Home > Articles > Great Places & Communities

Little Town Greens

by Jay Walljasper - May 27, 2008

Small is beautiful.

That's been a motto of the green movement since the 1970s. And it certainly describes Rock Port--a town of 1,300 in the northwest corner of Missouri--that recently became the first U.S. community to be powered 100 percent by wind energy.

We usually look to metropolitan areas like Portland, San Francisco or Minneapolis for environmental innovations. But in many ways, it's easier to set a good green example in a small town.

Think of the logistical challenges and political maneuvering it takes to make big changes in a big city.

In a small community all you need is a good idea and a willingness to convince your neighbors that it ought to be done.

Osage--a town of 3,500 in north central Iowa--was a pioneer in energy efficiency thanks to the foresight of Weston Birdsall, former manager of the town's municipally owned power utility. Beginning in 1974, Birdsall initiated programs to provide household energy audits, promote compact fluorescent lighting and plant shade trees to moderate demand for air-conditioning.

Three years ago, Washburn--a town of 2,300 on Lake Superior in northern Wisconsin --became the first place in America to declare itself an eco-municipality. The city council pledged to follow a set of sustainable guidelines first developed in Sweden, which include cutting use of fossil fuels, reducing waste production and producing as much food locally as possible. This effort put Washburn's elementary school in our top ten list of green schools in 2006.

More towns have followed suit: nearby Ashland (population 8,795) and Bayfield (population 611) soon declared themselves eco-municipalities.