Sustainability Hero, Glenallen Field Office, Bureau of Land Management, Alaska

Point of Contact

Kurt Sorenson
907-822-3217
elijah_waters@blm.gov

Summary

Kurt Sorenson is a life-long sustainability hero reusing, reducing, and recycling to conserve the environment and save money! Kurt is our only facility maintenance staff in this part of rural Alaska where 8 months of the year are referred to as winter and at - 50 degrees the boss closes the office. For 28 years, Kurt has worked to keep buildings open, efficient, and functioning. Kurt is a fine carpenter and has built cabinets, counters, accessible ramps, and office buildings to save public funds. He recycles everything, even scrap wood to use as spacers, saw horses, and racks. What he can t recycle locally he stores until he makes the 200 mile trip to the city. Kurt drives only fuel efficient vehicles and rides his bike both ways to work in summer and winter, -20 degrees does not faze him. Kurt lives and breathes sustainability. He is a quiet hero that teaches by doing.

Description

Kurt Sorenson is a life-long sustainability hero reusing, reducing, and recycling to conserve the environment and save the public money! Kurt is our only maintenance staff in this part of rural Alaska where 8 months of the year are referred to as winter and at - 50 degrees the boss closes the office. For 28 years, Kurt has worked to keep buildings open, efficient, and functioning. To accomplish this, he has not only been innovative, but attentive. Kurt has installed timers on electrical appliances and heaters and placed underground heat tape on water and sewer lines. Because this part of Alaska only receives 5 hours of daylight for 4 months of the year, Kurt has put most outside lights on motion sensors to conserve energy. Kurt has also installed freeze alarms that call him at home if the electricity or heat go out.

Each fall Kurt shuts down buildings that do not require heated storage, are unused in winter, or cannot run efficiently through winter by draining water lines and shutting off electricity. He winterizes working buildings, keeping everything well insulated and caulked. Each spring he must then ready these same buildings for the summer season and increased staffing. Kurt replaces windows and appliances with more energy efficient ones when needed. He maintains our various furnaces and keeps them running efficiently. He's mentored all of our staff on our residential maintenance needs as well, because many of us have moved here to work and are inexperienced with these conditions and temperatures.

Kurt is responsible for maintenance of our roads at the facility and throughout our campgrounds. He uses strategies to keep roads in sustainable condition, through proper grading and adding binders which also helps with dust control. He keeps our facility accessible year round by plowing, de-icing, and upgrading surfaces where needed. Kurt is a fine carpenter and has built cabinets, counters, accessible ramps, and office buildings to save public funds. He uses durable and beautiful woods that have a longer life and suit exactly the needs of our office. He modifies desk furniture to fit the ergonomic needs of individual employees, saving a fortune in furniture costs. Kurt built one of our office spaces from the ground up, utilizing cost saving measures and long-life materials for windows, insulation, and siding. He constructed all of our accessible building ramps with sustainable materials that can withstand snow and cold temperatures. Kurt also hand-built a bird containment unit that provides interim housing for wounded Bald Eagles and other birds that require relocation and rehabilitation.

Kurt recycles everything. He keeps every piece of scrap wood and uses them for spacers, templates, paint stir sticks, saw horses, racks, side boards for trailers and any number of other applications. He keeps recycling bins at our office for everything that can be recycled within Alaska. What can t be recycled locally he stores until he makes the 200 mile trip to the city. Kurt uses and washes rags rather than buying paper towels. Kurt works with our contractors to connect them with community waste and recycling systems. He motivated the staff to voluntarily sponsor the hardest month at our local recycling center. Kurt drives only fuel efficient vehicles and rides his bike both ways to work in summer and winter, -20 degrees does not faze him. Kurt lives and breathes sustainability. He is a quiet hero that teaches by doing.

Results and Achievements

It is very conservatively estimated that Kurt has saved well over $100,000 in just fuel costs over the last 10 years by shutting down buildings on our campus that aren't needed for winter office space or housing. " Since 1992, with the help of its sponsors and people like Kurt, Recycling Our Areas Resources (ROAR), which is located 200 miles from any major city and has a population base of 3,000, has recycled 376,397 pounds of materials, including:

  • 69,999 pounds of aluminum cans

  • 139,126 pounds of newspaper

  • 59,648 pounds of mixed paper

  • 3,267 pounds of office paper

  • 84,682 pounds of cardboard

  • 19,675 pounds of electronics.

It is conservatively estimated that Kurt has reduced his fuel consumption personally by over 20 barrels of gasoline for the past 28 years by bicycling to work. He is so skilled in carpentry that he was selected to re-roof the non-commissioned officers quarters at Fort Egbert, Eagle Historic District National Historic Landmark in Eagle, Alaska. He did so with meticulous care, utilizing sustainable materials that also maintained the historic character of the building.

Replicability

What Kurt has managed to do will be difficult to replicate, but not impossible. It will take tremendous skill, but more importantly, it will take great character! It will take a desire to serve the public well; a desire to conserve where possible; and a desire to sustain the environment and be a steward to public lands! Kurt took small steps along the way and pushed himself to research ways to conserve, recycle, and reuse what he could. He made a choice to do what could be done to sustain the environment and reduce costs. This determination and commitment can be replicated because Kurt has taken the hardest steps to set up systems and conduct the initial research. Now others only have to follow his lead.