Thurman Brendlinger, Clean Energy Champion
By Matt Chevalier
For 35 years, the Arbor Day Foundation has named Swarthmore a “Tree City USA.” Equal to that ongoing green achievement has been Swarthmore’s commitment to renewable energy. In 2013, it ranked fifth in the nation in the Environmental Protection Agency’s Green Power Communities Challenge, with about 34% of its energy usage coming from renewable sources.
One of the people working behind the scenes to promote green energy in Swarthmore is Thurman Brendlinger, a resident of Princeton Avenue since 1990.
With a B.S. in biology from Allegheny College and an M.B.A. from the University of Pittsburgh, Brendlinger has worked for the Pennsylvania Clean Air Council (CAC) since 2001. Soon after joining the staff, he became heavily involved in the Pennsylvania Wind Campaign, an effort to promote wind energy in Pennsylvania.
“The Clean Air Council was involved in the pilot project as a nonprofit, promoting energy from wind farms to businesses in Philadelphia,” Brendlinger said. “We would do presentations at houses of worship and business associations, and table at different conventions and conferences.” Brendlinger’s primary focus was educating the public.
“It was evident that Swarthmoreans embraced the concept of leading by voluntarily purchasing renewable energy. It was more expensive, I think it is still more expensive, but they recognized it was an investment in our energy future,” Brendlinger said. “Folks at PECO were just astounded by the participation of Swarthmoreans.”
“Thurm had the passion to do it because it was the right thing to do,” said Billings. “It was one hundred percent him. You really rely on people like Thurm to help you do the right thing.”
Four years later, the EPA followed the CAC’s challenge with its own Green Power Partnership Program, a similar program but national in scope.
As a board member of aFewSteps, the environmental group serving Nether Providence, Rose Valley, Rutledge, and Swarthmore, Brendlinger has found other ways to promote renewable energy. When PECO stopped offering the option of wind power in 2012, he narrowed down the field of renewable energy suppliers and made it easy for consumers to choose from three companies that have had an impact in Pennsylvania.
Brendlinger is a founding member of the Swarthmore Recycling Committee, and is currently on the Swarthmore Environmental Advisory Council (EAC), where he is an active participant at both regular EAC meetings and volunteer days at Little Crum Creek. "Little Crum Creek work days are like mucking stalls in a horse barn," says EAC chairman Sue Kelly. "But Thurm is always willing. Even when he has another commitment that day, he'll come early to get his time in, then leave his tools behind for others to use."
“Everyone can do their bit for the environment by just taking some simple steps. If we all contribute, that cumulative effect would be huge,” said Brendlinger. “My personal inspiration is my wife Lisa and our three kids. We have a mirror in our house that says, ‘Do the right thing every doggone day,’ and we abide by that.”
Matt Chevalier just completed a summer internship with aFewSteps. He is a junior at Temple University majoring in English and a member of Students for Environmental Action and Temple Area Feminist Collective.