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Following the path of sustainability


As we mark Earth Day 2018, meet some American Family Insurance employees who've made sustainable and environmentally healthy lifestyle choices and how they are having a positive impact.

An effort to follow their interests and passions led these American Family Insurance employees to lead more sustainable lives. Find out how Josh Feyen, Todd Post and Deb Hanrahan found themselves on a journey toward more environmentally-friendly living.

Converting a car and adding solar panels: Josh Feyen, social media administrator

Q. When and how did you get started on the sustainability path?

My parents moved our family to western Wisconsin in 1976, where we farmed for more than a decade. My dad added solar to our animal buildings, and I helped my mom in the garden and in the kitchen, preserving food each summer. I guess you could say I was steeped in sustainability from an early age. But the real answer to your question is five years ago, when I took a permaculture design certificate course, which opened my eyes, mind and heart to so many more possibilities.

Q. You’ve made some great inroads in personal sustainability. Tell us more!

The most interesting thing I’ve done lately is turn a naughty VW diesel car into solar panels and a plug-in hybrid vehicle.

In 2013, my family purchased a Volkswagen Golf TDI because it got great mileage and was fun to drive. In 2016, these VW diesel vehicles were found to have been spewing far more nitrous oxide (a greenhouse gas) than the EPA allowed. Long story short, VW repurchased the vehicle and we were left with the decision of what to drive next. We purchased a Chevrolet Volt, a plug-in hybrid.

To make up for some of the sins of that VW exhaust, we decided to add photovoltaic solar panels to our home. We now create enough electricity for all of our household needs and our car. In a nutshell, our panels will generate energy for 30 years and will take 10 years to pay off. Electric vehicles are less expensive to operate and maintain than internal combustion engines (ICE), and with tax incentives or the robust used electric vehicle market, they are closing in on par with ICE vehicles. It’s win, win and win.

Getting smart with technology, solar and an EV: Todd Post, brokerage and alliance director

Q. When and how did you get started on the sustainability path?

I’ve been interested in how technology can make our lives better. When I first saw that GM was building a Chevy Volt prototype in 2011, I thought how cool would it be to drive a car that runs on electric. I later bought my first Chevy Volt and tried to only drive on electric as much as possible. A year later, my wife and I had our first child. I thought this isn’t just about me anymore -- I need to make sure my son has a sustainable world to thrive in. I decided then the next time I moved or built a house, it would have some way of powering that vehicle in addition to the house.

Q. You’ve made some big changes in how you live. Tell us more about that.

I recently installed a solar PV array, which produces enough power generation to not only power the house, but my EV vehicle, as well. Our new home is smart-connected in terms of thermostat, security system, water intrusion alerts and more. We used spray-foamed walls, installed a high-efficiency furnace, and use products that can withstand time and an active four-year-old.

Being sustainable doesn’t mean you have to give up things; you just do more with a purpose and a plan. We were able to get 30 percent tax credits back from the solar install in addition to a Focus on Energy credit. Sustainability can also be fiscally responsible.

Joining forces with others: Deb Hanrahan, technology project manager

Q. When and how did you get started on the sustainability path?

When I met my wife Susan in 2001, she was heavily involved in environmental causes, and over time she inspired me to be more engaged. One of the reasons we moved from the D.C. area to Madison in 2006 was for its lakes and recreational opportunities. The condition of the city’s lakes was a significant motivator to even further action.

Q. You’ve joined with others in the community to make our local ecosystem better. Tell us more about that.

I volunteer for the Clean Lakes Alliance in Madison, which works to improve water quality of the lakes, streams and wetlands in and near the city. I join a team of friends annually for the Loop the Lake bike ride fundraiser, which attracted 600 cyclists last year. It’s not a long ride but it’s very visible and helps gets the message out.

As I’ve learned more about healthy waterways, I’ve realized that all of us can do our part to alleviate pressure on our lakes, streams and wetlands. Just in my neighborhood, I’ve helped organize people to clear leaves and debris from gutters, and raised awareness that something as simple as removing leaves from the street before rain can significantly reduce phosphorous pollution in our waterways.

Focus on small steps; reduce your plastic use this year

Wisconsin Sen. Gaylord Nelson launched the first Earth Day On April 22, 1970.

One in 10 Americans participated that first year, jump-starting an era of environmental awareness and legislation.

Today, the global event draws more than 1 billion participants in 192 countries – the largest civic-focused day of action in the world.

This year, the Earth Day Network, which now leads Earth Day worldwide, is focused on End Plastic Pollution. The multi-year campaign aims to end single-use plastics, promote alternatives to fossil-fuel-based materials and recycle 100 percent of plastics.

Start small

Choose one idea from this list below and add more green to your life:

  • Recycle at work and at home.

  • Change your transportation. Walk, bike or use public transit.

  • Make changes in your home. Start small!

  • Remember trip chaining.

  • Use biodegradable bags for outside trips with your dog. Take an extra bag to pick up trash on your walks.

  • Compost your kitchen scraps.

  • Choose reusable shopping bags.

  • Participate in events that encourage sustainability.

About American Family Insurance

Madison, Wisconsin-based American Family Insurance group is the nation's 13th-largest property/casualty insurance group and ranks No. 315 on the Fortune 500 list. The company sells American Family-brand products, including auto, homeowners, life, business and farm/ranch insurance, primarily through its exclusive agents in 19 states. American Family affiliates (The General and Homesite) also provide options for consumers who want to manage their insurance matters directly over the internet or by phone. Web; Facebook; Twitter