The Burger Family & Laura Intscher

As part of our 2008 Thinking Green series, WSKG featured stories from a collaboration of northeast public radio stations.

Oil prices are continuing to climb, and every day brings another story related to climate change or the Earth's dwindling resources. As a result, more and more people feel the need to be more environmentally conscious in the choices they make every day. But how do we fit environmentally friendly decisions into our daily lives?

The Burger family of Whitney Point, NY. For the past 16 years, their family’s total waste production has averaged 3/4 of a pound per person, per year. Above, the family poses with the entire waste they produced in 1995.

Laura Intscher is the principle architect of Secret Base Design and an expert in straw bale construction and environmentally-friendly building and construction. She is married to Patrick and has two daughters, Maya and Saqqara. Laura grew up in Grande Prairie, Alberta, Canada. She received her Bachelors of Arts and Bachelors of Architecture from Rice University in Houston, Texas. She received a Masters of Architecture degree from UCLA.

She recently completed construction on additions for Conklin First Presbyterian Church, and designed the Acacia Aveda Salon on the Vestal Parkway in which she was able to incorporate many green products. Her preference is to do client work that is straw bale or focused on ecological principles. She has one straw bale house in construction and two in the design phase.

Her motto is “Strength Function Beauty.”


Laura's Top 10 Things You Can Do to Go Green:

1. Use cloth bags for all shopping. Fold them small and keep them in your purse/car and USE them everywhere. You don’t need to purchase fancy ones – any old cloth/canvas/mesh tote will do. Some stores have them for cheap. Or just take your items without a bag at all. Do you need a plastic bag to carry a sack of apples in a plastic bag? Save and reuse the packaging you do receive.

2. Never buy another vinyl shower curtain. That smell that comes off the item when you open it are the toxins off-gassing. Cloth and other types are available.

3. Limit your driving. Carpool, bus or walk to work. Run multiple errands at on one trip. Drive more efficiently. When you buy a new car, consider one a hybrid car or one with excellent mileage.

4. Use natural cleaners. No air-fresheners, no vinyl shower curtains. Use your mother’s old-fashioned homemade cleaning techniques – like vinegar for windows and glass, baking soda for scrubbing. Women – use organic all-cotton personal products.

5. Recycle everything, and limit the things that need to be recycled. No plastic bags (use cloth bags), reduce junk mail by getting off the lists. Quit subscriptions that you don’t really read anymore – or read current issues at the library.

6. Buy high quality long lasting items. Clothing is an excellent example. It is better to pay twice as much for a jacket that lasts 10 years than a cheaper one that falls apart after one season. Try to get natural fabrics or even organic materials –cotton, linen, silk wool, hemp – rather than chemical fabrics. Do the same with your sheets and towels – don’t you want to spend 8 hours a night on a natural and non-toxic sheets?

7. Use cloth napkins and real dishes. Cut down or eliminate paper products, including napkins, paper-towels, plastic cups, and paper plates. Rags from old clothes can be used for cleaning. It is amazing how many trees this will save! Don’t take a big handful of napkins when eating out or grab plastic utensils that you don’t actually use and just toss in the trash. Reduce the paper towels you use to dry your hand – or opt for the air dryer.

8. Get a good travel mug (stainless steel interior) and use it for cold or hot beverages. This saves money from buying coffee – and reduces waste by eliminating paper and Styrofoam cups. Use an aluminum water bottle with water from home – one bottle of purchased water uses much more water to produce and creates waste! Plastic bottles can leach chemicals into the water. Spend the money on good quality water bottles and travel mugs – you will quickly see the savings and you’ll help reduce landfill waste.

9. Eat real food. Grow your own food, or shop local at farmer’s markets. Buy organic food.

10. Build and remodel using natural products. There are a lot of natural, eco-friendly & recycled materials available today. Maintain your home. Add insulation, caulking and seal up leaks and drafts. Build with alternative materials when building new – passive solar, straw bale construction, and other alternative heating solutions. Don’t over-build space that you don’t use – try to create multi-use spaces and be efficient with space use.


The Burger Family

Chris Burger was born and raised in Yonkers, NY. Cindy was born and raised in Johnson City. They met in college, marrying and eventually settling in Whitney Point where they raised two daughters. Chris designed and built their energy efficient home in 1978. He owns and operates his own business, Horizon Enterprises, specializing in database development. He is also an adjunct professor at Broome Community College. Cindy is the Executive Director of the Broome, Delaware, Otsego and Tompkins County Medical Societies. Chris is a former Broome County Legislator.

During the first Earth Day in 1970, they committed to reducing both their waste and energy consumption. In 1973, they formed a small local volunteer recycling program through their food co-op. In 1985, as a member of the Environmental Management Council, Chris became the prime author of a report outlining and promoting Broome County’s Recycling Program which went on to become one of the best in the nation. For the past 16 years, their family’s total waste production has averaged 3/4 of a pound per person, per year. Through energy efficiency and extensive use of solar and wind energy, they have reduced their home fossil fuel consumption to just one 20 lb tank of propane per year.

Chris & Cynthia Burger's Top 10 Things You Can Do to Go Green:

1. Recycle, Recycle, Recycle.

2. Use Electronic/Battery/CFL store “take-back” or County “drop-off” programs.

3. Compost food and un-recyclable paper products.

4. Avoid what you can’t recycle or compost.

5. Reduce shopping. Use cloth shopping bags. Keep folded plastic bags in pocket or purse

6. Increase home insulation. Reduce air infiltration. Use non-fossil fuels to power your home.

7. Use low wattage (fluorescent, LED, etc.) lighting. Turn lights/appliances off when not in use.

8. Lower thermostat in winter and raise it in summer (if using AC).

9. Vent electric clothes dryer into house. Use solar dryer (aka a clothes line) in summer.

10. Drive speed limit. Combine errands for car trips. Keep tires inflated.