Amidst all the doom and gloom we are bombarded with in our daily lives, we could all use a dose of good news.
The good news to spread in our region is a really “cool” initiative that has been building steam in the Metro East since 2008. The Sierra Club’s Cool Cities Campaign has caught fire in many area municipalities, with Alton being an early adopter and the village of Godfrey the latest to sign on. Granite City, Edwardsville and Glen Carbon also have active, vibrant volunteer citizens committees working on positive energy efficiency and clean air initiatives.
The Cool Cities initiative began nationwide in 2005 as a vehicle for cities and towns to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in municipal operations. The campaign was originally focused on three categories of smart energy — green energy solutions, energy efficiency and renewable energy — but has evolved beyond these categories into a full-blown municipal sustainability movement.
The formal process begins with the city council or governing body adopting the Cool Cities Agreement, which strives to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 2 percent each year, and convening a Cool City Citizens Advisory Board. The next steps are to conduct a greenhouse gas inventory to set a benchmark to measure progress in emission reduction and formulate a climate action plan. The plan helps cities get started toward meeting their greenhouse gas emission reduction goals. All the communities in our region have been successful in recruiting students from Southern Illinois University Edwardsville or Lewis and Clark Community College to conduct the greenhouse gas inventory for credit toward their degrees so as not to use municipalities’ staff hours. When getting the initiative started, it is important to recognize the steps the city has already taken to lower emissions and save taxpayer dollars and propose easy first steps for the city to take to cut energy use and lower energy bills.
The committee may recommend increasing the average fuel economy of municipal fleet vehicles, launching anti-idling programs, adopting land-use policies that reduce sprawl, preserving open space and creating walkable communities by promoting transportation options such as bicycle trails, incentives for carpooling and public transit. The Cool Cities Citizens Advisory committee also focuses on making energy efficiency a priority through building code improvement, upgrading to efficient lighting and purchasing Energy Star appliances.
In the past eight years we have seen our region’s Cool Cities make great strides in reducing emissions and increasing energy efficiency. Some notable actions are Granite City upgrading its aging high-emitting municipal vehicle fleet to lower-emitting eco-friendly hybrid and EV vehicles and Glen Carbon’s adoption of a Complete Streets policy in which every transportation project will make the street network better and safer for drivers, transit users, pedestrians and bicyclists. The village of Godfrey is the midst of a very successful Solarize Godfrey initiative offering discounted solar energy installations to residents and business owners.
There is one last note on the good news front. The hidden value of the initiative that cannot be measured by a greenhouse gas inventory is the public engagement the initiative fosters. Not only does each community gain a force of volunteer advisers to do the research, write grants, and engage and educate on energy efficiency strategies, it frees up resources and staff in the municipality while also helping cut energy costs. A true win for all.
Anyone interested in more information on the Cool Cities Initiative in your community or getting started on a new initiative, please contact Virginia Woulfe-Beile at email@example.com or call (618) 462-6802.
Virginia Woulfe-Beile is the Three Rivers Project coordinator with the Piasa Palisades chapter of the Sierra Club.