In many ways, South Australia is far ahead of this region when it comes to environmental sustainability.
But a group of Aussies who visited Shawnee Thursday said they’d never seen anything quite like the city’s solar-powered fire truck, which relies on two rooftop panels to run all its electronic equipment.
“I’m in the industry and I never even thought about something like that,” said Jon Peters, a solar grid designer and installer who lives in a sustainable, straw-bale home in Clare, South Australia. “It’s the small acts and the small steps that they’re taking that are really going to help in the future.”
Peters and four other South Australians are in the United States as part of a Rotary International Group Study Exchange program for professionals who work in the renewable energy field.
The team is spending a month in Rotary District 5710, which covers northeast Kansas, exploring the region’s sustainable energy efforts and sharing some of their practices from back home.
South Australia is home to 13 windfarms — which fulfill an estimated 15 percent of the state’s energy demand — with more under construction, according to information from the team. The airport in the capital city, Adelaide, relies on a 114-kilowatt solar powered system. An $8 million upgrade to the Adelaide Showgrounds added 1,000 kilowatts of solar panels.
There’s also a strong recycling mindset at the individual level, the visitors said.
Nic Jacobson, a civil engineer from Adelaide, said that instead of just trash and recycling bins — only recently required in Shawnee — Adelaide’s household trash haulers provide bins for trash, recycling and “green waste” (that’s Australian for yard waste).
Jennie Gater, an electrical engineer from Magill, South Australia, said her company even has a composting container for food waste in the office kitchen.
Furthermore, South Australia has banned plastic bags, visitors said.
On Thursday, the Australians accompanied Shawnee parks and recreation director Neil Holman on a bicycle ride to highlight the city’s outdoor parks and miles of trails — which visitors were surprised to learn are even plowed in winter so people can run, walk and bike when it snows.
Not that snowplowing is an issue in South Australia; Peters, on his first visit to the United States, said Thursday was one of the coldest days he’s experienced and that he’s never even seen snow.
The Australians also helped plant a tree in Listowel Park and heard a presentation from Shawnee city manager Carol Gonzales.
Gonzales highlighted sustainability efforts ranging from the seemingly small — such as adding more recycling bins and reducing the number of printers at city hall — to the major — such as the Shawnee Justice Center, constructed with certified sustainable building practices and surrounded by native grasses, bioswales and raingardens.
Gonzales said correspondence with residents of Shawnee’s sister cities and other exchange programs were mutually beneficial.
“We love to have company from other countries because we learn so much from them, and hopefully they learn from us,” she said.