Solutionary Minds Among Us

The front of FRHS- A LEED Certified building powered partially by wind and solar energy.

The front of FRHS- A LEED Certified building powered partially by wind and solar energy.

A “Solutionary” is a person who takes action in the world against concerns that they see around them—from global issues to smaller issues in one’s life. Zoe Weil, the Co-Founder of The Humane Education Project, came up with this term, which I have now fully integrated into my vocabulary. I have always seen myself as a Solutionary, starting a non-profit at the age of 19, and participating in several other action-oriented initiatives throughout my life. Because of the relevance of this term in my life, I have decided to post an example of a Solutionary Profile, which was originally written an assignment for one of my courses at Colorado State University.

This Solutionary Profile features an astounding individual who works as a counselor at Fossil Ridge High School (FRHS) in Fort Collins, Colorado. Mark* completely embodies a Solutionary mindset and is constantly taking action to improve concerns he sees in the world. His main concern involves minimizing negative impacts on the environment.

Mark began working at FRHS five years ago after receiving his Undergraduate degree in Music Education and his Master’s degree in School Counseling at the University of Northern Colorado. When he began working with Fossil Ridge his passion for clean energy and reducing his environmental impact became a central thread to his work as a counselor. Mark’s personal beliefs and the sustainability mission of FRHS fit perfectly together because the school is a LEED Silver certified building powered partially by wind and solar power and was featured by the U.S. Department of Energy as an Energy SmartSchool case study (Appel).

In the year 2012 Mark replaced his conventional vehicle by purchasing a Nissan LEAF 100% electric vehicle. He was one of the first individuals in Fort Collins to own a LEAF and is part of the “Early Adopter” group that now has a heavy influence on the electric vehicle market in Northern Colorado. Since his purchase, Mark has convinced several other teachers at FRHS to also purchase electric vehicles. Mark sees renewable energy as a tangible way to lessen impacts on the earth, as the U.S. is one of the largest consumers of oil in the world, mainly due to the oil involved in the transportation sector (Electrification Coalition). Because of Mark’s strong interest in electric vehicles and the growing interest at Fossil Ridge, Mark suggested to the administration of the school to install electric vehicle charging stations. Mark worked with the non-profit, Drive Electric Northern Colorado (DENC) to apply for a grant to fund electric vehicle charging stations through Colorado Energy Office.

In 2009 Mark helped to develop a club at Fossil Ridge called the FRESH Organization (Fossil Ridge Energy Savings High), which exists to get the students involved in the sustainability mission of FRHS. “The FRESH club was founded with the school, but went dormant until I worked to reinvigorate it,” said Mark.

Mark spoke about many successes of the FRESH club since he became involved. The club has undertaken many initiatives to lessen their impact on the environment. Their primary concern this year is to decrease use of disposable plastic water bottles. The club collects “E-Waste,” or electronic waste (Pickren) that according to Mark includes broken cell phones, iPods, ink cartridges, and all other forms of electronics that are broken or no longer used. The club then gathers money by selling this E-Waste to a company whose function is to recycle these type of materials, and they put the money they raise toward purchasing and installing water bottle filling stations which count the number of plastic water bottles they save from the entering the landfill, and notify the student who is filling their water bottle of this number. “They’re similar to EV (Electric Vehicle) charging stations,” Mark joked about the water bottle re-filling stations. The club has designed and produced reusable aluminum water bottles that many students at the school now use and refill at the FRESH club’s water bottle re-fill stations. “[The bottled water company] Dasani must hate us,” Mark said jokingly about the club’s success with this initiative.

One of the club’s greatest triumphs is that the students have developed an incredible passion for their work. Mark mentioned, “I used to be the driving force behind the [FRESH] club, but now the students essentially run it themselves. It’s such a great feeling to be able to hand off the torch, so to speak.”

When looking at the success of the FRESH club, I not only see the success in their mission to lessen their environmental impact, but I also see the success of Mark’s work. According to the article written in The Handbook for Working with Children and Youth, “Beetles, Bullfrogs, and Butterflies: Contributions of the Natural Environment to Childhood Development and Resilience,” “A child’s experience of nature is recommended as an essential and irreplaceable dimension of physical, cognitive, and emotional development and for successful adaptation under adverse conditions” (Besthorn, 124). Thus, instilling a passion for the environment at an age where students are searching for purpose and motivation for their future is, in my opinion, incredibly beneficial for our community in Northern Colorado, and for the world.

Though I fully believe that this initiative is successful and has influenced many lives, I have been reflecting on how I could help improve it further. Mark mentioned a middle school teacher in Fort Collins who has developed a similar class for younger students. I think it would be interesting to encourage dialogue between these two schools, and possibly have a mentoring program between the High School students and the Middle School students, which would instill further motivation in both groups to take action to reduce their environmental impact. A second way I think could further enhance this club would be to include international dialogue with students and teachers in another country or countries that share similar beliefs. I think cross-cultural communication about important issues such as environmental sustainability is important for the future, particularly with the ever-expanding globalized society. My interview with Mark has influenced me to adopt a solutionary attitude as well. His energy is truly contagious and being in contact with him influences my desire to create positive change in the world.

Through his personal avocation for environmental initiatives such as Electric Vehicles, and through his work developing the FRESH club at Fossil Ridge High School, Mark has truly made a difference in his community to reduce environmental impacts. As this profile concludes, with Mark’s humor, passion, and energy he is a prime example of a 21st century Solutionary.

Appel, Margo. EnergySmart Schools Case Study. Washington D.C.: U.S. Department of Energy, 2009.

BESTHORN, FRED H. “BEETLES, BULLFROGS, AND BUTTERFLIES Contributions of Natural Environment to Childhood Development and Resilience.” UNGAR, MICHAEL. Handbook for Working With Children and Youth: Pathways to Resilience Across Cultures and Contexts. Thousand Oaks: SAGE Publications, 2005.

Electrification Coalition. Fleet Electrification Roadmap. Washington D.C.: Securing America’s Future Energy, 2010.

Peterson, Mark. Solutionary Profile Annie Freyschlag. 12 February 2014.

Pickren, Graham. “Geographies of E-waste: Towards a Political Ecology Approach to E-waste and Digital Technologies.” Geography Compass 8.2 (2014): 111-124.


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