Green the Capitol

Green Team Newsletter

October 17, 2008 :: volume 03

Innovative biodegrable bottles, as harmless as the water they contain, to replace conventional plastic containers

In an effort to be even more environmentally friendly in its cafeterias, the House is no longer offering "traditional" bottled water, instead choosing to use bottles that biodegrade in less than three months.

The House's food vendor, Restaurant Associates, is selling water in biodegradable, corn-based bottles as part of the Green the Capitol Initiative.

The move was announced at a Sept. 23 press conference in the Longworth Cafeteria.

The spring water from Virgina-based Grand Springs will be sold in containers made by the Iowa-based company Naturally Iowa. The new product will replace water currently being offered by all other bottlers on the Capitol Campus. Vending machines will not initially be affected by this switch over.

The House sells over 100,000 bottles of water a year. In the past, purchasers of those bottles have been encouraged to recycle them through the House's recycling program, administered by the Architect of the Capitol (AOC).

"While the AOC has done a solid job with its recycling efforts, studies have shown that 8 out of 10 recyclable bottles wind up in landfills, where they sit for over a hundred years," said Perry Plumart, Acting Director of the House's Green the Capitol Initiative. "These compostable bottles can be thrown into the compost stream with all of the House’s food waste and other biodegradable containers, ensuring that they will have no negative effect on the environment.”

Plumart noted that many visitors and busy staffers carry bottled water out of the cafeterias, where recycling bottles is easy, only to be faced with throwing the containers into conventional “garbage” bins, which results in traditional bottles going into landfills. Even if the new bottles are not “composted” through the House’s composting center, but rather simply thrown into the trash, they will biodegrade in landfills in under a year, according to the manufacturer.

Plumart and Restaurant Associates' managers added that staffers should notice no difference in taste with the new water vendor. Congressman Virgil Goode expressed his support for the product in a press release, in which he stated:

“Green Springs bottles quality water, which has an excellent taste,” said Goode. He added, “Green Springs is important to the economy of Halifax County, and I hope that the sale of its water by the House will help others to discover the good quality of life that we enjoy in Southside Virginia.”

“These bottles are as harmless as the water they contain,” said Plumart. “Our consumers can throw them out with their food and their other compostable containers and know that they’ve done a good thing.”

The changeover will not cost the House any forfeiture in commissions from Restaurant Associates’ sales. The cost of the water will be $1.60 per bottle, which is $.10 more than a proposed price increase on the traditional bottled water products.

The past few months have been busy, productive months at Green the Capitol. We were excited to announce the sale of green compostable water recently. Compostable bottles made from plant based (PLA) plastics take 65 percent less energy to produce than “traditional” petroleum-based plastic bottles. The new water bottles are designed to go into the "compostable" category of the House's recycling system.

In addition to hosting environmental leaders who are part of the State Department International Visitor Leadership Program, Green the Capitol also recently hosted a group of European government officials with the Transatlantic Climate Policy Visitor Program. Members of the Green the Capitol team also hosted officials from Israel Efficiency Forum. All these groups enjoyed learning about the Initiative and took home information on greening and what lessons we’ve learned here. We are hopeful they will apply some of those lessons to their own government greening programs and are excited to begin the exchange of information.  

At the end of July, Green the Capitol participated in the House Health and Wellness Fair, promoting healthy and green office environments. Adding plants, using green cleaning products and low-VOC (Volatile Organic Compound) emitting carpet and paint are just as important for your health and comfort as they are for the planet. We also signed House employees up for the Wheels for Wellness bike sharing program. Did you know DC recently unveiled its own bike sharing program? Check it out at:

Upcoming Events

Greening the 111th Congressional Transition has also been on our minds. We’ve been looking at ways to improve the sustainability of the Transition by promoting recycling and reuse during the moves. We’ve also been working on an education program for new Members and their staffs. Keep your eyes open for the upcoming green Transition website on HouseNet, which will feature an interactive green office and answer many of your questions about what you can do to "go green” at work! 

Volunteer Opportunity

Green the Capitol would like to offer Green Team members complimentary tickets for the upcoming Green Festival, which will be held on Nov. 8-9. The festival will feature a panel discussion entitled, “Integrating Organizations’ Green Teams,” which the Green the Capitol staff will participate in.

The festival will showcase green authors, leaders and educators, feature workshops, environmental films, a market of eco-friendly businesses and organic cuisine. You can also see the latest in green technology and learn how to green your home and community.

If you are a salaried employee, we’d also like your help staffing an informational booth with Green the Capitol at the event. Please contact Summer Montacute ( for complimentary tickets or to volunteer.

Profile » Summer Montacute

Summer Montacute
Summer works for the Vegetation Department at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park to protect native plant species in an area devastated by lava flow

An unlikely pair ultimately led to Summer Montacute’s career in environmentalism — her parents and the many sheep that outnumber people in her native land.

“Growing up in New Zealand, I was surrounded by nature,” said Montacute. “My parents helped me understand that we are a part of [nature] and not separate from it.”

Montacute, a green specialist working to make the House more environmentally-friendly as part of the Green the Capitol Initiative, has spent the better part of her life protecting nature.

Her passion for conservation began early.

“I would put together posters about saving the forests of New Zealand and organize little protests at recess,” she said.

At age 10, Montacute moved to Seattle and continued to learn about the environment and her place in it.

She spent one of her summers working for a non-profit called the Washington Public Interest Group, where she lobbied for stricter emissions standards and tested for pollutants in the water of Puget Sound.

Her interest grew into a passion and she decided to pursue an environmental science and public policy degree at Harvard University.

There, Montacute educated the students in her dormitory on the environment as part of the Harvard Resource Efficiency program.

Summer Montacute
Summer scoops elephant dung into a bobcat loader at the Riddle’s Elephant and Wildlife Sanctuary in Arkansas

Breaks from college were spent in a slew of eco-friendly adventures, including: working with elephants, planting native Hawaiian plants and studying some of the oldest trees in the world, to name a few.

During the summer of her freshman year, she studied 13 extremely dangerous elephants at a wildlife sanctuary in Arkansas. Many of the elephants were former circus performers that had been abused and had either killed or injured people.

The sanctuary even housed superstar Michael Jackson’s elephant.

Summer not only learned about how to conduct research, but also how to do some more hands on work.

“A significant part of my work was shoveling elephant dung. They produced several hundred pounds every day, so that was hard work.” she said with a laugh.

Conservation was also on the menu for the following summer, where she ventured to Hawaii to plant indigenous plants that were being destroyed by lava flows.

"The work is two-fold: we were preserving very unique, native plants and ensuring that fewer non-native plants, which can impact the ecosystem negatively, sprung up in their place,” said Montacute. “It’s a way to conserve the natural beauty and character of a place.”

Her passion for conservation took her to Chile the next summer, where she researched the trade and politics of a prized, and threatened, native tree.

For her thesis, Montacute researched the rich red, durable Alerce tree, which is among the oldest of trees in the world.

"I was most interested to see how the unique problem was dealt with and to find solutions by comparing their issues with other conservation issues,” she said.

Summer Montacute
Summer comes across a herd of curious sheep on New Zealand South Island while doing a 700 km biking expedition

Because of poorly crafted and enforced laws, the rare trees were being cut down illegally and sold on the black market throughout the world.  

“It’s devastating to see,” Montacute said. “Some trees have been dated back more than three thousand years.”

While Montacute was in Chile, the Alerce was added to a list of protected specifies under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), a distinction that gave it added protection from logging.

Montacute’s research led her to the conclusion that the prized trees were cut down by locals who had little money. The problem could be largely remedied by bringing lucrative eco-tourism to the area, she concluded.

After returning from Chile, Montacute returned to Hawaii to pen a “Let’s Go” travel guide for the islands of Molokai and Kauai. She made sure to include eco-friendly messages. “I would add things like, ‘Don’t step on the coral.’”

After graduation, visits to countries with profound environmental issues, such as China and Panama, gave her a new perspective on how America deals with climate change.

"Traveling really emphasized for me the need for us to take action here in the United States, where we are privileged to be able to make environmental concerns a priority and also have the resources to address them,” she said.

Summer Montacute
Summer stands near the threatened Alerce tree in Chile

As part of the Green the Capitol team, Montacute is certainly not abandoning her dream of protecting the environment.

Her mission is to green the House offices, CAO business units and the Congressional Transition through outreach and education.

"I’ve learned so much here,” she said. “It’s exactly what I envisioned doing with my degree.”

Montacute also works toward green goals in her personal life, riding her bike to work, not using plastic bags and often shopping for second hand or eco-friendly goods.

The tact fits into Montacute’s vision of green living.

"It is my vision that going green isn't seen as a special interest or side issue, but rather something that can be incorporated into our everyday lives; where we won't even have to think about our actions because the choices before us will all be sustainable,” she said.

Trying to grow our own food is one of the most important steps we can each take to reduce our carbon footprint and get back in touch with nature. Want to start a community garden? Visit for tips.

The Architect of the Capitol recently launched an energy savings campaign called “Power to Save.” They’re asking the Green Team to provide feedback and help spread the word. Read below for details on their program and how you can get involved!

“During October, the Office of the Architect of the Capitol (AOC) will launch its new energy awareness program – Power to Save.  We believe we should be leaders in the national effort to conserve energy, and as stewards of the Capitol complex, we will continue to do our part to make this goal a reality in our facilities.  You can help us make a difference.  We’ll be providing tools and tips on our new Power to Save Web site and using other communications vehicles to encourage Capitol Hill offices to select and operate the most efficient office equipment; to switch out old technology for new; and to work together to do small tasks that can add up to big results. Additional information will be delivered via electronic newsletters, Web videos, graphic animations, and downloadable fact sheets and brochures. To learn more about our Power to Save program, please take a moment to read through the attached presentation, which provides a “sneak peak” of our program’s home page, previews our program themes and schedule, and highlights some of our program materials now in development.  Each and every day the AOC is working to make the Capitol complex more energy efficient and environmentally friendly. We believe our Power to Save program will help us continue to meet the energy and environmental goals set by Congress.  We look forward to working with the House “Green Team” as we spread the word about the importance of energy efficient practices and products.  We welcome your ideas and recommendations to make our collective efforts even more productive and successful.  If you have comments or suggestions, please send them to Shalley Kim at We have the Power to Save Energy!”

Green the Capitol Program Manager Allison Rogers on the radio

Summer Montacute
Green the Capitol Program Manager Allison Rogers and Green Team member Marcie Cooperman

Green the Capitol Program Manager Allison Rogers recently appeared on the Kojo Nnamdi Show, an American University station, to discuss the House's greening initiative. The show, “Going Green in Washington: The Federal Government,” also featured David Winstead, the Commissioner of the Public Buildings Service. The segment was dedicated to exploring the federal focus on making federal workplaces environmentally friendly.




Green the Capitol hosts an international group of visiting environmentalists

Summer Montacute
(View Full Image) Allison Rogers, Marcie Cooperman, Clerk, Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources, Committee on Natural Resources, Eben Burnham-Snyder, Communications Director, Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, Andrew Savage,Communications Director, Congressman Welch, Renae Steichen, Environmental Protection Specialist, Department of Justice and Summer Montacute

Chief Administrative Officer Dan Beard, along with Green the Capitol Program Manager Allison Rogers and Green Consultant Summer Montacute, recently hosted a panel discussion that was attended by 18 visiting environmental professionals from all over the world. The environmentalists came from a range of countries and experiences, representing everything from NGOs to the Ugandan parliament. The environmentalists, along with escorts from State Department, came to the House as part of a Sustainable Development and Environmental Protection International Visitor Leadership Program.

State Department employee Shawn Davis called the panel “incredible.”

"Many of [the visitors] spoke afterwards of how inspiring it was to see young professionals so passionately engaged on these issues,” Davis said.

The panel itself featured members of the Green Team and a variety of Hill staffers including: Eben Burnham-Snyder, Communications Director for Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, Marcie Cooperman, Clerk, Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources, Andrew Savage, Communications Director for Congressman Welch (D-VT) and Renae Steichen, Environmental Protection Specialist at the Department of Justice.


October Contents

Bottled Water
Gradually Greening
Profile » Summer Montacute
AOC's recycling campaign
In the Green World

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