Native American Rights Fund Offsets 2014 Carbon Footprint

NARF offset report_2014

Trees, Water & People’s Tribal Renewable Energy Program puts the power of nature — the warmth of the sun, the power of the wind, the shelter of trees — to work for Native Americans. In partnership with First Nations communities, TWP builds and installs supplemental solar air heaters for families in need and provides green job training to tribes around the country. These solutions are sustainable, economically beneficial, environmentally friendly, and celebrate the Native Americans’ respect for Mother Earth.

Every year, each solar air heater prevents 1.39 tons of carbon emissions generated by fossil fuels. The Native American Rights Fund’s contribution to this form of renewable energy greatly reduces the organization’s environmental impact and helps Native American families in need by providing clean, free heat from the sun.

Native American Rights Fund’s Statement on Environmental Sustainability

Carbon Offset Partner Logo (250px)“It is clear that our natural world is undergoing severe, catastrophic climate change that adversely impacts the lives of people and ecosystems worldwide. Native Americans are especially vulnerable and are experiencing disproportionate negative impacts on their cultures, health, and food systems. In response, NARF is committed to environmental sustainability through our mission, work, and organizational values. Native Americans and other indigenous peoples have a long tradition of living sustainably with the natural world by understanding the importance of preserving natural resources and respecting the interdependence of all living things. NARF embraces this tradition through its work and by instituting sustainable office practices that reduce our negative impact on our climate and environment. NARF is engaged in environmental work and has established a Green Office Committee whose responsibility is to lead and coordinate staff participation in establishing and implementing policies and procedures to minimize waste, reduce energy consumption and pollution, and create a healthful work environment.”

To learn more about NARF’s commitment to environmental sustainability please visit http://www.narf.org/about-us/environmental-sustainability/

New Solar Furnace Design 100% Off Grid

off grid solar furnace

by John Motley, Assistant National Director

In 2003, Trees Water & People (TWP) partnered with Colorado State University to design a solar air heating system that could be manufactured entirely by our tribal partner Lakota Solar Enterprises (LSE), a 100% Native-owned and operated company located on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota.  Over these 12 years, TWP and LSE have built and distributed over 900 solar air furnaces, saving Native American families over $6.4 million in heating bills. This year, we are looking to make this system even more affordable, while at the same time taking it completely off the grid.

Over the winter, we invested in research and development of this new system. There were a few hurdles to overcome before we could make this a reality. First, we needed the system to function entirely on direct current (DC), as this is the type of electricity that Photovoltaic (PV) solar panels produce.   Second, we needed to move a comparable amount of air through the system so that we could maintain the same thermal efficiency as our previous system. And finally, we had to achieve all of this while using far less energy, as we would be working with a 35W solar panel as opposed to drawing from the home’s electricity.

To meet these challenges, we worked from two angles. One was using a new direct current (DC) that would power not only the fan but also the thermostat and shutoff mechanisms. Second, we redesigned the duct work to streamline the air flow, lessening the drag and back pressure caused by the serpentine ducting necessary with the old fan’s system. Last, we changed the design of the stand for the panel, as it was no longer necessary to house the cumbersome old fan and its duct work.

Woman and Solar Heater (Dan Bihn)
TWP and LSE have built and installed over 900 solar furnaces for Native American families living on tribal lands.

With the help of a knowledgeable board member with a background in computer cooling systems, we found a DC fan that could move as much air through the Solar Air Furnace as the previous model. This allowed us to begin designing a off grid system that would provide its own energy to bring heat into the home.  By simplifying the ducting, we were able to bring down the overall cost of the system, while improving airflow. We can now insure that this new heating system will be far more efficient and will save the user even more money on their overall energy needs.

Trees Water & People, in collaboration with our partner Lakota Solar Enterprises, is looking forward to implementing this design in all new systems this summer. Our first off grid furnace will be installed in mid-April. Stay tuned for updates!

For questions or to learn more about TWP’s solar furnaces please contact John Motley at john@treeswaterpeople.org.

Tribal Renewable Energy Program

Community Voices: Roman Rios

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Don Roman Rios stands near his bread oven at his home in La Gloria, Guatemala. (Photo by Jeff Abbott)

Over 500,000 homes in Guatemala are without electricity, leaving millions of people in the dark once the sun sets. Adults are unable to work at night and children struggle to study by dim candle lights, which also emit toxic fumes into the home. Candles are expensive too, costing families up to $20 per month, money that could be spent on food, medicine, or small business expenses.

Trees, Water & People’s social enterprise, Luciérnaga, is working throughout Central America to solve this energy poverty problem. Luciérnaga imports solar products, like lights, phone chargers, and solar household systems, into Central America, providing local entrepreneurs with access to products in bulk, at an affordable price. With knowledge of their community’s needs, these solar entrepreneurs can distribute solar lights to families at a price they can afford.

Don Roman Rios lives in the community of La Gloria in Guatemala’s La Zona Reyna, a very rural area in the department of El Quiche. His purchase of a solar home system has allowed he and his wife to expand their small bakery, which they run out of their home kitchen. “Now, we are able to bake bread starting at 6am until 10pm or 11pm.” said Don Roman. The purchase of solar lighting has allowed them to expand their business and production, and save on the purchase of candles.

solar home system Guatemala
Don Roman’s house is now lit by a solar home system, which includes four LED lights and a battery storage system for charging electronics. (Photo by Jeff Abbott)

“Before we had to use candles to light the room,” said Don Roman. “Which could get really expensive.” Prior they were paying one quetzal per candle, and having to purchase five or six to light the room. In order to charge their cell phones, which are ubiquitous throughout Central America, Don Roman and his wife had to pay a neighbor or use the cigarette lighter in the car. “Now that we have solar light, we just have to plug our phones in here [USB charger on the battery] and we can charge.”

Overall, Don Ramon and his family have greatly benefited from the purchase of a solar household system, though Don Roman wishes he could have the chance to purchase larger solar panels in order to collect more light. Don Ramon and his family are one of over 4,300 families who have purchased solar products from Luciérnaga’s vendors.  These life-changing products offer an affordable way for rural Central Americans to gain access to clean energy that improves the environment and their livelihoods. To learn more please visit www.luciernagasolar.com.

The electrical grid has yet to reach rural areas of Guatemala, where millions live without light once the sun sets.
The electrical grid has yet to reach rural areas of Guatemala, where millions live without light once the sun sets. (Photo by Jeff Abbott)

Project Update: Lighting homes in rural Honduras

solar light Honduras

Nearly 50% of the 600 solar household lighting systems we sent to Honduras have been installed. We’re providing 1,200 new LED light points, 600 USB charging ports for cell phones and other small devices, and a new level of dignity for rural families that have lived their entire nocturnal lives by the light of candles, low quality flashlights, and contaminating kerosene lamps. Donors to our Catapult project helped to fund 125 of the lights in this shipment, allowing us to reach many more families in need of clean energy solutions for their homes.

Get personal

solar light Honduras
Miriam Leonel Bonilla

“Many of our customers used to use ocote (a local pine that is used as a candle), and the smoke really bothered them. Or else they would buy candles and flashlights, and that was really expensive. They are very happy with their plantitas – solar lights!” -Miriam Leonel Bonilla, solar light user and distributor, Las Marías, Honduras

Risks and challenges

Honduras is one of the most dangerous countries in the world, and our vendors and promoters live with risk every day. We are lucky to have a dedicated team of people across the country that see the opportunities that exist in solar energy. They believe that the benefits that solar energy brings to their families and communities who buy the systems outweigh the challenges in getting them into the field.

What we’ve learned

solar light HondurasThis order of Barefoot Power solar household systems were our first test of a new international supply chain that has us ordering product in bulk to a central warehouse in El Salvador, from which the products are distributed by land to four different countries. Every step of that process contained a lesson in how to be more efficient in getting these products to the families that need them most. On a macro level, we have learned that we have one of the most innovative approaches to getting products to several Central American countries at once. In Honduras, we have learned that whoever can provide households with the best customer experience will be the one to succeed in expanding the great opportunities in renewable energy for the developing world.

Next steps

Working with social impact technology company Dimagi, we will be piloting a new mobile data collection app called CommSell. This app will allow our field staff to complete surveys on an Android phone, in the field, and automatically populate a database that tells us where our products are, how long they’ve been there, and how much money they are saving users. We can also use this information to conduct follow-up visits and maintenance as needed.

Project Update: Solar Women Warriors Scholarship Fund

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Gail Hubbeling (left) and Jamie Folsom at the Compressed Earth Block training.

We are excited to report that the women who were awarded the Solar Women Warriors Scholarships have completed their training with us and have utilized these funds to learn important new skills in renewable energy and sustainable building.

We were delayed by weather in October of 2013, when the first Compressed Earth Block (CEB) Training was originally scheduled to take place. However, we were able to reschedule the training for May 18-24, 2014 and it ended up being a great success! Alison Goings, a member of the Oglala Lakota Tribe, and Gail Hubbeling, a member of the Ihanktowan (Dakota) Tribe and also a veteran of the U.S. military, both attended the training on scholarships funded by Catapult.org. The women learned how to build a home using a compressed earth block machine, which produces blocks that are affordable and very energy efficient.

In addition to these two scholarships, we awarded a third Solar Women Warrior Scholarship to Robin Davis, a member of the White Earth Tribe. Robin attended one of our Solar Air Heater workshops held on the White Earth Reservation. After learning how to install solar heaters onto a home, Robin and the other trainees were employed by the White Earth Tribe to install 10 heaters for families in need. These heaters save families up to 30% on their monthly utility bills for 25 years, greatly decreasing household expenses using clean energy from the sun.

Get personal

“I’ve been interested in energy efficiency and renewable energy for sometime now. I want to share this knowledge with our Native communities along with the Housing Authority. Housing is the one shortage we need to overcome.” – Gail Hubbeling, Scholarship Recipient

Risks and challenges

Our biggest challenge with this project was the weather! We had no problem finding Native American women eager to attend our workshops; our main challenge was dealing with freak storms that delayed holding the workshops. We had originally planned to have the Compressed Earth Block training in October of 2014 but Mother Nature was not having it. A huge snow storm hit the Pine Ridge Reservation, causing us to postpone the workshop.

What we’ve learned

GRID Alternatives solar energy trainingWe’ve learned that beyond green job training, we need to also focus on helping trainees find meaningful employment opportunities, where they can utilize the skills they have gained. This is why we started the Green Business Development Program in 2013. This program helps Native entrepreneurs develop and implement viable green business plans within the reservation context, which is a much more challenging economic situation. In addition, we are also continuing to work closely with tribes, such as White Earth, to create jobs for trainees after they complete our workshops. Many tribes have access to Federal funds for renewable energy and economic development that can be used to employ their members in the green economy.

Next steps

We are now working with the women to offer more access to our workshops as well as an opportunity to apply to our Green Business Development Program. Our ultimate goal with this program is to see Native American women find jobs within the renewable energy and sustainable building sector, using the skills and experience gained from our workshops.

Community Voices: Jeff King, Northern Cheyenne Tribe

Jeff King works to install a large solar array in northern Colorado. He has turned his passions into a career in renewable energy.
Jeff King works to install a new 1 megawatt “solar garden” in Lafayette, Colorado.

Jeff King hails from the Northern Cheyenne Tribe in southeastern Montana. He is passionate about sustainability and renewable energy. He has attended many of our workshops at the Red Cloud Renewable Energy Center (RCREC) and consistently stands out as a leader that is eager to learn and grow. After receiving several certifications from our Tribal renewable Energy Program, Jeff has started working for a solar company in Colorado install PV systems throughout the state.

“I have been interested in renewable energy for a long time, but my interest has been magnified in recent years due to more awareness of global climate change and also from working in an industry (coal) that frowns upon the mere mention of renewables. That attitude has made me even more eager to learn and push on behalf of the world.”

Read more about the people our work has impacted in our Community Voices section of our website.

Building With Compressed Earth Blocks: Part 1

compressed earth block with solar array
Compressed Earth Block buildings are energy efficient, sustainable and affordable.

by John Motley, Assistant National Director

It always amazes me the way something can come from nothing. This has never been more true than with my first experience constructing a Compressed Earth Block building. Two months ago there was a bare plot of land with a few stakes delineating the crude outline of what was to become a foundation, now there is a completed building with four walls, four windows, a door and a roof. But beyond the basic structure we have incorporated various renewable and sustainable technologies that will help the building maintain a regular temperature despite outside conditions.

making compressed earth blocks
Producing compressed earth blocks creates local jobs.

The compressed earth block home that we will complete this summer is made from compressed earth blocks using a machine generously donated by the company EARTHinBLOCKS. The blocks are made onsite from locally sourced materials. Approximately 90 percent of the mix for the blocks is from the refuse of the local gravel company on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. We re-purpose waste material by combining it with a small amount of Portland cement and water to create blocks that are then compressed to 2,000 psi. This pressure causes cement to bind with the earthen material and then cures for up to a week. The blocks are four inches high by eight inches thick and then the length of the block can vary based on the amount of material put in to the compressor. The blocks are very dense and as such have high thermal mass. This means that the blocks are slow to change temperature, so in the summer months they stay at the average daily temperature and do not fluctuate, this means a cool building during the heat of the day and a warm structure during the chilly nights.

We have also incorporated a radiant heat floor that is warmed by solar hot water panels requiring no electrical input. This will help the office stay warm during the cold Dakota winters. We have also built a double wall out of the earth blocks that will absorb heat from our wood burning stove and radiate that heat throughout the night.

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Compressed Earth Block Training – June 2014

These blocks require no mortar due to their tongue and grove design. This allows for a group of six to put up four walls with windows and doors in four days. We purchased prefabricated roof trusses that also were able to be installed without any skilled labor in one single afternoon. In seven days we went from a blank slate to a  beautiful building that will serve as a demonstration home for anyone interested in learning more about Compressed Earth Block.

Trees Water & People is working to promote this type of construction to Tribes across the Great Plains who are struggling to find ways to build affordable and sustainable homes for their members. This construction has an upfront cost of less than $20,000 but the energy savings alone will offset the cost of the building within 15 years. Stay tuned as we continue this important work: sustainable building + renewable energy for a greener future on tribal lands.

We owe a special thank you to EARTHinBLOCK’s founders Elsie Walker and Susan England for their support and their time in completing this project.

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Donate your used Android smart phones!

Photo by Dimagi
Photo by Dimagi

Trees, Water & People (TWP) is collecting functional Android phones in good condition for our programs in Central America. We are training field staff working in rural areas to collect important data on our Solar Energy Program using customized, multiple choice surveys. Data is collected on a specially designed app for Android phones.

Last October, TWP created Luciérnaga – a social enterprise that creates markets for small-scale solar energy products in off-grid areas of Central America.  Since we launched operations, we have sold more than 4,000 solar lighting products that both illuminate homes and charge cell-phones in communities that do not have access to electricity. We are now distributing product in three countries, and are working to improve our training and customer service via mobile data collection.

Android_robot.svgWe have recently earned the opportunity to pilot a new service called CommSell, designed by social impact technology company Dimagi. By using an Android specific mobile app, our field staff will be able to collect important data into an online database that keeps track of warranty information, tracks inventory and payments, and supports customer relationship management. This is critical for us to be able to provide appropriate and timely support, and also gives us a powerful way to communicate the impact of our work to the outside world.

If you have a surplus of working Android phones, or know people and businesses that do, please consider donating them to Trees, Water & People before Friday August 8, 2014.  We are happy to pick them up, or they can be dropped off or sent to 633 Remington Street, Fort Collins, CO 80524.  Trees, Water & People is a 501(c)(3) and all phone donations are 100% tax-deductible. Thank you for your support!

Bright Futures

bright futures

by Megan Maiolo-Heath, Marketing Manager

Within each community our work touches, we encounter the same desires among local citizens: a healthy life and a bright future for themselves, their children, and their grandchildren. I think this is a desire that most every human on Earth longs for and strives towards. We seek healthier minds, bodies, and spirits.

At Trees, Water & People, we design conservation projects with one important question in mind: How can we create a bright future for every person we work with? Our approach to conservation includes more than just environmental protection. We seek to improve all aspects of life, including human health and economic well-being.

children with solar light Honduras
Children in Honduras benefit from solar lighting technology.

An example of this can be seen within our Solar Energy Program, which brings clean energy, like solar lights and home energy systems, to families living without electricity. Solar energy reduces the use of natural resources and cuts harmful emissions while providing families with a better quality of life. Children can study at night, long after the sun has set. Families save money by replacing kerosene lamps and reducing mobile charging fees. And, health is improved by reducing pollution in the home.

Solar lighting systems are both literally, and figuratively, creating a brighter future for thousands of families who have been left in the dark. And, this can be seen with each of our community-based programs, including reforestation, clean cookstoves, solar heaters, and green job training. We provide local people in Central America, Haiti and on Native American reservation with the tools, training, and resources needed to tackle some of the greatest challenges facing their communities.

This is what inspires us each day and, from what so many donors have told us, this is what inspires other people to give to these important projects. Conservation can, and should, empower people to have a brighter future!

We hope you will continue to follow our work and progress. In the coming months, we will give you a closer look at how we are creating bright futures for thousands of families.

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