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From Carbon-Free Home to Carbon-Free Office

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We recently had the pleasure of taking the battle against fossil fuels out of the home and into the workplace. The Abundance Foundation, a local non-profit focusing on all aspects of sustainability, was in cramped quarters with the space they share with Piedmont Biofuels, the fine folks down in Chatham County, North Carolina who are taking the waste stream of used restaurant oil and turning into a renewable fuel for our cars and trucks. So Abundance decided to venture out. Not too far, just into the yard, so they could still share the same kitchen, library, and other facilities they'd been using, but enough room to stretch their legs and contemplate the wide world of pepper varieties being grown by Doug Jones and the rest of the crew at Piedmont Biofarm.

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Using locally-milled wood and the skilled arms of Green Door Design, they built a modest 10'x12' office. Keeping true to their mission, they decided to build the Office of the Future, which, of course, will not run on fossil fuels. And this is when they invited us in to tinker around on their project. They wanted an off-grid PV system to make their computers and electronic gizmos whirr and hum, and some heat for the wintertime. The office will eventually get a backup biodiesel furnace, but for now it's got two south facing windows and a solar air heater, detailed instructions for which can be found here.

To spread the knowledge, we did the installations as workshops. The solar air heater project was built mostly by Stephen's class at Durham Technical Community College, who recently expanded into the world of sustainability by kick-starting their green program. This is an awesome trend among community colleges around the country, who are embracing green jobs and starting to provide the opportunity for local folks to learn how to make a living for themselves and keep the planet alive at the same time.

We ran both workshops on the same weekend in early November, which made for some slightly hectic crossings of scaffolding and ladders, and general running around like the proverbial headless chicken, but we got both things up and running by Sunday afternoon. We only had to go back once to fix things (so far, anyways)!

With the world gathering in Copenhagen for one final chance at seriously addressing the accumulation of carbon dioxide and the resulting global climate disruption, it's good to know that the pieces of the puzzle are starting to be assembled. If we still had a functioning diesel, we could fill up at Piedmont Biofuels, and if we both worked at Abundance, we could go from our carbon-free home in a carbon-free car to a carbon-free office. There's still a long way to go to make this a reality for everyone (present company included), but it's satisfying to see sketches of what it looks like, and to be able to tell already that it has to look a hell of a lot better than the dying world we've got now.

Stephen and Rebekah Hren are the authors of The Carbon-Free Home: 36 Remodeling Projects to Help Kick the Fossil-Fuel Habit from Chelsea Green. For more information about green living, the Hrens, or their book, visit thecarbonfreehome.com.

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