A conversation with Kathryn Shield – June 16, 2005

Kat Gerber also recommended we talk to Kathryn Shield with Jackson County. Kathryn is a Kansas City native with a Bachelor and Master of Arts and Juris Doctor Degree from UMKC, and has been in public service at many levels since 1983. She has supported municipal and inter-jurisdictional initiatives including groundbreaking recycling programs and storm and sewer management efforts. Her contributions and accolades are simply too extensive to list here. Kathryn's profile can be viewed online at: http://www.co.jackson.mo.us/gov_eo_ce.shtml

Green Thirteen is a series of questions intended to explore the journey of environmental thinking, from inspiration to education to action--with a dual-focus on both individual and community perspectives. Interviewer Scott Kevin Jones, AIA, LEED AP is currently with KKE architects in Minneapolis.

1 – What person influenced you most regarding environmental issues?

  • Bob Mann. He runs a conference at Shadow Cliffs, in Grand Lake, Colorado. He was previously the executive director of Bridging the Gap. I first met Bob working on the Waste Minimization Commission for the City of Kansas City in 1984.
  • 2 – What event opened your eyes to environmental issues?

  • Going to one of the Shadow Cliffs retreats in Colorado. The lesson that "just because you can afford something doesn't mean you should buy it," was a big 'Ah-ha' for me. The conferences are held several times a year and last 4-5 days. They are a wonderful way to learn about sustainability and immerse yourself in a group of other people who care about these issues.
  • 3 – Name one habit or convenience you gave up for environmental reasons.

  • I do very little single car driving. My husband and I both work downtown - that has been true most of my professional life. We really enjoy car pooling. Jackson County has held "Get Out of the Car" days and several of my coworkers have continued riding the metro since then because it is convenient and less stressful.
  • 4 – Name something you wish more people realized is harmful to the environment.

  • How harmful and costly uncontained storm water is, and how easy it is to contain it on your own property. We are starting a program to train people how to build rain gardens and all the other methods of storm water management.
  • 5 – What is the most important thing you do personally to conserve natural resources?

  • I am just beginning in my home to create a model for storm water which will demonstrate what we are talking about to the community.
  • 6 – What alternative do you feel more people need to learn?

  • On a dry day at the treatment plant for Little Blue Valley Sewer District (Eastern Jackson County) they might get 35 million gallons of effluent. When it rains this might be 350 million gallons. There are simple ways of diverting and containing this water which reduces the volume going through the system, requires less treatment, and is cleaner when it is reintroduced to the river.
  • 7 – What contribution are you uniquely able to make toward environmental causes?

  • Just the position of being County Executive, I can help formulate and implement regional solutions to environmental issues. Storm water is one of those issues that is more regional.
  • 8 – What do you think is the next step for Kansas City as a community at the present time?

  • Doing more of the interconnectedness work. Jackson and Johnson Counties have a wealth of common projects. We just need to share the knowledge and resources and begin the implementation process.
  • 9 – What change to your lifestyle or behavior was the hardest to adopt or maintain?

  • I think keeping faithful to that lesson about consumerism. I just love shoes.
  • 10 – What do you think Kansas City has done well?

  • I think what we are doing with the synergy, the Bridging the Gaps, the Sierra program. There is a program called By-product Synergy. So much of the waste that used to go to the landfills is now going to re-use. Jackson County has a lot of cement plants, and they are now selling their fly-ash to the folks who do road repairs. This is being used to produce cement which is stronger, lasts longer, and uses less natural resources. We received an EPA award on that project.
  • 11 – What is your most successful green building project?

  • The old courthouse downtown was redone with new light fixtures, low flow plumbing fixtures, these are just standard things but they are very important. The water gardens and wetlands that have been installed. And in the design stages there is a new education center at Fort Osage that will be at least Gold Certified. It will contribute education of history as well as education about environmental tools.
  • 12 – What is a good example of environmental design in Kansas City?

  • The Discovery Center on Troost. I just love the living machine. It takes the affluent of the building into vats of plants, reuses it in the restrooms, and the leftover is released into wetlands. There is nothing discharged into city sewers.
  • 13 – What is the biggest change you hope to see in society within your lifetime?

  • I hope that as a society we can begin looking at environmental issues as opportunities and embrace them rather than looking at them as obstacles. One philosophy I was reading recently says that every problem has two "handles" and you can "grab the handle of hope" or the "handle of fear." So many things our society is approaching from the handle of fear right now and it doesn't get the same results that hope does.
  • Weblinks:

    Bridging The Gap - http://www.bridgingthegap.org/index.html

    Shadowcliff Retreat Center - http://www.shadowcliff.org

    Mid America Regional Council - http://www.marc.org

    MARC Guaranteed Ride Home program - http://www.marc.org/rideshare/grh.htm

    Little Blue Valley Sewer District - http://www.lbvsd.org/

    The Sierra Club - http://www.sierraclub.org/

    MARC Solid Waste Management District By-Product Synergy Initiative - http://www.marc.org/swmd/bps.htm

    Case Study: Jackson County Courthouse Improvements (Johns Controls, Inc.) - http://www.johnsoncontrols.com/CG-Cases/JacksonCounty.pdf

    The Discovery Center - http://mdc.mo.gov/areas/kcmetro/discovery/

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