustainable Living or CASL is an organization dedicated to raising awareness and promoting eco-friendly living. This winter term Henry joined the organization. Henry says, “Our overall initiative is to try to encourage the thought of sustainable living.” A few years ago the U of O donated a house to the organization and Henry along with his fellow CASL members work to build a sustainable home.
Currently CASL members are figuring out how to insulate the house. Often members are faced with the problem of balancing functionality and sustainability. Henry uses the term “experimental learning” to describe this dilemma. Henry lights up as he explains more about his work with CASL. The organization has members from all types of majors. Henry says, “One of our goals is to reach out to the whole community to lend a helping hand. We want to help the community reach a more sustainable level.”
The environmental science major gained an appreciation for nature at an early age. He grew up across from the woods. Henry smiles and says, “A serene setting is something that is comforting to me and because it’s comfortable that’s why I want to preserve it.”
A Community Comes Together for a Cause
Members of the Sacred Earth committee work together to raise awareness and promote a more eco-friendly community.
After the First United Methodist Church, located in the neighborhood of Jefferson Westside, held several screenings of An Inconvenient Truth back in 2006, congregation members took action. Co-chair Jan Becker says, “As a result of that movie, lots of people were very interested in our church becoming more involved in Climate Care.”
The committee normally meets once a month, although Becker says, “Right now, we are meeting about twice a month as we are preparing for our church celebration of Earth Sunday on May 1.” Members are coming to celebrate the improvements they have made within their church. Located on Olive Street, the church is going green. Becker say’s, “We have put in all new energy efficient, replaced our heating system with gas fired boilers and have installed a solar system in our parking lot. This summer we will put storm windows over the stained glass windows in the roof and put an insulation coat over the entire roof.” Aside from the good these alterations are doing for the earth, these improvements have also saved the church a great deal of money. Becker says,” We project to be carbon neutral in 5 years.”
Sacred Earth provides classes and speakers for the public. Becker says, “We are holding a small forum in a couple of weeks with people in other faith communities and our speaker will be a woman who is active in the movement and was at the Cancun Climate Summit.”
Going green is challenge, but it is a challenge worth pursuing. By raising awareness the Sacred Earth committee is showing mother earth a lot of love.
Q and A with Penny Palmer
Penny Palmer is a trained energy expert; she consults individuals on how they can live more eco-friendly. Along with consulting others to be environmentally conscience, Palmer co-chairs the Sacred Earth committee.
1). Why do you think sustainable living is important for the community?
Actually, I think it’s important for the whole world. I’m a strong believer in the science that says Climate Change is a human caused reality … and is affecting the poorest of the world the most. I think the American life style of high consumption and our efforts to sell this to the rest of the world has been a big contributor to the creation of green house gasses. I think the numbers are something like us being 5% of the world’s population and creating 25% of the world’s CO2 emissions. As a child, I was always taught the importance of sharing … that none of us were entitled to lots more than anyone else. It is clear to me that we are using way more than our share and certainly more than we need. And, bottom line, our current oil based life style is unsustainable. It took millions of years for the earth. Some sources say it takes millions of years for the earth to make oil … and we’ve used up a good portion of it in 150 years.
2). How do you personally live sustainably?
There are a number of ways I try to live sustainably. My partner and I are fortunate that we had the resources to fully insulate our home, have all windows be energy efficient, and all doors and windows sealed to prevent heat loss. Inside, we keep our thermostat at 68 degrees during the winter and don’t have any air conditioning. This year, we have planted a tree, which is supposed to help shade, our home in the summer and keep it cooler. Most of our lighting is CFL, with the most used bulbs being the newer, and much more efficient, LED lights. They will outlive us. Again, we are fortunate enough to have been able to afford a Prius and try to combine errands so we don’t use so much gas. I love riding my bike and walking whenever possible. Seniors get free bus passes and I try to take advantage of that. We own the community pick-up, which is used by at least a half dozen others. We have a garden and try and grow and can as much food as possible. We also buy a lot of our food in bulk. We try to buy as much of our produce from local growers and only very rarely, buy tropical fruits that have to come from 1,000 miles away. We eat a lot of vegetarian meals … and when we eat meat, it’s always a free range or grass fed local source. I feel very blessed because I find it fun and rewarding to try and live a simpler life. It never feels like a sacrifice.
3). How can the Jefferson Westside community improve their sustainability level?
I think the thing that would most help any community is to have trained energy experts go from house to house, determining what work needs to be done to have to have a well sealed and insulated home. This can save on heating costs by 30%. That’s a huge decrease in CO2 emissions! Once it was determined what needs to be done, someone would front the money for the improvements. The loan would be paid for with the utility savings each month. This also would create lots of new jobs with people assessing and installing the improvements. I can vision things happening in neighborhood groups. People with gardens could collect the food waste from those who don’t have the means to compost and share their produce with others in the neighborhood. There could be a neighborhood collection site for Styrofoam and plastics that won’t go into the blue bin. Wouldn’t it be cool if there was a neighborhood electric car for people to do short errands with? I’m sure lots could happen if there was a leadership group working to educate people and encourage their participation.
4). Can you explain how you promote sustainable living?
I started out with the University of Oregon Climate Leadership Initiative being trained as a climate master. Our job was to go to people’s homes and walk from room to room talking about what they might do to reduce their energy usage. We started calling them “audits” and that word seemed too judgmental and intimidating. So, we called them consultations, which meant we were working together with the homeowner to see what changes they could make. I have no idea of how many homes were “consulted” as a result of the program. We worked in pairs and I probably did 12-15 homes. I’m sure it encouraged people to make some changes. At the end of the consultation, they committed to making three changes. Someone from the Climate Leadership Initiative followed up with them. The results were very positive in terms of reduction of energy usage.
I also do a lot of talking about it with friends. I have to be careful about not preaching or getting judgmental with others. My birthday and Christmas gifts will often be something like buying carbon offsets for a trip we are taking together. I’m definitely seen as someone who tries to “walk my talk” and, I’m certainly not at all perfect. My partner and I love going on outings in our trailer, which requires lots of gas to pull. We usually only go to Cottage Grove so we don’t have to travel so far.
Examples of an Eco-Friendly Jefferson Westside