The popular color is more than just a shade for these local environmentalists
Story by Barry Kaufman + Photography Lisa Staff
Forget everything you thought you knew about environmentalism. Forget the image of the tie-dyed wearing hippie, munching on granola and shaming you for not composting your kitchen scraps. Today’s environmentalist sees the rising tide of conscientious living as the key to a sustainable future, one where you don’t need to sacrifice the good life to save the Earth.
Whether helping people understand environmental laws, building homes and structures that do as little harm to the earth as possible or just keeping their own home green, there are more ways than ever to live a green lifestyle. Meet a few locals who are changing the image of living green.
Elaine Gallagher Adams
Driving along a Bluffton back road, Elaine Gallagher Adams had finally found her opportunity. Traffic had cleared from the unusually busy street, giving her a good few blocks to show off how cool environmentally friendly living can be.
“Here we go,” she said, hammering down on the electric car’s accelerator and triggering a pin-you-to-your-seat moment of torquey adrenaline. It’s only for a moment – after all, this is Bluffton where a long tradition as a speed trap still lingers. But it’s enough. Having just left her home, resplendent with marble counters, top-of-the-line stainless steel appliances, smart home controls and all the luxuries of Lowcountry living, it was clear that Adams looks at “green” living a little differently than most.
“Once we start to live more sustainably, we find we have more money to spend on living,” she quipped. “And oh, by the way, you’re doing something great for the environment.”
Not that it’s all about the money for Adams. Profit is just one of the three pillars of what she calls the “triple bottom line:” people, planet and profit. It’s just that, let’s face it, the profit part is where a lot of the motivation is.
Adams has worked in sustainability on a national level since 2001. As a LEED AP BD+C (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Accredited Professional in Building Design + Construction), she helped change the conversation when it came to sustainable architecture.
“There’s a mindset we’re starting to explore where people are becoming much more aware of how much we waste. Certainly, at a corporate level, which is where I’ve been practicing for quite a while, the waste is energy and money. That’s their motivation.”
Working with corporations to create more sustainable, efficient buildings has been Adams’ life work. That’s both through her work teaching architecture and sustainability at SCAD, as well as serving as director of sustainability for LS3P Architects, and before that as a senior consultant at Rocky Mountain Insitute, a global energy and efficiency think tank in Boulder, Colorado.
“I’m trying to change a culture and get people designing buildings differently,” she said.
Like many in her field, Adams got her start in historic preservation. “We get used to reusing materials and taking care of what we already have. I don’t want to waste money, I don’t want to waste materials… There’s so much we throw away very casually,” she said. Upon moving into sustainable architecture, she found a field looking for leadership. She was more than happy to oblige. “The architecture industry in general has been tasked with, and it is required at this point since it’s in our code of ethics, discussing the impact of projects with our clients. I’ve been asked to help craft a guidance document for the AIA (American Institute of Architects).”
As a national voice for sustainability, Adams found kindred spirits upon moving to Bluffton, saying, “Just seeing rainwater capture included in the zoning code, I felt like, ‘I’m here. I’m with my people.’”
She settled down in a home she designed herself, where solar panels and a 1,000 gallon rain cistern mitigate the environmental impact of an eco-friendly, ultra-luxe cottage. Her work in Savannah is just a short, electric-powered drive away. And now, where the rubber meets the road, she’s living the sustainable lifestyle she’s been preaching for nearly 20 years.
On June 22, 1969, sparks from a passing train ignited oil-slicked debris floating down the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland, Ohio. As a result, the entire river, one of the most polluted in the world, caught fire. For the thirteenth time.
That floating garbage fire not only ignited an entire river, it also sparked sweeping changes in how the law handles pollution. Within a year, President Nixon had signed legislation establishing the Environmental Protection Agency. The great “alphabet soup” of environmental regulation, and the specialized field of environmental law, was born.
“All of this has been developing during my lifetime, so I’ve been able to watch that happen,” said Stephen Darmody. The Hilton Head Island resident has practiced environmental law for 30 years, working with an array of clients all over the country, helping them operate within the framework of these rigid and often obscure regulations. His career began while he was an officer of the U.S. Coast Guard, when an admiral walked into Darmody’s New Orleans office (the city, not the road) and asked a prescient question.
“He asked me, ‘What happens if there’s a big spill at one of these oil rigs out there? What do we do?’ It was a really good question, and this was 20 years before Deepwater Horizon,” said Darmody. The solution put forth by the admiral was to release dispersants, which essentially breaks down oil slicks on the surface so they drop back down to the ground where they do less harm. The problem was, dispersants weren’t lawful to use then. “If there was a spill, that admiral didn’t have the authority to use them. He’d have to go to someone in Washington, D.C.”
It was Darmody’s introduction to environmental law, an expertise he would develop thanks to the Coast Guard sending him to law school. In addition to patrolling the Gulf of Mexico, intercepting drug smugglers and other criminals, he was learning the intricacies of this burgeoning legal field. At one point he was in charge of putting out regulations that implemented the Coast Guard’s authorities under the Air Pollution Control Act and the Clean Water Act to prevent pollution from ships.
After leaving the Coast Guard following a 20-year career, Darmody pursued the law through larger firms and then finally into his own firm two years ago. With offices in Jacksonville and Charleston, he chooses to telecommute from a place that captured his imagination when he honeymooned here. “We’d always come back to Hilton Head for vacation,” he said. “This always felt like home.”
If you ask Ellen Dupps to describe her garden, she’ll call it a series of rooms.
And that’s a fair assessment – while it may not have been planned, the wandering walkways and plants segregate each area of her immensely lush Sea Pines garden into rooms, each with its own unique character. There’s the brick-walled courtyard, resplendent with Lowcountry serenity and centered around a water feature brimming with Egyptian papyrus. There’s the “Secret Garden,” where Ellen and Ralph’s daughters once scouted for fairies. There’s the “cow pasture,” so named because of the cow topiary that seems to be grazing on its grasses. There’s “The Island,” set apart from the rest of the garden across a wooden bridge spanning a tranquil lagoon.
“It’s not like it was planned,” she said. “I love gardening, but I’m not a master gardener. I plant something and work on it. If it works, we keep it, and if not, we move on to something else.”
She describes it as an evolution, each room springing forth organically from the ideas she cooks up along with friend and mentor Carol Guedalia. But more than a series of rooms, it’s a series of stories.
That courtyard’s Lowcountry motif was chosen to honor the home in whose shadow it stands, an old hunting lodge that predates the resort era of Sea Pines. The couple had originally bought the house as a flip but fell in love with its rich character. The pergola that rises between lush pathways lined with Japanese sedge, creeping Jenny and shell ginger was built shortly after daughter Becca married Lee Edwards in the forests out back. During construction of the lagoon, a piece of excavation equipment got stuck in the mire and had to be dug out. The Dupps had been traveling at the time, and came home to find the whole adventure documented on the front page of the Island Packet.
But perhaps no story had more of an impact on this amazing secret oasis than the story of how Hurricane Matthew came through and almost tore it all down.
“Initially we lost 253 trees… we had to rethink all of this,” she said, standing in a sun garden that had been a shade garden until Matthew came through. “That gave us an opportunity, whether we wanted to or not, to expand.”
The storm’s lingering effects are everywhere. On the island, where a tree house stands tall between angel oak branches, pavers that had been strewn about after Matthew now form a lovely checkered pattern. The influx of sunlight allowed for the addition of a small herb and vegetable garden tucked away on one side, brimming with herbs and peppers. And the cow pasture is all that remains of the thick forest where Lee and Becca were married.
“The hurricane came through and just wiped it out,” said Ellen. But even in the storm’s aftermath, the Dupps found ways to discover beauty. That forest became the cow pasture, with a few trees here and there left standing in a purely accidental but beautiful arrangement. They were even able to keep a massive beehive that came down with one of the larger trees, enlisting the help of David Arnal and David McAllister to help relocate the hive to an apiary on-site. Today, those bees live comfortably and have resumed their duties pollinating the garden.
Matthew made its mark, but even the blustery wrath of that great storm couldn’t keep The Dupps from continuing their garden’s fascinating story, one room at a time.
(click on gallery thumbnail for larger photo)