What’s “faster than compost … more powerful than an LED light bulb” and able to teach residents and schoolchildren about recycling, lawn watering and native gardens?
It’s Sustainability Man, of course!
Sustainability Man is the city of Burnsville’s superhero, video star and alter-alter-ego of communications coordinator Marty Doll.
The character came into being a couple of years after the Burnsville City Council approved a sustainability plan in 2009.
“We do have a sustainability webpage, but sometimes if you take certain issues like greenhouse gas emissions or other kinds of issues, it’s hard to explain that or when it does get explained it’s not very engaging,” said Sue Bast, the city’s sustainability coordinator.
Cue campy sound effects and an even campier costume, enlist Doll, 32, a broadcast journalism major in college, and Sustainabililty Man was born.
“I’m always the guy who gets to make a fool of himself, so I volunteered,” Doll said with a laugh.
Sustainability Man has starred in 12 videos so far; the 13th is being edited and should be online in about two weeks. All are on YouTube and Burnsville’s cable TV channel. Each starts with the back story:
“After being scratched by radioactive buckthorn, bitten by a radioactive emerald ash borer and periodically slipping and falling into radioactive recycling bins, mild-mannered Johnny Burnsville was transformed into Sustainability Man.”
Johnny Burnsville wears horn-rimmed glasses, a plaid shirt and pants pulled up way too high. The superhero emerges in a Green Lantern Halloween costume with a customized logo, tall black boots and a black mask.
The videos, all about five minutes long, are shot on location and involve an interview with, say, an expert on recycling hazardous household waste or composting, a man who has planted a native garden or a family that composts.
The first video, “What is Sustainability,” talked about recycling. Other topics have included lawn watering, controlled burns, LED streetlights, community gardens and other green projects.
In episode 11, for example, “Winter Sustainabilty Tips,” Sustainability Man interviews natural resources technician Liz Forbes. They discuss people using salt on their driveways in the winter.
“But they may not think about the environmental impact of that salt,” Sustainability Man says. “Could you please explain?”
“Well, when rain or snow melt off your driveway, they carry with it salt and any other pollutants that are on your driveway right into a nearby storm drain,” Forbes tells the superhero. “And the storm drain carries this dirty water right into your neighborhood pond. It only takes 1 teaspoon of salt to pollute 5 gallons of water.”
Forbes says it only takes a pound of salt — about a mugful — to cover 250 square feet and reminds people to sweep up the salt after the ice melts.
Fun and educational
Doll said the videos have had great response from city staff and from the community. Teachers from as far away as Cincinnati have asked how they can subscribe to the videos to use in their classrooms.
“I’ve had requests to come to schools as Sustainability Man,” Doll said. Last year, he appeared at the Dakota County Fair at the county’s recycling booth.
Doll and Burnsville Community TV make at least four videos a year. Upcoming topics include the storm drain stenciling program and winter road treatments.
The videos only take about an hour to shoot, Doll said, but longer to edit because of the clip art, animation and sound effects.
Doll said he tries not to get too bogged down in details but to make the videos fun and engaging as well as educational.
Bast said Doll has more characters than Sustainability Man up his sleeve. He played a 1940s-era detective in a video he made for her, she said, when she was trying to get staff members to turn off their computers and other energy-sucking devices at the end of the day.
“He always brings a sense of humor and fun to what he does,” she said.