What are the features of a sustainable community? If you were to design a neighborhood, what key components come to mind? High density living, solar panels, composting, a landscape celebrating native vegetation and bountiful produce, and perhaps…chickens?

These and more abound at the UM Forum for Living with Appropriate Technology–the UM FLAT, for short. Made possible through the University of Montana and Environmental Studies Department, the UM FLAT has been an experimental space and student residence to dream and construct climate resilient strategies to address the challenges facing our Missoula community since 2009.

Students, faculty, community partners, and folks from all walks of life have contributed their time, energy and talents to this place, and it’s reflected in everything one encounters here.

Sustainability should be accessible, regardless of budget or place. Many of the structural projects found at the UM FLAT are constructed from reused and recycled materials. Whether it be cultivating an edible landscape of raised beds and perennials or building a cob oven and rocket stove for less energy-intensive cooking, we’re always seeking opportunities to live more within our means. Through demonstration, the UM FLAT hopes to inspire for what’s possible here in Missoula and elsewhere.

The UM FLAT is one piece of the resiliency puzzle. Only through community action can we achieve carbon neutrality by 2025, a goal shared by the City of Missoula and UM FLAT that we believe is essential for the future, not just of humanity but all life with whom we share this beautiful place. The UM FLAT is a space where community happens through meals, volunteer work days, and creative exploration of all kinds.

Our gathering unites us towards our common pursuit for a more just, equitable world. This is why we made a conscious decision to include achieving carbon neutrality as a student residence into our three-year strategic plan, and are working to create projects and workshops that empower others in our community to do the same.

When we talk about sustainability, it’s easy to get lost in the weeds. Does changing the eating habits of one person, or a household, make a difference? How do reducing and reusing change a single person’s carbon footprint? Where do we even look to start? The UM FLAT believes our individual actions cause rippling effects throughout our community, especially in an increasingly interconnected world, and especially when we use them as a jumping off point for climate conversations whenever we can. And there’s no better place for us to start than in our home.

As winter comes around the corner, the uptick in energy to heat our homes and more time inside is a doubly whammy to our carbon footprints. One way we can mitigate this–and reduce our utility bill in the process–is to consider where heat and air escape. Like our heads and feet, heat finds its way out through extremities.

The UM FLAT, for example, was built before the age of energy efficient windows. To reduce heat loss, we use durable plastic to insulate our window frames along with heavy curtains, keeping us toastier for longer. Simple weatherization strategies like this are exciting in that it's easy to identify the tangible results, simply by looking at your next utility bill! Energy efficiency is a low hanging fruit when it comes to local climate solutions, and can give us a whole host of additional benefits when we invest in it.

To help our community combat the coming cold and the escalating climate crisis, the FLAT in partnership with Climate Smart Missoula will be hosting a weatherization workshop on Tuesday, November Tuesday, November 16th from 4:00 to 5:30 PM at the UM FLAT building (633 S 5th St East, near campus; masks required). FREE DIY window-weatherization kits will be provided first come, first serve.

Join us to get a kit, learn how to use it, and hear about other low-cost, DIY weatherization and energy efficiency strategies to help keep your home warm and energy bill lower this coming winter. We’ll discuss resources and funding opportunities as well.

Both renters and homeowners are invited to the workshop, where you’ll learn tips and tricks each can take to reduce their energy use, and how to do so on a budget. Climate Smart Missoula will also share the inside scoop on the new Electrify Missoula campaign, explaining how important electrification of our built environment is to both climate and health (hint: very), and how everybody can be an advocate and participant in getting off of fossil fuels.

If you own or rent your home or apartment, and care about climate and/or health and/or saving money and/or staying warm and/or are intrigued by free stuff (we think that covers just about everybody), we hope you’ll join us for Tuesday's weatherization workshop. For more information about the FLAT, feel free to visit our office hours every Tuesday from 4 to 6, or check out our social media (@umflat on Instagram and UM FLAT on Facebook) for updates on upcoming events and workshops.

Blake Lineweaver and Kalle Fox are graduate students in the Environmental Studies program at the University of Montana and co-directors of the UM Forum for Living with Appropriate Technology. They can be reached at umflat@gmail.com.

This Sustainable Missoula column is brought to you – via the Missoula Current – every week by Climate Smart Missoula and Home ReSource.

Sustainability Happenings

Here we offer ideas about sustainable ways to stay involved in our community. For more, consider signing up for Climate Smart’s eNewsletter here. And sign up for the Home ReSource eNews via their homepage here.

Nov 10 - 14 — Community: the Heart of Regenerative Food Systems. AERO’s virtual Expo. Free & open to the public. See agenda & register for individual sessions here. Sessions include: Enhancing Small Farm Success; Green Energy; Food System sustainability & security; Resilient Communities & Regenerative Landscapes.

Nov 12 & 13. Zootown Climate Action Collective Workshop for high school students. Families for a Livable Climate, Home ReSource and area high school eco-clubs are hosting a 2-day leadership training. Free and lunch provided. Learn more and sign up here.

Nov 13 — Missoula’s WINTER Farmers Market starts in Southgate Mall. Saturdays 9am to 2pm. Until April 23. Also on Wednesdays 4:30- 7pm until Dec 22.

Nov 16. Weatherization and Energy Efficiency Workshop. 4 - 5:30pm at the UM FLAT, 633 S 5th St East. Learn weatherization strategies to reduce energy use and how weatherization, energy efficiency, and home electrification go hand in hand to address climate and health. Free window-weatherization kits available, first-come, first-served.

Nov 17. From Missoula to COP26 and Back: A (Virtual) Panel Discussion. 7pm. What was it like to be at COP26? How did it go, and what comes next? Join Climate Smart Missoula and Missoula-based COP 26 attendees for this panel discussion. Link to join via Zoom at MissoulaClimate.org.

Materials donations to Home Resource keep the wheels of reuse spinning in our community; and remember that everything you need to know about what to do with your unwanted stuff is at www.zerobyfiftymissoula.com.

Find more local activities and events at Missoulaevents.net and on Montana Environmental Information Center’s Conservation Calendar. And you too can help organize events – here’s the 2021 Calendar of Environmental Awareness Days – month by month breakdown of world day campaigns.