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This article is the first in a three-part series that details steps individuals and businesses can take to reduce their carbon footprint and help Evanston achieve its greenhouse gas emissions-reduction goals.

Cut Emissions 13 percent by 2012

In 2006, Evanston joined hundreds of other cities across the country in signing the U.S. Mayors Climate Protection Agreement. This action committed the City to take steps to reduce Evanston’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 7 percent below 1990 levels by the year 2012 – the target set by the Kyoto Protocol for developed countries like the United States. Based on an inventory of Evanston’s 2005 emissions, this translates into a 13 percent reduction by 2012 to meet the Kyoto goal.

The Evanston Climate Action Plan, developed by a team of City staff and community volunteers, provides a blueprint for achieving this goal. It envisions residents, businesses, agencies and institutions – as well as the City itself – all playing a role in helping to reduce Evanston’s collective carbon footprint.

Citizens for a Greener Evanston (CGE) – a group of Evanstonians now working to implement the action plan – is promoting a 13-step program that community members can follow to cut their emissions and help Evanston meet its 13 percent reduction target.

1. Calculate Your Carbon Footprint.

Everyday activities – turning on lights, shopping for groceries, commuting to work – generate carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases. Calculating the emissions associated with their daily activities can help people decide which parts of their lifestyle to start changing.

CGE encourages Evanstonians to measure their carbon footprint with Zerofootprint Evanston, which offers both a one-minute calculator (www.zerofootprint.net/one_minute/evanston) and a more comprehensive tool (www.zerofootprint.net/calculators/evanston). Users can see how their footprint compares to the U.S. average and to the average in dozens of other countries.

The calculator also suggests ways in which to reduce the emissions generated by each activity and details the emissions savings that each of these changes would produce.

2. Lighten Up and Power Off.

Using new lighting technologies is one of the fastest ways to cut energy bills and GHG emissions. Compact fluorescent lights (CFLs) use about 75 percent less electricity than incandescent bulbs and last up to 10 times longer. The initial purchase price is higher, but a CFL will save about $30 in electricity costs over its lifetime. It also produces 75 percent less heat than a conventional bulb, which will help cut home cooling costs.

Note: CLFs contain a very small amount of mercury. The mercury is safe while the bulb is intact or in use, and even if the CFL should break, it poses little risk. But proper disposal is a must. Recycle used CFLs at the Evanston Department of Health and Human Services (2100 Ridge), Evanston Ecology Center (2024 McCormick) Home Depot, or Lemoi’s Hardware.

Appliance choices provide another opportunity to improve a home’s energy efficiency. Every appliance has two price tags – the purchase price and the operating cost. ENERGY STAR-labeled products use 10 to 50 percent less energy and water than standard models. The money saved on utility bills can more than offset the cost of a more expensive but more efficient model. Using the energy-saving settings on dishwashers and washing machines will reduce operating costs still further.

Home electronics account for a growing portion of the home energy budget. Selecting ENERGY STAR-labeled office equipment and electronics is one way to achieve significant savings. Turning these machines off when they are not in use will save still more. Even when switched off, however, many of these devices continue to use energy to power such features as digital displays, remote controls, adapters and battery chargers. These energy “vampires” can be defeated by unplugging the equipment or by using a power strip that can be switched completely off when the appliances are not in use.

3. Manage Your Thermostat.

Heating and air conditioning account for roughly half of the energy used in the home. Energy-efficient temperature settings – 68ºF in winter, 78ºF in summer – can yield important savings. Adjusting the setting while asleep at night or away from home during the day will save still more. In winter, lowering the temperature 5ºF for eight hours at night will cut heating bills by 5-10 percent. In summer, keeping the house warmer than normal while everyone is away at work will reduce air conditioning costs by similar amounts.

A programmable thermostat makes it easy to manage these adjustments automatically. It can store and repeat multiple settings and return temperatures to normal as everyone wakes up or returns home.

In summer, keeping curtains on south-facing windows closed during the day will help prevent solar gain. Fans can help keep everyone comfortable. In winter, curtains should be opened to let the sun’s warmth in during the day and closed at night to reduce the chill from cold windows.