Thursday, February 21

It’s Busy Being Green

In February thoughts start leaning toward the green — spring training, St. Patrick’s Day, the coming of the new season. And from this week through Saturday, March 8, the environment takes center stage in a host of events that will examine the laws to protect the environment, the methods to reclaim our trash, and the outlook for tomorrow.

On Thursday, February 21, the Bowman’s Hill Wildflower Preserve in New Hope, Pennsylvania, kicks off its eighth annual Land Ethics Symposium, an all-day event focusing on development in ecologically sensitive areas. The symposium, geared toward members of the landscape industry, land managers, planners and developers, environmental consultants, and state/municipal officials, features presentations by regional experts, including Ann Hutchinson and Holly Harper of Natural Lands Trust. Cost: $99. Call 215-862-0685 or visit www.bhwp.org.

On Monday, February 25, the New Jersey Technology Council hosts the Green Trends and Predictions conference at the Rutgers University EcoComplex in Columbus (see story, page 38). Experts will highlight current trends and make predictions for 2008, identifying attractive areas for innovation and investment. The program will begin with workgroups that will discuss bioenergy, energy efficiency and information software, and alternative energy. Cost: $60. Call 856-787-8700, or visit www.njtc.org.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, February 26 and 27, attorney Martha Donovan of Norris McLaughlin & Marcus, a Somerville-based law firm will speak at a Rutgers seminar entitled, “Environmental Law and Regulation.” The seminar takes place on the Cook College campus in New Brunswick beginning at 9 a.m. Cost: $495. Call 732-932-9271 or visit www.cpe.rutgers.edu.

Donovan, a resident of West Windsor, specializes in the defense of environmental property damage and toxic tort claims. She is a member of the Norris McLaughlin’s women’s forum education subcommittee, which is responsible for the professional development and training of the firm’s women attorneys. She earned her law degree from the University of Virginia and holds a bachelor’s in chemistry from Randolph-Macon Woman’s College.

On Saturday, March 8, at 10 a.m., Sustainable Lawrence launches the Green Building Expo at the Lawrenceville School on Route 206. The event is free and open to the public. Call 609-895-1629.

Exhibitors will include architects, home repair specialists,and equipment providers.

Sandy Wiggins, chairman of the United States Green Building Council — the organization that created the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design program for sustainable design — will keynote the event. Topics include green architecture and building materials, working with a green contractor, energy alternatives, green home appliances, and home energy auditing.

Also on March 8 Thomas Lovejoy, founder of the PBS series “Nature,” will speak on global warming at 12th annual NJ Land Conservation Rally at the Hyatt Regency in New Brunswick. The event kicks off at 9 a.m. and costs $110. For more information, call 908-234-1225 or visit www.njcf.org

The rally features more than two dozen seminars and workshops on topics including global warming , increasing youth interest controlling deer and invasive plant species on preserved land.

Protecting the Lands

Most people think land stewardship ends when a piece of land is preserved as open space. “That’s very far from the truth,” says Holly Harper director of stewardship planning for the Pennsylvania-based Natural Lands Trust. What is needed is to manage the land, not just seal it off from development and hope for the best.

Harper, along with colleague Anne Hutchinson and several others, will offer a workshop on ways to take care of the ground we hope to save at the Bowman’s Hill Wildflower Preserve’s Land Ethics Symposium on Thursday, February 21, at 8 a.m. at the Sheraton on Oxford Valley Road in Langhorne. Cost: $999. Call 215-862-1846 or visit www.bhwp.org.

The symposium, now in its eighth year, will present creative approaches to landscaping and ecological balance in the grand (and not so grand) scale. Hutchinson, who will speak on preserving land in the face of development, earned her bachelor’s degree in literature from Northwestern University in 1981 and her master’s in landscape architecture at the State University of New York in 1984.

Her experience as a landscape architect and planner — she served as planning director for Lower Marion Township for 10 years — has allowed her to see the big picture. As development chugs ahead, planners are becoming increasingly attuned to exactly how a piece of land needs to be developed. This is the phase that follows the initial, “Let’s just preserve the land first” push. Now, with more and more land being preserved, it is a matter of knowing what to do with it. Planners these days are looking to develop land into more compact configurations with a closer eye on the environmental effects.

This, of course, is the biggest part of the big picture, the part where land use ideas are left to governing bodies and planning boards. But the essence of land ethics often comes down to a much smaller scale, and that’s where stewardship comes in. Harper, who has worked for Natural Lands Trust since 1983, will speak on methods used to maintain lands that have been cut off from development or encroachment. For her, the matter is one of educating the public. One of her major efforts is helping people define the different types of public and private lands.

“A public park is there for the public to use,” Harper says. It is a place for activity and recreation. A preserve, on the other hand, is an area that contains a significant habitat or diversity of life. As such, it needs protecting, and protection starts with education.

Deer and dogs. Two of the preserve’s most disruptive visitors are of the four-legged variety. Deer nibble on a variety of plants, some of which can be rare or endangered.

Dogs, on the other hand, are usually there because someone has taken them for a walk without a leash. Dogs chase animals, trample on plants, and sometimes dig holes — enough, Harper says, to disrupt how a preserve grows.

Invasive plants. Non-native plants, brought in by people and pets, can sicken an otherwise healthy, diverse natural habitat, Harper says. Knowing not to bring them into protected areas helps, as does knowing that runoff and wastewater often carry new species into areas that cannot fight them off.

Homeowners’ associations. In a similar vein, people living at the edges of protected areas can, over time, infect an otherwise diverse habitat. “People dump grass clippings; they start mowing a little bit more and put the kids’ swingset up back there,” Harper says. Before long, they’ve encroached on a once-pristine or protected area and altered the balance.

Recreation. Public parks are not the problem, but they often abut protected areas and the lines are not easily spotted. Harper cites a park project she worked on in Kennet Square, Pennsylvania, where a Frisbee golf course rests against a large piece of natural land. The players meant no specific harm to the natural areas, she says, but they often played close to streams that started to erode because of the foot traffic. Harper says she helped convince the course owners to move some of the holes and the natural areas are replenishing.

Harper’s eye for nature amid the social framework is in her genes. Her grandfather, a biologist, worked to restore and preserve the health of Georgia’s fabled Okefenokee Swamp and her grandmother worked in social programs piloted by FDR. Her perspective on land ethics comes down to a vision of whole communities.

“We are part of the land,” she says. “We have to work together and treat that land with respect.”

— Scott Morgan

Friday, February 22

Doctoring America’s Health Care System

Eric Raymond, CEO of Corporate Synergies Group in Mount Laurel, is the first to state that the system needs repair, but he does not feel American healthcare is beyond repair. To get a handle on the several problems and some common sense solutions, the Human Resources Management Association of Princeton will present the breakfast seminar, “Remaking the American Healthcare Model,” on Friday, February 22 at 8:30 a.m. at Lee Hecht Harrison in Lawrenceville. Cost: $20. Visit www.hrma-nj.org. Speaker Michael Gross, a benefits consultant for Corporate Synergies Group, will present the approaches and ideas of Raymond.

For the last 30 years, Raymond has spent his career as an insurance entrepreneur, innovator, and gadfly. Raised in New York, Raymond attended Wharton School of Business, graduating in l978. In l980 he formed Insurance Access Inc. — the first company to give prices online. He wrote the necessary software himself.

In l983 Raymond joined Corporate Dynamics as executive vice president, helping it become the nation’s largest group insurance broker. In l997 he sold the company to Summit Bank. Five years ago, gathering some of his old partners, Raymond formed Corporate Synergies. “We try to give both employees and employers the best possible health coverage at the best costs, he says.”

While almost everyone has a finger to point, Raymond insists that the American healthcare operations are flawed enough to house many culprits. The basic problem is that we spend $1.2 trillion on healthcare annually and not everyone is getting all the coverage. Further, depending on whose estimates you take, it would take another $100 to 150 billion to include those currently uninsured. So who is to blame for this mess?

Hey you, Chubby! “More than the carriers, the pharmaceutical firms or any popular scapegoat, America’s healthcare problem comes from the fact that we are supersized,” insists Raymond. The average body mass index in the United States is 38 — 29 is considered obese. In Canada, the average is 18; in Japan it is three.

The list of health services and costs required by the overweight has been estimated at five to seven times that of fit folks. Here, is a repairable healthcare expense we can fix one waistline at a time.

The carriers. Raymond sees carriers rushing in the renewal policies so close on the heels of the due date that employers don’t have time to think, or examine alternate forms of coverage. “These renewals come in every year with raised fees and no options and the poor company owner is afraid to take time, for fear his whole firm will be dropped from the insurance coverage,” says Raymond. “It is an old ploy, and not a particularly honorable one.”

Lesser evils. Those darn lawyers come in for their share of high healthcare cost blame, but they prick premiums less than thought. Only two-to-three percent of healthcare costs are said to go toward court decisions and legal defense funds.

The pharmaceutical companies, as Raymond sees it, do not have the greedy and dark hearts with which they are often portrayed. However, he does point to the discrepancy between what Americans pay for drugs and the amazingly cheaper costs for which they are sold in almost every nation in the world. “This means, simply, that we are subsidizing the rest of the world’s drugs,” he says.

Nuts to health. The final finger Raymond points is right back at us. “We Americans do not know how to take care of ourselves,” he says.

Of the people who have insurance, a mere 40 percent get the prescribed blood tests, colonoscopies, mammograms, and pap smears. Six percent of Americans have type II diabetes and less than half of them know it, because they have never taken any test.

And once we know we’re ill, we don’t respond with much more discipline. Only 50 percent of those knowing they have type II diabetes address it. Of those who are taking one perpetual maintenance drug, even among the insured, fewer than half follow the medication program continuously.

Tweaking solutions. It’s not a matter of scrapping the system, or denying either corporate or human nature. Corporations, even healthcare providers, are always going to try to make money. Last year the top five providers brought in $10 billion and will be shooting for $15 billion next year. The great mass of Americans, on the other hand, are not going to go into training and religiously follow every prescribed medical program as if their life depended on it. Even if it does.

Instead, Raymond suggests that vendors, healthcare carriers, and employers might team up in a cooperative, signing five-year contracts.

Companies and their providers would establish what he calls health identification and implementation programs. When an employee gets a blood test, the insurance company would not merely be informed that he had one, but would, by garnering this more exact picture of the employee pool, be able to develop a better program.

The employer, coincidentally, could initiate a compliance program. It could tell employees if they do get the periodic mammograms and blood tests, the firm would pay for it. If not, they might even have their copay boosted individually. The same sort of record keeping systemcould be transferred back and forth among involved physicians.

— Bart Jackson

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