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Johns Hopkins UniversityArts and Sciences Magazine

Green Solutions for the People

our earth alums

(l-r) John Ullman, Rebekah Heckmann, Chung Kim, and Russ Hayden

From their first day on the Hopkins campus in 2001, John Ullman ’05 and Rebekah Heckmann ’05 began talking about big issues. Over time, their discussions with each other and then with Chung Kim ’05 and Russ Hayden ’06 kept returning to shared concerns. The four grew in different directions and fields, but their interest in solutions kept deepening.

That’s how they found themselves creating a website and a nonprofit organization, OurEarth.org, which aims to empower people to make better use of existing opportunities for living green in their communities—by providing “local information on a national scale.”

Those opportunities could be obscure, as Ullman discovered when he was a junior. “I had a very old TV that no longer worked and needed to be disposed of, but I didn’t want its toxic components to end up in a landfill,” he says, particularly its large amounts of heavy metals. (An EPA test of consumer electronics several years ago showed that hazardous lead concentrations leached from televisions and other appliances.) Ullman searched for hours online before he uncovered, deep in a press release from Office Depot, mention of a program where he could recycle his television in an environmentally friendly way. The information was there, but it required a lot of digging.

After graduation from Hopkins, Ullman pursued plans for the website even as he prepared for graduate school in environmental management and business. He credits his fellow co-founders for their insights and energy; they say he’s the driving force. They started officially in January 2006 and soon had enough information for posting, while Ullman worked on site design. “John did an enormous amount of work,” says Hayden.

Hayden, who grew up beside Barnegat Bay on the New Jersey coast, knows the importance of shoreline protection and wetland conservation. His growing interests in alternative energy and electric vehicles also fit within OurEarth.org, which he says provides a forum for “backyard thinkers, engineers, and scientists alike.” For him, “It was a no-brainer when the opportunity arose to help John create the website.” Their coalition of interested supporters includes a dozen Hopkins faculty and alumni.

The group wants to highlight practices that often get less attention than they deserve. For recycling, the site has contacts for every municipality in the country. But this is just a start.

Keeping the site growing highlights what brought them all together: involvement by people across the range of academic interests. All four are in graduate school: Ullman is pursuing a combined master’s degree at Duke University; Kim is getting a master’s in public health; and Hayden and Heckmann are in medical school. Kim brings a mix of environment and health policy interests that is very international, says Heckmann, and Hayden supplies an understanding of engineering and a high-tech view of health and the environment.

“The interdisciplinary aspect is what made me want to stick with it, to help people visualize their role in the solution,” says Heckmann.

“The take-home message,” says Ullman, “is that having people with many viewpoints and different lenses involved is critical for reaching a wide range of people.”

The next step is to extend that network further. They are recruiting people on campuses across the country to gather and update information for their areas. They’re also raising funds from anyone interested in realizing the dream of an interactive, grassroots forum. For more information, you know where to go: OurEarth.org.

 

 

 

 

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