When in the area of The Village or the Paseo, be on the lookout for a glasses-wearing, bike-riding, grocery-toting redhead: that’s Dan Yates, the new president of Sustainable OKC.
Taking office Feb. 1, Yates was unanimously elected to the position, replacing past president Shauna Lawyer Struby. He has been part of the group for three years and a member of the board, including secretary, for the past year and a half.
“My nomination and election happened in about 30 seconds, which was really exciting,” Yates said. “When you’re in an organization like this, it takes everyone on the board and everyone else in the organization to really make things happen. It’s my job to be the one person who knows a little bit about everything that’s going on and just generally keep the cogs moving.”
In a Q-and-A sent out on the Sustainable OKC e-mail thread, Struby noted that her stepping down wasn’t code for some sort of nefarious scandal; she’s “simply ready for a break,” and knows that the group is “blessed with good leadership ready to take the helm.”
“Dan has a boundless energy for sustainability,” she said. “He’s a thoughtful collaborator, creative idea man and all around a fine, affable person. We’re really looking forward to working with him as president.”
Yates is heading into the job with full force and has many ideas to improve the outreach and positive effect of the group.
His No. 1 goal is to keep the organization growing while hopefully maintaining a steady influx of fresh ideas and expertise. Other than that, Yates would like to see the volunteer network expand and continue to get the word out about sustainability.
In terms of Oklahoma City as a whole, he stresses that there is a great deal of room for improvement.
“We want the city to be thinking about the future, both in terms of economic and environmental sustainability and in projects all across the board,” Yates said. “We need long-term, multi-purpose buildings. We need permeable surfaces that allow rainwater to go directly into the ground rather than into the sewers.”
His biggest pet peeve, however, is the city’s lack of sidewalks.
“We’re a very car-oriented place. You try to walk from your house to Walgreens, and you feel like a second-class citizen because you’re walking on a worn place in the grass. I would love to see more sidewalks and bike trails so people are encouraged to find modes of transportation other than driving,” he said.
Yates is the first to admit that he isn’t the model example of sustainability, but notes in the last three years he’s made a lot of progress in bettering his lifestyle.
“A really easy thing to do is to not use plastic shopping bags and to recycle, of course,” he said. “But even more important than that is paying attention to packaging. If there are two identical items, and one has less packaging, I tend to buy that one. Otherwise, it’s opening something up and throwing something away that you didn’t use in the first place.”
Although he still frequents the Walmart Neighborhood Market conveniently located near his home in The Village, Yates swears by the offerings at the Oklahoma Food Cooperative (Co-op).
“My fiancée and I order from it every month. One of my favorite things to get is yogurt cheese; it’s basically the consistency of sour cream, and you use it where you would sour cream, but it has significantly less calories, and it’s made locally, which is awesome,” he said.
A self-proclaimed beer aficionado, Yates has also taken a liking to Coop Ale Works, a brewery on N.W. 51st Street. The operation is locally sourced, and all spent grain is donated to local farmers as chicken feed.
“Yes, anything made locally has the tendency to be a bit more expensive ” there are definitely some trade-offs,” Yates said. “That’s why I always try to spread the idea that there’s no secret key to becoming sustainable. It’s figuring out what works for your lifestyle and finding the things that are easy to change. Doing that is definitely better than doing nothing at all.”
photo As president of Sustainable OKC, Dan Yates said his goal is to keep the organization growing while maintaining a steady influx of fresh ideas and expertise. photo/Mark Hancock