June 27, 2008

La Crosse County Hires Sustainability Coordinator

By Reid Magney, La Crosse Tribune, Wis.

Jun. 27--Nick Nichols has moved from Gundersen Lutheran to work on sustainability issues for La Crosse County.

"Instead of working for a single business, I get to work for all the businesses in the county and all the people," said Nichols, who started work Monday in the county's Solid Waste Department. "We have a huge opportunity here in La Crosse to make a difference and be a model nationwide." Nichols had been the environmental coordinator since Fall 2005 at Gundersen Lutheran, where he helped improve energy efficiency and save money.

And while he'll do that for the county, his first task will be to concentrate on efficiency issues in the county's solid waste system and marketing it to local businesses.

La Crosse County's disposal system may not be the least expensive option for businesses, but Nichols said they can reduce their carbon footprints by disposing locally instead of trucking waste to Eau Claire.

Nichols said it's like buying local foods. "If you transport an apple from the state of Washington, it costs 15 calories of energy to bring one calorie of food to the table. It's the same thing with waste. We have to take into consideration those costs we're impacting on the environment," he said.

Nichols' salary will be $46,238 a year, Personnel Director Robert Taunt said.

"We're not using property taxes to pay for the position," said County Administrator Steve O'Malley. "We're using solid waste revenue, and we want to expand the marketing of recyclables.

"Our initial focus is on expanding markets for the Solid Waste Department. Marketing, greater utilization of resource recovery, generation of additional income through expanded sustainability," O'Malley said.

La Crosse County passed a resolution to become an "eco-municipality" and is working together with the city of La Crosse on sustainability issues. Nichols has been a citizen member of the joint committee steering those efforts.

Before he joined Gundersen Lutheran, Nichols was recycling coordinator in Houston County, Minn., for 14 years. He and his family live in a solar-powered house just outside La Crosse.

Reid Magney can be reached at (608) 791-8211 or [email protected]


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