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Posted on Tue, Nov 16, 2010 : 5:55 a.m.

Ecology Center turns 40, celebrates milestone with talk by environmental activist Van Jones

By Juliana Keeping


Hundreds of items stand ready for the right buyer at Recycle Ann Arbor's ReUse Center in Ann Arbor. Recycle Ann Arbor is the largest arm of the Ecology Center.

Angela Cesere |

With scientists making doomsday predictions about carbon emissions and global warming, and global warming doubters calling those predictions a myth, it’s enough to get an environmentalist down.

But Mike Garfield, the director of the Ecology Center, a membership-based nonprofit environmental organization in Ann Arbor, isn't pessimistic.


“I now think the best hope for positive action to address climate change is going to happen at the local level,” Garfield said.

With its heart in Ann Arbor but its eyes on the state and nation, the organization born out of the country’s first Earth Day in 1970 has tried to do just that. And its ecological bender has gone on for 40 years.

The original call for action has grown into an $8 million a year non-profit parent that employs 70 people. The largest part of the Ecology Center machine is Recycle Ann Arbor, an affiliate that operates on a roughly $4 million budget, Garfield said. It has its own history, starting with a couple of activists and a truck driving from home to home to collect recyclables in 1977. The group joined forces with the Ecology Center in 1981. It has a city contract for curbside recycling.

This week, the non-profit eco-parent wants to kick up its Birkenstocks as it marks its anniversary, and raise money and awareness, too.

The Ecology Center has invited Van Jones, a giant in the green jobs arena, to come and speak on Wednesday at the Michigan League, 991 North University Ave. in Ann Arbor. The event starts at 6 p.m. Tickets start at $75 for Ecology Center members and $100 for non-members.

Time Magazine named Van Jones, a human and environmental rights activist, one of the most 100 influential people in 2009 for his efforts toward building an environmentally friendly, sustainable economy.


Salvaged wood stands ready for someone's project at the Recycle Ann Arbor Reuse Center.

Angela Cesere |

Garfield anticipates Jones will discuss how green jobs can alleviate two of the country’s biggest headaches at the same time: environmental issues and urban poverty. Jones was an Obama Administration adviser on energy efficiency until he resigned in 2009 over a petition he once signed suggesting the Bush Administration may have allowed the Sept. 11 attacks to happen and over a crude remark he made before his White House appointment.

Ecology Center initiatives and affiliates are funded with a combination of local and state dollars, private donations and membership fees. Although some parts of the operation, like the ReUse Center, located at 2420 S. Industrial and run by Recycle Ann Arbor, support themselves.

Ann Arbor Mayor John Hieftje, a long-time Ecology Center supporter and environmentalist, said the group has had a hand in a number of major movements locally, and more recently, around the state and nation. Hieftje served as chairman of the Recycle Ann Arbor board of directors from 1989 to 1990.

“The Ecology Center has been involved not only on a grass-roots level, but also as researchers, as advocates and as an environmental conscience in the community for 40 years,” said Hieftje,.

In the 1990s, environmentalists in the area grew worried about what they perceived to be urban sprawl encroaching on thousands of acres of county farmland. As a result, they worked for passage of new taxes to raise money for land preservation.

“They were a real base for the campaign,” Hieftje said of the Ecology Center, which has an office at 117 N. Division St. “They worked with other environmental groups as well, and really helped to make it happen.”

In Washtenaw County 64 percent of voters signed on to pay for the Natural Areas Preservation Program in the November 2000 election, and for another decade this month. Then in 2003, voters in Ann Arbor agreed to fund the Ann Arbor Greenbelt Program for more than 30 years to patch together a band of green space in townships surrounding the city.

Seven years later, the green space looks more like a mushroom than a belt, but it’s getting there, Hieftje said.


Planters in front of a house were part of the 350 Garden Challenge, a project started to take action against climate change and raise awareness of it.

Angela J. Cesere |

A more recent Ecology Center project with wide national appeal is The product testing initiative with a user-friendly website and database has captured national attention in its efforts to find and publicize toxic chemicals found in everyday products, like toys, apparel, tools and cars.

Where is the lab Ecology Center uses to do the testing?

“It’s not a lab,” Garfield said. It’s a device the size of a DustBuster that can pick out cadmium, lead and mercury and other toxic materials from objects people use every day.

Garfield, who has headed the Ecology Center since 1993, thinks the future of environmentalism lies in the little things. A person who can’t afford fancy solar panels probably can afford a front yard vegetable garden, an idea being promoted under the group’s Ann Arbor 350 project. Local foods reduce carbon emissions from the distance food has to travel, Garfield said.

Mike Garfield.JPG

Mike Garfield

The project is the local piece of a global movement to reduce carbon emissions. But what really kicked it off was a speech given to supporters at the group’s fundraiser last year by author and environmental activist Bill McKibben.

“That inspired us to start Ann Arbor 350,” Garfield said.

Scientists say 350 parts per million is the safe upper limit for carbon dioxide in the planet's atmosphere, and the organization seeks to inspire action that will keep the level from climbing above that.

On Oct. 10, the group partnered with gardening activism groups, Ann Arbor’s Project Grow Community Gardens and Ypsilanti’s Growing Hope to host its Garden Challenge to encourage people to start their own gardens.

In a west side front yard, two raised garden beds sit, anticipating spring, with an Ann Arbor 350 Garden Challenge sign planted nearby. So far, dozens of individuals, schools and businesses have pledged to follow suit.

For more information on the Ecology Center fundraiser, visit or call (734) 761-3186.



Tue, Nov 16, 2010 : 8:42 p.m.

" Ann Arbor 350 Garden Challenge sign planted nearby." Too bad. Ecolgy Center has caved to commercialism and turned its back on its 1970's volunteers and their collective opposition to visual pollution - advertising signs! Pushing a message or advertising house for sale are equally offensive. Publicity builds awareness, in turn increases political influence that throws off public and private contributions thst pay salaries and speaker fees for an environmentalist who sounds like an evangelical. BTW- how much is Van Jones being paid? I'm out on Calverts and ReUse, too!


Tue, Nov 16, 2010 : 7:57 p.m.

In the eyes of normal people, the Washington Post is considered to be the conservative counterpoint to the so called liberal NY Times.


Tue, Nov 16, 2010 : 2:48 p.m.

Ed thanks for the story in the Washington Post we all know what kind of paper that is. Just think this is the person EC hired to speak: "His one-time involvement with the Bay Area radical group Standing Together to Organize a Revolutionary Movement (STORM), which had Marxist roots, had also become an issue. And on Saturday his advocacy on behalf of death-row inmate Mumia Abu-Jamal, who was convicted of shooting a Philadelphia police officer in 1981, threatened to develop into a fresh point of controversy." I think I need the toilet now, anyone out there know a new dumpster company I will not longer use Calverts or Recyle now!

E. Manuel Goldstein

Tue, Nov 16, 2010 : 1:39 p.m.

The Socialists in Spain see the value in investing in 'green jobs'. If only we could have such investment in the good ol' USA! The following excerpt from an article in is an example of good Spanish Socialist investment, that could generate as many as 100,000 jobs a year for the next 10 years. This, in an economy with 4 million unemployed Spaniards. "Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero told a roundtable discussion on renewable energies and sustainability at the G20 meeting in Seoul today that the country's ecologically sustainable industries would play a major part in alleviating its unemployment crisis. Spain doubled its target for renewable energy in March and Zapatero said today that this measure, combined with growth in green transport, could create more than a million jobs in a nation that currently has four million unemployed. "We estimate that if we group them all together then sustainable industries, sustainable transport, sustainable education and eco-industries have the potential to create around a million jobs in the economy of the sustainable environment in the next decade," he said." Perhaps those angry posters upset about Van Jones should wipe the foam from their mouths, and get to work supporting entities like the Ecology Center in their attempts to get 'green jobs' creted here at home!


Tue, Nov 16, 2010 : 1:01 p.m.

For those who worship at the altar of Glenn Beck University blackboard. Glenn Beck save us? I say heaven forbid that anyone believe any audible tone coming from Glenn Beck's mouth. Roll on floor laugh my butt off because annarbordotcom won't allow the use of the first and only vowel from a common three letter word for a mule or the human posterior.

E. Manuel Goldstein

Tue, Nov 16, 2010 : 12:49 p.m.

Oh, and by the way, huge congratulations to the Ecology Center for 40 years of committed activism in helping to keep the Ann Arbor community cleaner and healthier!


Tue, Nov 16, 2010 : 11:59 a.m.

I was going to say something about him being a Communist and never ever supporting the ecology center again, which will be a sad as I like going to the reuse center, but everyone one else beat me to the post! so glad other people here think like I do. bye bye reuse center, no more of my money will you be getting!


Tue, Nov 16, 2010 : 10:02 a.m.

"With scientists making doomsday predictions about carbon emissions and global warming, and global warming doubters calling those predictions a myth" First of all, there are 10s of thousands of scientists, more every day, breaking their silence and saying what any rational person looking at the evidence, not to mention, the leaked emails from the scoundrels that cooked up this scheme of so called Climate Change/Global Warming. Read their Own Words... How it was and still is a lie and a power grab for global governance and the global tax that the world banking cartel elite wants to control all of the world... ie... all of us. We need to take care of the environment for sure but Global Warming isn't "myth" it's a sham and admittedly so by those that created the so called myth. Here is all the proof any thinking, honest person needs: Global Warming Fraud Collapses Amidst Deception And Scandal - Greenpeace Leader Admits Organization Put Out Fake Global Warming Data - Global Warming or Global Governance?


Tue, Nov 16, 2010 : 9:54 a.m.

Let's get this right the first time, Edward Van Jones is NOT an environmentalist he is a Communist. Does he have a degree in Biology? Do you know what his degree is in? Doe she even have a degree? This guy is so left wing even the Great Obama could not hand with him and had to let him go. Calverts or Ann Arbor Recyle whoever yu are your lost my busniess for good. Anyone want a ticket to no where go listen to Van Jones, the sicko communist. Maybe Mickey Moore from Flint will come listen a crowd of two, the sick part is they are likely paying that Communist to come here, supporting his agenda. Not Mickey was the mouse, Mikey is his name I guess.


Tue, Nov 16, 2010 : 9:09 a.m.

Imagine, paying 100 bucks to hear a committed Communist speak! Only in Ann Arbor would this happen! Glenn Beck where are you?


Tue, Nov 16, 2010 : 8:49 a.m.

Edward Van Jones was too liberal for the great Obama, give me a break. One thing is for,sure,Recycle Ann Arbor, aka Calverts can lose my number. Quote me Jones is,a communist, I'm calling Glen Beck what will the National Enquirer print next? This guy is SICK,now I'm sick!