What Would Happen if Two Toronto Neighbourhoods went Carbon Neutral?

This article was originally posted on the Environmental Defence blog.

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Credit: MsAnthea

Most Canadians are worried about climate change, but many don’t know what they can do about it. It’s hard for people to see how their own actions can make much of a different to such a big problem.

But when you work together with your neighbours, big changes can happen.

Project Neutral is a charitable project helping neighbourhoods come together to tackle climate change. Block by block and household by household, people are actually putting a real dent in greenhouse gas emissions.

The project helps neighbourhoods work towards the goal of becoming Carbon Neutral. That’s neighbourhoods that don’t produce any greenhouse gas emissions. Zilch.

It’s an ambitious goal, but one that we think is achievable.  That’s because it turns out that some biggest opportunities to reduce emissions exist at the community level. Decisions about home energy use, access to transit, car sharing and active transportation are all made at the neighbourhood scale.

For example, more than twenty-five million Canadians live in existing urban neighbourhoods. Old buildings are not always the most energy efficient and can be a challenge to retrofit, but energy efficiency overhauls can make a big difference.

In Toronto alone, greenhouse gas emissions from residential buildings make up 25% of the city’s greenhouse gas emissions. In other Canadian cities it amounts to as much as 60% of the carbon footprint. Now imagine if we brought that down to 0% - what an impact!

Since 2011, Project Neutral has been working with two pilot neighbourhoods in Toronto – the Junction and Riverdale.

Project Neutral’s approach is all about the neighbourhood. We partner with community groups that are passionate about fighting climate change close to home. Then we help the local groups coordinate door to door canvasses, school contests, and public events that are carried out by our over 300 volunteers.

We hold an annual survey of household’s greenhouse gas emissions so that people can learn how much greenhouse gas they produce. In 2012, almost 400 households completed the survey.

Once they know what their Carbon Footprint is, they can start to plan what to do about it.

Households that complete the Project Neutral survey receive a customized report detailing their Carbon Footprint. It’s a first in Canada. It’s interactive, updateable, and can be linked directly to the household’s actual gas and electricity usage.

Our soon-to-be-launched ‘Getting to Zero’ web-based tool will help households take the next step. With their household Carbon Footprint Report in hand, the tool will be a smorgasbord of actions, behaviours and retrofit options to choose from.  It will help Project Neutral’s neighbourhoods create action plans to get to carbon neutral.

Neighbours can help each other make progress by working together, sharing ideas and tracking what works.

What would happen if two Toronto neighbourhoods went carbon neutral? We think it would change everything. Starting now.

Big things can happen when people work together with their neighbours to tackle climate change.

For more information about local climate change action, visit www.projectneutral.org.