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Standing in the center of a sprawling lawn in Oelwein, Iowa -- flanked by a white Victorian gazebo and blooming flower beds -- oak, elm, and crab-apple trees are rustled by a light breeze. They’ve stood here for centuries, naturally irrigated by the scores of rivers and tributaries that meander through the heartland as they make their way to their emptying point: the aptly named Father of Waters, to the east. The area has changed over time -- from here all the way to the rolling waters of the Mississippi River in Dubuque, a hamlet of equal beauty and Twainian charm. But here, change has not come at the breakneck pace it has to a lot of the country. So standing on this windswept lawn at Chrysler Park in Oelwein, and then standing on the banks of the Mississippi River later this spring day in Dubuque, conjures the spirit of a bygone era and of a determined ancestry traversing these undulating prairies and untrammeled landscapes. The senses are heightened, and when the wind catches the grass just right, the ensuing aroma can be described only as green. It is spring in Iowa, to be sure.

Springtime and the cerebral, literary rebirth is a fine time to reassess where we are as a civilization. Earth Day, on April 22, is the international bugle call to start treating the environment better, and certain sectors of society are already in the process of tailoring their commerce and plying their trade with shades of green in mind.

In this issue, our UpFront section expounds on those who are thinking of the green on earth before the green in wallets. The subjects run the gamut and include helping your pet reduce his carbon pawprint, 10-plus ways companies can improve their conservation efforts, all-natural spas and beauty products perfect for your skin (and for pampering Mom this Mother’s Day), and a guide to sustainable shopping.

As demonstrable evidence that we practice what we preach, American Airlines is rolling out some trailblazing initiatives over the next few years that will make us the industry leader when it comes to reducing carbon emissions.

This month, AA will begin replacing our aging fleet of MD80 aircraft with new 737s, which are 35 percent more fuel efficient. We also have an order placed for 42 of the composite-hulled 787s, and an option for 58 more. These planes will be used for long-haul flights and will further reduce our carbon footprint. Our Fuel Smart program reduces fuel consumption by 111 million gallons annually. And those flipper-looking things on the wings? Those are our winglets, which reduce the fuel burn by up to five percent. In the Fort Worth headquarters of AA, we’re working on reducing electricity usage by increasing the office temperature over the summer, lowering it in the winter, and retrofitting our lights with energy-efficient bulbs.

Back in Dubuque, as barge traffic makes its way down the mighty Mississippi, destined for all points south, the town is ginning up support and mobilizing for Earth Day 2009. All sorts of community-oriented activities are planned, as is the custom in these parts, but Dubuque’s commitment to environmental harmony doesn’t end on April 22.

In 2006, Dubuque implemented a sustainability project that promotes social and cultural vibrancy, and the master plan is anchored by environmental and ecological initiatives. Dubuque is cutting-edge in this regard, even though the landscapes in historic downtown, along the waterfront, and in not-so-distant Oelwein remain as they did at the beaver-trapping-and-fur-trading turn of the century. That’s why every breath here is of clean country air.

It is spring in Iowa, to be sure.

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Adam Pitluk