Image courtesy Recolor

By Elaine Markoutsas

Meet the women helping to make the planet safer and healthier

It takes a village to tackle global environmental concerns. But it starts with individuals, and we want to celebrate them. With gender equality listed as number 5 on the list of UN Sustainable Development Goals, we’re highlighting women who are ushering in a new era of sustainability. These women come from different sectors with different focuses—recycling paint, ecological planning and building, and helping businesses contain their environmental footprint. But what they all have in common is their passion for sustainability and making the world a healthier, more mindful place. Join us in meeting these trailblazers who are paving the way toward a greener future.

Tania Keeble
Recolor Paint

Tania Keeble co-founded Recolor Paints in 2009 as a way to combat the 70 million+ gallons of latex, oil and acrylic paints that end up in the landfill and our waterways every year. The paint recycling and remanufacturing company, based in Hanover, Massachusetts, breathes new life into unused, post-consumer paint and post-industrial paint. Everything is rigorously screened, sanitized and filtered in the recycling process to ensure high quality, durability and superior coverage. Since 2012, the company has partnered with Habitat for Humanity, and its 100 percent recycled content paint is available under the Recolor label at Habitat for Humanity Restore thrift shops. The “Grab and Go” color palette includes 16 colors plus White primer, White trim in a semi-gloss finish, White in a flat finish, and Ceiling White. There’s a Chalk finish paint available in 20 colors, especially suited for decorative painting on furnishings, as well as three colors of exterior paint. In addition, there’s a DIY paint made with a minimum of 50% post-consumer paint available online at Lowe’s and Amazon. Recolor Paint is one of the founding members of the International Paint Recyclers Association (IPRA), a consortium of high-quality recycled latex paint vendors. And in a male-dominated industry, Keeble serves as the only woman on the board. Every gallon of 100% recycled paint saves 13 gallons of water and 13.74 pounds of CO2 emissions while preventing 250,000 gallons of water pollution. Here, she paints a picture of the brand’s eco efforts. Paint swatches and images courtesy Recolor

“Every day, I live my dream of reducing the environmental impact that leftover paint has in the United States as much as I can and, gratefully, I get to chip away at my own environmental footprint as well.—Tania Keeble

Q: What led to the launch of Recolor Paints?

A: Katherine Brown and I were two moms with younger children looking for jobs with work flexibility. Our backgrounds were in painting, design and biochemistry. We had started decorative painting and upcycling and were accumulating paints. Most of our friends had 20 to 30 gallons that went unused. We investigated and found this was a nationwide issue. Seventy-three million gallons of paint—10 percent of all purchases of paint—were wasted every year, mostly ending up in landfills and waterways or being incinerated. We wanted to be part of the solution. So we launched our green business.

Q: So, your foray into recycling was largely trial and error?

A: We had no guidance whatsoever. There was no how-to map. There was some recycling going on in Canada and a little on the West Coast. But nothing on the East Coast. We were boots on the ground, with the ability to evolve organically. We started mixing and filtering small batches—5 gallons in any color that came in—in the back of an 800-square-foot storefront garage.

Q: What advanced you to the next level?

A: Once we realized there was a good fit from feedstock, we could get our hands on large volumes of paint on the way to landfill or trash. We went wholesale and developed a wonderful partnership with Habitat for Humanity. We share similar missions—products that are surplus or left over from deconstruction. The wonderful thing about Habitat for Humanity is that a percentage of the profits goes to building houses, which supports the community locally.

Q: How did you develop your core palette of colors? And what’s on deck for 2021?

A: Core colors were based on the colors we collected. As we evolved, we began accumulating a lot of bright and more saturated colors we couldn’t find a home for in the main color palette. We didn’t want to add any tints, because that would add to VOCs. All recycled paint has a naturally lower VOC because the paints already have been opened, so off-gassing has taken place. So we developed another line, the Chalk line, which has a soft matte finish. We recommend sealing with a top coat of wax or polyurethane. Otherwise, the surface can be used as a chalkboard.

By the end of 2021, we’ll have a line for architects and designers. We’re looking at different formulations to expand. We’re trying to grow fast—and maintain our integrity. It takes a lot of research and development.

Q: What are you doing to reduce the carbon footprint?

A: Initially we were pretty hard core. We didn’t use water at all. We did everything by drying with recycled cloth. That’s good on a small scale, but you can’t scale up. You can just minimize water consumption and in some cases it is possible to recycle your wash water. We recycle our metal cans. We’re very conscious about shipping and transportation. We make sure there are full trucks. With every decision, like packaging, we look at the environmental pros and cons.

Every day, I live my dream of reducing the environmental impact that leftover paint has in the United States as much as I can and, gratefully, I get to chip away at my own environmental footprint as well. We want to be a paint company that is a leader in sustainability. We want to do it with soul, passion and environmental integrity. As a women-owned business, we feel a motherly obligation to do so for our planet.

Anni Tilt
Arkin Tilt Architects

Anni Tilt, AIA, is an architect and one half of the award-winning ecological planning and design firm Arkin Tilt Architects, which she co-founded with her husband, David Arkin. Along with their team, they design residential, commercial, park, and educational facilities that integrate into the natural environment using alternative construction methods like rammed earth and straw bale. Renewable energy systems, greywater, and salvaged and nontoxic materials make their way into Arkin Tilt projects as well. Tilt received her Masters of Architecture from the University of California, Berkeley. So it’s only natural that she’d serve on the board of the West Berkeley Design Loop, promoting local, sustainable design and collaboration. And, she’s one of the founding members of the California Straw Building Association. She also is a member of her local People’s Egg Coop—members share 17 egg-laying chickens. Read on as Tilt waxes poetic on all things that relate to sustainable building. Images courtesy Arkin Tilt Architects

“We need a ground-shift in the way we are building, and we need it fast, as vast amounts of building will happen in the next 50 years. Really, we need to move beyond the concept of sustainability and into regeneration.” —Anni Tilt

Q: What led you down a career path focused on sustainability?

A: I had the good fortunate to spend a lot of time outdoors when I was growing up. Our family went hiking and backpacking. We lived overseas and traveled widely, so I developed a strong affinity for nature, with an environmentalist mindset. In grad school, I made an off-the-cuff comment about protecting the forests to my sister, who was in the forest products industry. She pointed out that wood and wood products were in just about every building. I’ve been working on that intersection ever since.

Q: What is your approach for the design of a home? Do you have a favorite you’ve worked on?

A: Every project starts with understanding the site and climate. We create a diagram that maps the sun path, wind patterns and prominent views and restrictions. This is the foundation of the design. We quickly sketch a couple of options to see what resonates with the client, and perhaps suggest some directions that might not have been on the table. Ideally we return to the site and stake it out—checking orientation and views, adjusting as needed. 

I don’t know that I have a favorite. But our Santa Cruz project (shown above and left, Fine Homebuilding Home of the Year in 2012) is full of stories—about where the salvaged door was found, the driftwood column, the seashells embedded in the floor. The thick walls remind you of the bale-raising, where walls filled in over the course of the day with the help of friends and family while the kids made a fort. At 2,500 square feet, this is a small house by most standards, but it comfortably accommodates a family of six plus an ADU (Accessory Dwelling Unit).

Q: One area of expertise for Arkin Tilt is straw bale and rammed earth homes. What are some of the unique challenges to build?

A: Let’s start with rammed earth. Typically at 12 to 18 inches, the wall relies on a diurnal (day to night) temperature swing. It radiates the warmth of the day at night, and the cool of the night during the day. Which is wonderful, until it is cold day and night. Then it takes a lot of energy to raise the temperature of all that thermal mass. Rammed earth also is very labor intensive, therefore expensive, so we typically use it as an accent.

Straw bale buildings are different. A plaster coating envelops essentially big fuzzy bricks that are highly insulating, so there is very little temperature swing and a more appropriate amount of thermal mass on the inside, making them easier to heat. The unique challenge to bale walls is that they need to breathe (allow water vapor to transpire), which is very different from a regular frame wall, which provides a barrier to moisture. Straw bales are unusual or atypical because they come from farmers, not a manufacturer. So it can take a little forethought to make sure they are available when you need them.

Q: Why is sustainability so critical today?

A: The building sector is responsible for nearly 40 percent of global greenhouse gasses, and the developed world is responsible for the bulk of that. We need a ground-shift in the way we are building, and we need it fast, as vast amounts of building will happen in the next 50 years. Really, we need to move beyond the concept of sustainability and into regeneration.

Q: How do you integrate sustainable efforts into your own practice?

A: The ethos of the office is the same as the ethos of our practice. We are always trying to be thoughtful about living lightly. Both our home and office have photovoltaic systems that operate with an internee to the electric grid. The solar panels at the office also act as awnings, shading the windows in the summer, and lifting for a steeper winter angle and more sun in the winter. We are always focused on doing more with less (and sometimes that just means doing less) whether it is materials or energy, or water use. Water conservation is critical, not just here in California, which always is under the threat of drought, but everywhere. Municipal water takes a lot of energy to treat and move around, so we are extremely water conscious.

“Reducing our consumption in general can make an even bigger impact than just reducing the direct water use in your home.” —Val Fishman

Val Fishman
Bonneville Environmental Foundation

Bonneville Environmental Foundation (BEF) focuses on restoring freshwater ecosystems and catalyzing renewable energy for all. As a nonprofit organization, BEF relies on revenue-generating products and services as well as contributions. Strategic partnerships have included Natural Resources Defense Council, National Geographic, Participant Media, and the Green Sports Alliance. Their programs include BEF Watersheds, which serves as an advisor and funder to a wide range of foundations, watershed organizations, community groups, government agencies, tribal nations and water stewardship nonprofits; BEF Renewables, which advances creative solutions that deploy renewable energy at scale; and Business for Water Stewardship, which works collaboratively with businesses, community and policy stakeholders to advance solutions that ensure people, economies and ecosystems have enough clean water to flourish. BEF co-created the Change the Course water sustainability campaign, which won the 2017 US Water Prize in the nonprofit category; supported the Flint Community Water Lab project, which marked the first project in the Great Lakes region for Change the Course sponsors Delta Air Lines and the Detroit Airport (Wayne County Airport Authority); and collaborated with Plumas Corporation on multiple meadow restoration projects, the first of which was the Upper Dotta Meadow Habitat Restoration project, which helps to sequester carbon and improve the hydrologic cycle. BEF has helped businesses keep more than 9.5 million metric tons of carbon from the atmosphere, generated more than 6 million megawatt hours of clean energy and launched more than 250 renewable energy education projects across 20 states. Thanks to their efforts with the community, 28 billion gallons of water have been restored to critically dewatered rivers and streams by supporting over 111 water restoration projects across 19 states and Mexico. 

BEF’s game-changing ideas include: Helping to start the voluntary Renewable Energy Credit (REC) market; creating the first voluntary Water Restoration Certificates (WRC); helping to launch the first community-funded solar project in the nation; and building the nation’s most comprehensive K-12 renewable energy STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education program. And Val Fishman, BEF’s chief development officer, is there for it all, collaborating with businesses to help them address their environmental footprint. Read on to find out about her take on clean water scarcity and what homeowners can do about it. Portrait by Lauren Allen; Images courtesy Plumas Corporation

Q: How did you first get involved with sustainability efforts?

A: In my early 20s, I learned to scuba dive and witnessed changes to the underwater environment that felt even more noticeable than what we see on land. I thought I could be putting my talents to the betterment of our environment. 

Q: You had a successful career in advertising sales at Clear Channel Radio. How did you circle back to your concerns about the environment to start a “green” program there?

A: I felt very dismayed by the waste and environmental damage in the world. Climate change felt too big to tackle, but I felt I could help a large company use less energy, be smarter about waste, and engage their employees in the message to inspire them to make changes in their own lives. At that time in 2006, there were no sustainability degrees, so the green program served as my own education to begin a new career in sustainability.

Q: But it all came back to water for you; one of your focuses with BEF is freshwater scarcity.

A: Most Americans do not have an awareness of the enormity of water scarcity issues that face this planet. Most turn on a tap and have fresh water. But more than 30 million Americans live in areas where water systems not only don’t meet the safety rules but actually violate them. And communities of color are hit hardest, as is the case with many environmental issues.

Q: What can we do as homeowners?

A: We can install low-flow toilets and faucets, water the lawn less, turn off the tap while brushing—but these practices barely skim the surface of reducing the true water footprint of our daily lives. Water is in everything we buy, sell, eat, drink and consume. This is called an embedded water footprint. Fifty percent of the energy we use is embedded in our food choices (or food waste); 30 percent in the energy we use; 10 percent in the products we buy and only 10 percent comes from our home use. It takes about 36 gallons of water to [grow the beans needed for] one cup of coffee and 2,900 gallons to make a pair of jeans. It takes water to create electricity and fuel, including sharing content on social media! Much of our water use is invisible to us. So reducing our consumption in general can make an even bigger impact than just reducing the direct water use in your home. Any water conservation measure a person takes has climate impacts as well. As we say in our Change the Course tagline: “Water Connects Us All.”