November 30, 2011

Eden Mills really is going carbon neutral

As published in The Erin Advocate

In the global effort to reduce carbon emissions, it is important to look for ways to take action locally. Perhaps Erin could borrow a few ideas from Eden Mills, a village of 163 homes on the Eramosa River near Rockwood, where they have made much progress in making their community carbon neutral.

It started with the Millpond Conservation Association, which for more than 20 years has managed their local historic millpond property as a public conservation area.

They have done dam upgrades, dredged the pond bottom, strengthened the shorelines, maintained a beach, preserved wetlands through a stewardship agreement with landowners, promoted environmental education and paid for insurance so the public can use the area for things like swimming, canoeing and skating.

It is difficult to imagine such a thing in Erin, where most of our shorelines are not readily accessible to the public. That, however, is not today's topic.

In 2007, Eden Mills Going Carbon Neutral was a new project for the Millpond group, with the goal of becoming the first carbon neutral village in North America. It is an example of grass-roots action – not waiting for governments to take the lead.

Linda Sword spoke on behalf of the Eden Mills project at the recent "Making Erin Greener Than Our Shamrock" event, co-sponsored by the Environmental Advisory Group of Erin and the Climate Change Action Group of Erin.

"I am excited to meet another community working together to make change," she said. "Going carbon neutral means emitting no more carbon dioxide than we absorb, and that means both reducing our use of fossil fuels and increasing our absorption of CO2."

Of course, it is not possible to completely avoid emitting carbon, especially in our oil-driven economy. But Eden Mills has shrunk its overall carbon footprint by 12 per cent in three years, half by capturing more carbon with thousands of newly-planted trees, with help from the Wellington Green Legacy Program. The other half is from conservation and increased use of green energy sources. The project was praised at the annual international symposium of the Canadian Institute of Planners last year, as a model for others to follow.

"We can see the results of one person’s change rubbing off on another," said Sword. "While one neighbour replaces appliances, the next stops using the clothes dryer, choosing air drying. While one neighbour buys food at the local organic farm, two other families join up to manage a vegetable garden in their backyards and share the produce. The examples are many, and the financial savings are often significant."

The process relies on getting good technical advice, to estimate how much carbon is stored locally and how much more can be captured through tree planting. The local carbon footprint (emissions from households, businesses and travel), is estimated using household surveys (done every two years).

Fourth year students from the University of Guelph Environmental Studies program helped calculate the baseline carbon sequestration rate, while graduate students from the School of Forestry studied the relative sequestration rates of young trees. Students continue to help with the design and analysis of the surveys. About half of the households provide full information, which remains confidential, since the students provide direct feedback to the residents, but only totals and analysis to the organization.

The baseline was an annual emissions footprint of 4,621 tonnes of carbon, with lack of public transportation being a key factor. That's been reduced by six per cent. The baseline of sequestration was 2,608 tonnes – emissions already being neutralized every year by trees and vegetation. That has been increased by six per cent.

To achieve the carbon neutral balance, they started with a goal of neutralizing just over 2,000 tonnes, and now have 1,367 to go.

Sword is the author of a handbook called So You Want to Go Carbon Neutral? It takes a Village, one of several resources available through the Education section of the group's website, They offer DVD-based workshops and host guest speakers.

Eden Mills resident Richard Lay, a professional engineer with Enermodal (Canada's largest green building consulting firm), has been a key player in the village's environmental progress. He founded the Millpond Conservation Association, volunteered professional advice for Going Carbon Neutral and did a full energy audit of the Community Hall.

Last month he was awarded the 2011 Engineering Medal of Achievement for the University of Guelph. A few weeks later, he accepted the Tree of Life award on behalf of his firm, from the association of Canadian Consulting Engineering Companies.

Last week, the Millpond association and the Eden Mills Community and District Club announced that they have been awarded a Trillium Foundation grant of $120,000, and a $50,000 incentive loan from the Wellington-Waterloo Community Futures Development Corporation. It will help pay for reductions in the carbon footprint of their community hall, installation of solar panels and improved accessibility.