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Posted: September 01, 2009

Sustainability spotlight: etown of Boulder

Enduring radio show creates a home worthy of its green mission

Mindy Pantiel

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Nick and Helen Forster are no Johnny-come-latelies to the green movement. It has been almost two decades since their weekly radio show “etown” began broadcasting before a live audience from Boulder. Their mission was to both entertain and shed light on important issues like global warming and sustainability.

That aim has never wavered and neither has their format – a well-orchestrated blend of music and banter. “We’ve been having this environmental conversation on a national level since 1991,” says Nick Forster, former member of the Grammy-nominated group Hot Rize and the show’s co-host.

Over the years he has conducted on-air interviews with the likes of former president Jimmy Carter and renowned primate expert Jane Goodall, and jammed with James Taylor, Ani DiFranco and Lyle Lovett to name a few. Last year the nonprofit organization took the bold step of purchasing an old church located one block east of Boulder’s Pearl Street Mall with the intent of creating Etown Hall, a music performance, recording and education center that will establish etown as a multi-platform media company.

Paramount to that vision is a structure that will be “the most energy-efficient community gathering/media place in the country,” Nick Forster says.
“The church was built 80 years ago without building permits by the ‘congregation that could,’ and it’s filled with asbestos and other problems,” Forster says. “The new Etown Hall will make 80 percent of its own energy on-site, and we hope to achieve a LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Silver certification.”

To meet those goals, the refurbished structure will feature a 57 kilowatt photovoltaic array on the roof, spray-foam insulation, high-efficiency windows and a state-of-the-art mechanical system that according to eco-architect and etown energy consultant Jim Logan will provide individual heating and cooling delivery to each space. “The system involves a series of heat pumps that will, for example, make it possible on a cold day to take warm air generated in the computer server room and divert it to a room on the north side of the building,” he says.

The building will also feature energy efficient occupancy sensor lighting for the stage and a new passive solar entry atrium. “Lights will only turn on when someone enters the room,” Logan says.

But clearing such a high green hurdle comes at a price. “Just complying to code versus building this way adds about $600,000 to the overall cost,” says Forster, who needs to raise $4 million to complete the project. “But people expect ‘etown’ to do the right thing, and if we want to be a leader we need to walk our talk.”
Support is there. Over the years, the show’s green stance has attracted a list of dedicated like-minded sponsors, among them Ben & Jerry’s, Chipotle Mexican Grill, Rudy’s Organic Bakery and green tea maker ITO EN.

Perhaps the biggest beneficiaries of the Forsters’ dedication are the winners of the weekly e-chievement awards presented to individuals around the country who have made major contributions to their communities. They include Camilla Herlevich, who started the North Carolina Land Trust to preserve land and protect endangered species on her state’s coastline, and Colorado’s Nanci Limbach, who heads a foundation dedicated to saving wildlife injured in car accidents or hurt in other ways caused by contact with humans.

Winners reap benefits in the form of increased volunteer support, contribution of resources, and good old-fashioned monetary donations to their nonprofits. “The impact nationwide and around the world has been amazing,” says Helen Forster, actress/vocalist and “etown” co-host.

The Forsters’ commitment has not gone unnoticed, and their radio show continues to provide a message that attracts authors, scientists, poets and politicians to their stage. Accolades from guests keep pouring in. Singer/musician Shawn Colvin has said, “I like where (“etown”) is coming from. I really appreciate the ecological overview...” David Crosby of Crosby, Stills and Nash summed up “etown” and its mission:

“Good times, good music for good reasons.”

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