Five Questions with Kris Mueller – Life Long Granite Stater, Former Building Supplier and Chair of the Merrimack County Democrats

I first met Kris when my family and I moved to NH in 2013, but my husband and she have been friends since college. When we arrived in NH, Kris was incredibly helpful with helping us get acclimated to this new land and was one of our go-to people for NH and and home-ownership related questions. Kris is also super knowledgeable and passionate about politics – a true public servant who works incredibly hard to ensure that democracy prevails. This interview has a little bit for everyone. Enjoy! – Rachel

1) You’re a life-long Granite stater. What are some of your favorite
things about living in NH?
You can’t help but get a little spoiled by all of the natural beauty around us here in NH.   One of my favorite things about living here is the close, easy access to water. There are ponds, lakes, rivers, and streams everywhere and the ocean is only a short drive away. Come autumn, it’s pretty hard to beat being in New Hampshire. There’s nothing like sitting around a firepit in the crisp fall air, snacking on freshly picked apples, with the foliage blooming in the background. 

2) As someone who’s lived in this state for several decades, how have
you seen it change – both positively and negatively.
I suppose I could come up with some complaints if I tried (something along the lines of it’s a shame that this old breakfast spot closed or that that ski area has gotten so expensive) but truly most of the changes I can think of have been very positive. New Hampshire will never be diverse enough for the foodie in me but, compared to when I was growing up, there are so many more varied options for dining & take out in the Concord area now. It’s staggering how far we’ve come on that front, really.

3) Please tell us about your zero-waste journey. What are your recent
wins and what are some changes that you struggle with making?
My first forays into environmental consciousness as a kid were supporting Greenpeace and EDF campaigns to protect whales and polar bears, that sort of thing. The depletion of the ozone layer was a looming threat and as an adolescent I took a strong stand against the use of chlorofluorocarbons. Now, mind you, what this actually consisted of was me bugging my parents not to buy aerosol or styrofoam products containing CFCs, and insisting that my McChicken sandwich come wrapped in paper instead of a typical styrofoam clamshell. I wasn’t a child eco-warrior by any stretch of the imagination, but I did take particular delight in holding up the drive-through until the McDonald’s staff got approval from whomever to serve it that way. Did I mention my parents could be saint-like at times?

As a teenager, I volunteered on Gloria La Riva’s mayoral campaign in San Francisco. One of her opponents made an offhand reference at an event to himself and Gloria being the only candidates in the race with an environmental platform.  Over the next few days she and I scrambled to put one together for her. There was one item that she wanted to include that really surprised me – she called for the phasing out of single-use plastic. This was in the early nineties, years before plastic packaging came into its own as a ubiquitous presence in consumer goods. Gloria was pretty amazing.

I was lucky enough to live in some beach communities in my twenties. I always made it a habit to pick up and dispose of all of the trash I found walking to and from water. The older I got, the more plastic I would find at the beach. About fifteen years ago, in addition to recycling and reusing, I started to really make a point of choosing products with non-plastic packaging whenever possible. That has become harder and harder to do as time went on. At some point along the way, I became discouraged. It seemed like the more recycling caught on, the more consumer goods came packaged in plastic. The more plastic waste we generate, the more the markets for recycled plastic seemed to shrink. 

So where am I in my zero-waste journey these days? I still recycle and reuse but it honestly feels a little futile. American that I am, I feel a bit more empowered by choosing how and when to spend my money. I think that it is important, whenever possible, to support companies which follow trends we’d like to see become the norm. With that in mind, I like to support companies that offer single-use bamboo and bioplastic products or packaging. Products like that are often not zero-waste but if it gets into the ocean or our lakes, streams, or water supply, it isn’t the end of the world. 

4) As someone who worked in the housing industry, have you seen home
construction change in the past few years? Are people thinking more
about sustainability in terms of materials and living situations?
There is definitely this dialectical tension in the construction industry right now between the LEED driven push towards green building and manufacturing techniques that aren’t typically all that friendly to the environment. Luckily enough though, sustainability and energy-efficient design often go hand-in-hand with savings for the consumer and that pushes demand. It will be a while before environmentally driven construction really takes hold but the trend is definitely towards consciousness in design right now. 

I would love to see more variety in the style of living situations typically available in the housing market, but sometimes established building codes really curtail creativity and innovation. That’s happening right now in the Tiny House movement. Smaller residences, be they tiny houses or the more urban cooperative-style mini-apartment developments, run headlong into building codes that were established to curtail tenements back in the day. I’d like to think that building codes will catch up but honestly it’s probably going to be a long process. The more local approvals we can get for things like accessory dwellings, the more flexibility people will have to live in more minimalist ways. 

5) You’re also the Chair of the Merrimack County Democrats. What is
the role of politics in helping to mitigate climate change. Do you
think the Democrats are doing enough? What else would you like to see?

The United States is rejoining the Paris accords. There is so much to do but that was a nice first step to see. I’m looking forward to seeing more sensible steps taken by our Democratic Party leaders in Washington over the next few years. The American business community is responsive, agile, and resourceful enough to be able to successfully pivot to a more environmentally friendly way of doing things; they just need to be properly incentivized. I firmly believe the Democrats are the Party to make that happen.

In my heart of hearts, I’d love to see market forces make the sale of products in plastic become economically nonviable but, until we get there, I’ll take any progress forward I can get!

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