Richard Downs: “Change Happens from the Bottom-Up”

GRANVILLE, Ohio – Richard Downs, 40-year advocate for sustainability, firmly believes change does not happen from the top-down, but rather the bottom-up. A natural gift Richard has is to educate people on the environmental crisis our planet is facing due to the use of fossil fuels. As a result of this passion, he has built a strong base of environmental activists on a local level.

When asked why we should care about supporting renewable energy and sustainable initiatives, he argues that “our planet is at stake.” He wants his grandchildren to be able to appreciate the beauty of the natural environment and the benefits it provides and Richard believes that environmental degradation is preventable. 

Early Start to Sustainability

His mission to create a sustainable future took off during his college career at Denison University. In the 1970’s, the university did not offer an environmental science major. However, this hurdle did not slow him down as he became one of the key advocates for creating an environmental major on campus.

During his time at Denison, Robert Alrutz was an impactful mentor who promoted an innovative atmosphere of futuristic ideation of environmental stewardship. Richard joined with other passionate individuals to create the Homestead near Denison’s campus in 1977, a residential enclave that operated completely off the grid until 2013. The Homestead is still used today to support ecologically sustainable projects, lifestyles and educational events.

After graduating from college, Richard knew he wanted to continue helping the world be more environmentally conscious and decided to pursue making buildings more energy efficient. His main interest has been “improving the interaction of infrastructure and the environment”. He decided to start his own business from the ground up. He focused on designing and constructing single-family housing that used environmental consideration such as sunlight, tree positioning, and wind direction to its full advantage as well as using material and techniques in new ways to promote sustainable infrastructure.

Local Involvement and Investment

In 2008 Richard devoted himself to the possibility of photovoltaic electricity and with local activists started the Licking County Solar Cooperative to vet and develop local solar use. A highlight was the funding an installation of a 12kW PV system at the YES Club, a 30-year organization supporting children within the community.

Additionally, Richard taught NABCEP PV classes at Licking County’s Career and Technology Center (CTEC) to help educate and train youth, and provide a local base for the potential green energy economy.

Why Solar?

Richard supports solar energy because it promotes environmental sustainability and social justice. He recognizes how “the sun shines on everybody, regardless of who they are, what their income is or what they look like.” In order to make progress, “we must invest in renewables and create a green economy.”

Richard has seen great changes in solar PV over the years, cell efficiency increases from 8% to 20%, cost declines of up to 70%, safety and quality control advances.

Furthermore, technology is available to track data from solar panels, which makes it convenient for the consumer to see exactly how much electricity each panel is providing.

Remaining challenges include a true valuing of the environmental benefit of renewables above and beyond the electrons, continued technological improvement and lowering of cost and acknowledgement if not support of policy makers.

Looking Forward to a Bright Future

Staying true to his belief in the forward progress of solar power, an event Richard is looking forward to attending is the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP) continuing education conference.
A veteran of these conferences, he has been delighted to see the recent increased diversity among attendees. He is thrilled that people of all ages, genders and races are coming together to combat the impacts of climate change and invest in renewables.

He hopes to continue working with organizations like Green Energy Ohio that expand renewable energy progress past the local level. He advises individuals to use the internet to their advantage. Information, case studies and political updates are available online to better understand the renewable energy market.

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With an extensive list of accomplishments, Richard looks to continue his positive impacts throughout the community. It’s obvious what one passionate individual can accomplish and how their work can promote local activism to benefit environmental conditions for current and future generations.

Richard lives in Licking County and currently operates Corona Photovoltaics LLC, a small solar company specializing in residential and small business use of photovoltaics.

By Allison DePage