Sustainable Fairfield County: “Reducing. Reusing. Recycling.”: Fairfield County Natural Awakenings October 2011 editionSep 30, 2011 12:48PM ● By Nancy Cohen
"The most remarkable feature of this historical moment on Earth is not that we are on the way to destroying the world - we've actually been on the way for quite a while. It is that we are beginning to wake up, as from a millennia-long sleep, to a whole new relationship to our world, to ourselves and each other." ~ Joanna Macy
The recent hurricane Irene prompted discussion among some about how disaster mitigation tools can be more sustainable. For example, hundreds of thousands of us who lost electricity might have had little or no disruption if we’d had technology such as solar energy panels to keep businesses running and food fresh, take showers, cook, or use computers and tv. Sustainability is one word with a plethora of definitions (an online search produced millions of results) and simply starting a discussion about its meaning can quickly become overwhelming. It involves fulfilling present and future needs without depleting or damaging natural resources, even renewing them when possible. Sustainability does not always cost more or involve sacrifice or huge changes. Rather, it means we consider our production and consumption, how our actions impact the environment, and find ways to mitigate negative effects. Acts of sustainability work to ensure the healthy survival of a community through such efforts as energy efficiency, environmental education/action, waste reduction/recycling, toxic emission reductions, “green” building, sourcing food locally, and more. Regardless of our perspectives on “going green,” our actions impact the environment and vice versa.
Many people in Fairfield County are working to make sustainability more mainstream and achievable for everyone. People from all walks of life are joining together and, as the Native American concept suggests, considering the next seven generations when making decisions for today. Implementing even small changes can have an impact on protecting our natural resources and world. Simple actions such as recycling, avoiding chemicals on lawns/gardens, carrying reusable grocery bags, turning off lights when leaving a room, cleaning with non-toxic products, using public transportation, biking or walking can each make a difference in the health of the environment.
Building sustainable communities ranges from grassroots efforts of one citizen to collaborations with government officials and community groups who care about the issues and can implement policies. All of us are impacted by the choices each individual makes regarding our resources. What are some ways to act locally?
Myriad organizations have opportunities for the public to have fun engaging in environmentally sound practices. A local beekeepers association (BackyardBeekeepers.com) educates about, and insures the survival of, bees whose benefits include crop pollination and hive yields used for health products. UCONN’s Master Gardener Program (Ladybug.uconn.edu) offers horticulture training and community outreach classes at Bartlett Arboretum (BartlettArboretum.org). Connecticut’s Garden Trail shares information about landscaping and gardens (CtGardenTrail.com). Organizations such as the Audubon Society (Greenwich.Audubon.org, Ct.Audubon.org/Chapters.html), Sierra Club (Connecticut.SierraClub.org), and Nature Conservancy (Nature.org), have local chapters focused on protecting the environment in this region. The Green Drinks movement (Greendrinks.org) has spread to most towns in Fairfield County and offers an array of social events connecting those who care about planetary well-being. Agencies like Soundkeeper, based in Norwalk (SoundKeeper.org) and Sound Vision (lisoundvision.org), work to protect and restore Long Island Sound. The Connecticut League of Conservation Voters (ctlcv.org) is a bipartisan, statewide, nonprofit organization that works with environmental advocacy groups to promote bills affecting our air, water, wildlife, open space, and health. GreenTowns.com, a network that offers a central location for profiles of, and links to, green information and businesses, invites citizens and businesses to join – at no cost. Features include an earth talk column and blogs celebrating community members and actions that are making a difference.
Events enable community connection and offer enjoyable forums for information-sharing about all things sustainable. Annual events include Norwalk’s Live Green Connecticut Festival (LiveGreenCt.com), a two-day event “where green meets mainstream” with information about all aspects of sustainable living, and April Earth Day events in most towns dedicated to educating and inspiring citizens about eco-friendly living. Among autumn’s events are:
The Annual Hawk Watch and Green Bazaar at Greenwich Audubon (Greenwich.Audubon.org) held this year on October 1-2.
October Ridgefield events (RaceForTheEarth.com) include a Farm to Table Cooking Class, Harvest Festival, and Long Island Sound Citizens' Summit.
Green Market Exposition (GreenMarketExposition.org) celebrates sustainable living practices and Bridgeport's emerging green economy on October 20.
The Wilton Library’s free Home Energy Savings Workshop on Wednesday October 26 from 7 to 9 p.m. (WiltonGoGreen.org/eventsprograms). Discover benefits of home energy efficiency, how to improve comfort and save money (registration required).
Fairfield County Green Faire (TheGreenFaire.com) is scheduled for Thursday, November 17 at Stamford Marriott Hotel and Spa and includes the Town Green section where residents are invited to share their personal green projects.
“Buying local” has become more than just an idea or catch phrase. Purchasing locally-grown food/flora: supports local farmers; reduces costs and environmental stressors that can occur with transport, processing and packaging; and offers fresh food. The Connecticut Department of Agriculture’s (ct.gov/doag) list of Certified Connecticut Farmers’ Markets includes almost every town in Fairfield County. According to the Northeast Organic Farming Association’s Connecticut chapter (CT NOFA: ctnofa.org), towns with community supported agriculture (CSA) programs offering shares in a farm’s seasonal crops include Easton, Ridgefield, Westport, and West Redding. Local Harvest (LocalHarvest.org) and The Fairfield Green Food Guide (FairfieldGreenFoodGuide.com) inform about local resources. Two Angry Moms (AngryMoms.org), co-founded by Connecticut resident Amy Kalafa, is a national movement advocating for healthier school foods.
Single stream recycling is available in multiple communities. This state-of-the-art system simplifies the recycling process by removing the need for you to sort or bundle items. Paper, plastic containers, cans and glass bottles are mixed together in one bin. This process helps save natural resources, keeps more material out of the waste stream – less litter in landfills, and by using automated trucks reduces collection costs and employee injuries. Solid waste is often the single largest item in a public works budget. Reducing garbage through recycling incurs significant financial savings annually (on tens of thousands of tons of garbage). To find out about recycling efforts in your town, check with individual municipalities (public works pages), or visit Connecticut Resources Recovery Authority (crra.org).
The building industry recognizes the value of including more sustainable materials and practices to reduce negative environmental impacts and create more eco-friendly living and working spaces. The U.S. Green Building Council’s Connecticut chapter (ctgbc.org) educates policy makers, construction industry, building owners, and the financial community about the benefits of “green” buildings. It works with the U.S. Green Building Council to hold LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) training in Connecticut. The Center for Green Building (MeasureForMeasureHome.com), sells environmentally responsible products for safe, sustainable homes. Fairfield County ReStore (FairfieldCountyReStore.org) accepts donations of building supplies, furniture and appliances to benefit Habitat for Humanity.
Many programs offer clean energy options and incentives for individuals and municipalities to unite in efforts toward greater sustainability. Clean energy alternatives (e.g.: wind, sun, water, waste-to-energy conversion, biomass conversion, fuel cells) can add jobs, reduce toxic emissions, diminish fossil fuel dependence and enable communities to support environmental (and, therefore, personal and communal) health.
CTCleanEnergyOptions (CtCleanEnergyOptions.com ) is a Department of Public Utilities Control approved program that allows CL&P or UI customers an opportunity to support clean energy made from approved renewable resources. Enrolled customers continue to receive electric delivery from their utility and pay a clean energy surcharge (a few dollars per month, depending on kilowatts (kW) used). Additionally, towns participating in Connecticut Clean Energy Fund’s (CCEF: CtCleanEnergy.com) Connecticut Clean Energy Communities Program can support clean renewable energy and simultaneously earn free clean energy systems for the town. (The Clean Energy fund is now part of the newly created Clean Energy Finance and Investment Authority.) Each household sign-up counts as one point. Points are pooled so towns can qualify for a free clean energy system on one or more of its buildings (solar photovoltaic, wind, or solar thermal) from CCEF, who purchases and installs the new system. The clean energy being produced is delivered to the electric system, thereby displacing an equal amount of electricity that would have been generated from traditional sources, such as nuclear energy, coal, or oil. The more people purchase, the greater percent of clean energy everyone gets.
CCEF’s Community Innovation Grants Program (CtCleanEnergy.com) enables local energy task forces to provide micro grants up to $2000 to organizations and citizens motivated to start local projects that support clean energy awareness and education within their communities.
The Connecticut Energy Efficiency Fund (CEEF: CtEnergyInfo.com) backs programs that provide education and financial incentives to residents and businesses to help reduce energy consumption. One program offers a Home Energy Solutions (HES) assessment. For a fee (approximately $75-150), a contractor authorized by your utility company visits your home to offer a variety of energy efficiency measures, resulting in a healthier environment and financial savings for residents. They can make on-the-spot improvements, including caulking and sealing of critical air leaks and provide money-saving rebates on appliances, heating and cooling systems and more. Additionally, an income-eligible program (HES-IE–check with utility companies regarding eligibility) offers the same assessment free of charge. In addition to the HES weatherization services, HES-IE households may qualify for insulation and energy-efficient appliances, including Energy Star® refrigerators.
The Connecticut Neighbor to Neighbor Energy Challenge (CtEnergyChallenge.com) is a nonprofit community savings program engaging residents in fourteen towns to reduce their home’s energy use by 20% (by 2013). Fairfield County participants are Ridgefield, Weston, Westport and Wilton. Residents who sign up can take actions to make their household more energy efficient, while also earning points that can be redeemed for community rewards, such as an electric police car or a solar trash compactor. In addition to workshop opportunities monthly newsletter, energy tips, and an HES assessment ($75), they can also sign up for a lighting retrofit with up to 20 compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs) provided and installed free of charge.
The advancement of energy deregulation has enabled increased competition. Among the newer national retail energy suppliers is North American Power (napower.com). The company’s four-step program “Save. Give. Share. Earn.” aims to: help consumers save the environment through smarter energy choices (customers may choose a 25% or 100% clean energy option); give to nonprofits through its Mission to Millions campaign in which North American Power donates $1 per customer per month to a featured charity of the customer’s choice; encourage social networking about the company’s clean energy options; and promote economic wellbeing by offering compensation for each referral and each referral’s referrals. The company has evolved into a cause-based social network marketing company that strives to “do well by doing good.”
SUSTAINABLE FAIRFIELD COUNTY: LOCAL PROGRESS
Fairfield County towns are actively involved in sustainability efforts, with government and local citizens collaborating to ensure a safe and thriving Connecticut. Here are a few good examples:
Bridgeport has a history as a bustling center of manufacturing and industry, famed for its milling and sewing machines, carriages, and ammunition. Despite environmental challenges from factory closures, such as contaminated warehouses, it remains a city with a strong entrepreneurial spirit intent on revitalizing in ways that serve as a model of sustainability. Bridgeport offers public education about “going green,” and a city-wide sustainability plan, the comprehensive program B Green 2020 (BGreenBridgeport.org). This plan supports energy efficiency and production, green jobs training, open space use and maintenance planning, expanding recycling, ensuring access to safe, clean drinking water and healthy coastal resources, encouraging public transit and places for bicycling and walking. It aims to create jobs, save taxpayers and their government money, reduce wasteful carbon emissions and more. Plan results already include: Bridgeport's Derektor Shipyards release of the world's first hydrogen fuel cell hybrid ferry, plans for a mattress recycling factory; a “Greening the OR” collaborative sustainability project among Bridgeport hospitals; installation of edible gardens in Bridgeport schools (30 anticipated by 2012). In addition to single stream recycling, the city has expanded the Recyclebank program which rewards points (redeemable for items like groceries and apparel) to households that recycle responsibly. Bridgeport recently received a grant from the state’s Department of Energy and Environmental Protection funding an Urban Tree Canopy study examining tree health and their benefits to the city’s environment. Businesses like Epernay Bistro (EpernayBistro.com) support sustainability through their use of locally grown food. Bridgeport Community Land Trust works to preserve open space for land conservation, environmental protection and community gardening.
Darien’s notable efforts include the local library, a “green” building, which received LEED Gold certification indicating the project is environmentally responsible, profitable, and a healthy place to live and work. Features include a geothermal system for heating and cooling, a bioswale system (incorporating vegetative elements) which captures storm-water runoff, and low VOC (Volatile Organic Compound) construction materials. Darien Environmental Group (DarienEnvironmentalGroup.org) involves residents who meet monthly to review existing environmental programs and brainstorm new projects and educational initiatives.
Between Fairfield residents signing up for CCEF’s clean energy program and resident Sharon Pistilli’s community innovation grant (with which she purchased Compact fluorescent lightbulbs (CFLs) to give to anyone who signed up for clean energy), Fairfield earned enough photovoltaic panels to place on the town’s middle schools. In an arrangement with Community Energy (one of two companies supplying renewable energy through CCEF’s program), the town’s clean energy task force gets a rebate for every sign-up. The town’s public works department is focused on conservation energy management and takes a holistic approach suggesting an action should be better for the environment, involve good engineering and sound technology, save taxpayers money, be better for public health and clean air/water, and make the person selling the technology a profit. It upgraded the sewage plant “HVAC” system, added new boilers and micro turbines which reduce pollutants and gas emissions, composts instead of burning or burying waste treatment (one use: fertilizer for local ball fields), recycles wood chips and uses waste heat to help heat the building. The sewage treatment plant has photovoltaic panels on the roof. A town biofuel directive ensures all emissions from the plant are piped to a biofilter wood chips system which eats pollution. Carbon and nitrates are absorbed into wood chips. Non-recycled garbage is burned at a plant in Bridgeport and used to generate electricity. Yard waste is recycled into reusable products such as wood chips, soil amendments, fertilizer, and mulch and sold locally. Fairfield has its own natural gas fueling stations and vehicles, and two electric vehicle (EV) charging stations (Sherman Green and the train station). The town received an EPA grant to outfit school buses with filters to process diesel emission. Taking out sulfur and particulate matter helps diminish respiratory illnesses of children and others exposed to emissions. Sustainable Fairfield (Groups.Google.com/Group/Sustainable-Fairfield) facilitates communication regarding green initiatives and events among Fairfield's various environmental groups and residents. Fairfield Clean Energy Task Force promotes clean energy sign-ups and works with the town to meet clean energy goals. Fairfield Bike Walk Coalition promotes a bike and pedestrian-friendly city. There is a Fairfield Organic Teaching Farm (FairfieldOrganicTeachingFarm.org). The annual Fairfield Earth Day Celebration is one of the largest among Earth Day events in the county. The town’s Forestry Committee (Fairfieldct.org/forestry.htm) advocates tree stewardship and offers a commemorative tree-planting program.
Greenwich is the site of green-certified restaurant, BoxCar Cantina (BoxcarCantina.com) and home to businesses such as Granoff Architects (GranoffArchitects.com), a company which incorporates sustainable strategies into its projects. Audubon Greenwich (Greenwich.Audubon.org) engages and educates people to conserve, restore, and enjoy nature. It offers a lecture series, films and panel discussions to raise awareness about eco-friendly topics. Its organic lawn initiatives aim to diminish dangers from pesticides (e.g.: attention deficit disorder). Greenwich Point Conservancy (GreenwichPoint.org) is an organization working to restore and preserve Greenwich Point for the enjoyment of current and future generations. Go Greener Greenwich (Greenwichct.org/Go_Greener) was established as a follow-up to the Environmental Action Task Force to increase community participation in practices that protect human, environmental, and fiscal health. Green Drinks (Greendrinks.org/CT/Greenwich) gatherings include this month’s “Eating Clean...A Celebration of Healthy and Sustainable Food and Wine with Terry Walters.” Armstrong Court Community Organic Garden (ArmstrongCourtCommunityGarden.org) was founded by a group of community members dedicated to organic gardening and sustainable living.
Since 2008, Norwalk has been a member of the EPA’s Community Energy Challenge. Connecticut’s first EV charging stations were installed in Norwalk. Its city hall received an Energy Star® rating due to efforts to conserve resources. The Norwalk Tree Alliance (NorwalkTreeAlliance.org) Urban Forest Improvement project earned a U.S. Conference of Mayors Award of Excellence. Norwalk participates in the Department of Housing and Urban Development Sustainable Communities Initiative, which seeks to: develop livable communities and growth centers around the region’s transit network; foster new, affordable, energy-efficient housing; provide more transportation choices; and, make the region more globally competitive. Norwalk approved several redevelopment projects designed to advance an urban environment centered on mass transportation, uniting homes and businesses in space linked by pedestrian-friendly neighborhoods convenient to inter-modal transportation hubs. Pedestrian and bicycle friendly access has been increased along the Norwalk River and construction has begun on the Bikeway connecting the town and Danbury. Norwalk has worked to become a leader in environmental programs designed to filter and limit ground water runoff contamination of streams and Long Island Sound and undertaken a project to reconstruct its sewage treatment facilities in a manner that assures a pristine relationship between the plant and its surroundings. The Norwalk Seaport Association (Seaport.org) has a history of protecting the Sound. Community garden projects at historic Fodor Farm have been well-recognized. Connecticut’s first retro-fit office LEED Certification was bestowed on one of the Merritt 7 office towers and Stepping Stones for Children Museum received LEED Silver certification for its new addition. All redevelopment projects are reviewed for developers’ adherence to guidelines encouraging energy efficiency and environmental principles. Norwalk’s Mayor and Director of Business Development even drive hybrids…
Ridgefield Action Committee for the Environment (RACE: RaceForTheEarth.com) is comprised of volunteers and open to residents wanting to help the community “step boldly, tread lightly.” Serving in an advisory capacity to Ridgefield's First Selectman, its mission is to raise awareness, educate and bring about action for the responsible use of energy, conservation of natural resources, and reduction of waste. Ridgefield is also: a participant in The Neighbor to Neighbor Energy Challenge; home to the Hickories (TheHickories.org) certified organic farm; one of several towns (Greenwich, New Canaan, Wilton) collaborating to offer a drop box for easy disposal of unwanted medications at the local police headquarters; and, offering single stream recycling. Through the CTCleanEnergyOptions program, Ridgefield now has a 15-kW photovoltaic solar system on the recreation center's roof.
Stamford has been involved in a number of sustainability initiatives, including the mayor’s Sustainable Stamford task force (SustainableStamford.org), energy efficiency programs, green roof initiatives, the Mill River Greenbelt (MillRiver.info), and legislation on municipal green buildings. A 2010 comprehensive sustainability amendment was made to the city’s 2002 Master Plan, which includes transit-oriented development, improvements to Stamford Transportation Center, conserving park land, expanding recycling, and promoting interdisciplinary, coordinated action among the public, private and non-profit sectors and other municipalities. The city’s Urban Transitway Project (ci.stamford.ct.us), now under construction, encourages public and non-motorized transportation modes to address current and future traffic needs. Stamford has a dedicated “Energy/Utility Manager,” responsible for energy, fuel efficiency, and emissions reductions. It is a participant in the Cities for Climate Protection Program, an initiative of an organization known as ICLEI (iclei.org). Under that program, Stamford developed a Local Action Plan to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 20% by 2018 (compared to 1998 baseline numbers), which has resulted in energy performance contracts, lighting retrofits in schools, solar energy systems on several municipal buildings, LED traffic lights, and street light retrofits. Sustainable Stamford and Southern Connecticut Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA: soctboma.org) created the “Corporate Sustainability Challenge” for participating corporate building owners and managers to benchmark their energy and water usages and adopt sustainability policies on items such as carpooling/telecommuting, non-smoking, waste reduction, lighting, purchasing, stormwater quality management, and “green” cleaning. To date, Stamford has 14 completed LEED projects. The city’s Land Use Bureau recently created a “scorecard” for projects requiring site plan review, which will be used to evaluate future transit-oriented development and green building projects/policies. The Green Initiative For Vegetables In Education (GIVE: InTheGardenWithGive.blogspot.com) establishes vegetable gardens in local schools, with seventeen already in place.
Westport has been a leader in single stream recycling. It is also the base for one of the more active group proponents of sustainability in Fairfield County, Green Village Initiative (GVI: gogvi.org). GVI’s creation was inspired by the Westport Plastic Bag Ban (the first town in the state to ban plastic shopping bags) and the desire to be a regional leader in how to live more intentionally in these complex times. The group’s goal is sustainability and community-building with focus on local food, water, power, garbage, and education. GVI partners with area nonprofits, such as towns, schools, nature centers, senior centers, state parks, arts centers, and PTAs. It recently formed the Connecticut Local Action Guild, which has meetings, conferences and a network/database to bring together the state’s most dynamic local action-focused citizens and enable larger scale social change, stronger organizations, joint projects and legislative action. GVI offers films and lectures and has convened leaders from area water protection groups to undertake local watershed improvement projects. One coordinated effort involves the DEP, Westport and Norwalk Conservation Departments, and homeowners on Nash’s Pond and Stony Brook modeling and executing best practices for cleaning up waterways. GVI created a town farm in Westport. It has helped put edible school gardens in several county towns, including Ridgefield and Bridgeport. Its goal is a garden at every school so children can connect with nature, learn to grow their own food and get excited about eating healthfully. Public schools are invited to contact GVI for funding and/or expertise regarding garden building and maintenance. The Westport Library has obtained recycling bins for the building. Westport recently unveiled an EV charging station and became the first in the nation to offer drivers a pay-by-phone option.
Wilton Energy Commission (WiltonEnergy.org) is an all-volunteer appointed commission which serves in an advisory role supporting the Board of Selectmen on matters of sustainability, energy efficiency and clean energy. The city has been designated a CCEF clean energy community, through which it has committed to purchasing 30% of electrical energy for municipal and school buildings from renewable sources by 2015. With this program, Wilton has earned solar installation grants of $45k. For every 100 sign-ups with CL&P’s clean energy options program the town earns 1kW solar array from the CCEF. Twenty kW of solar array were installed at the high school from this collective effort. The town is also a participant in the Neighbor to Neighbor program. Wilton Go Green (WiltonGoGreen.org) is a group of citizens that engages the community in initiatives which advance a culture of conservation, educating about best practices in building, energy, food, transportation, waste/recycling, and natural resources. Among its initiatives is an effort for Wilton citizens to voluntarily diminish use of one-time plastic and paper bags at retail outlets through an educational campaign and distribution of over 12,000 reusable bags (designed locally through a contest). Wilton Go Green hosted the second annual Go Green Festival this past May featuring exhibitors and information on topics from electric cars to sustainable products and practices. It has also become involved with 350.org, a global movement to solve the climate crisis, with “Moving Planet-Ride for the Trail,” a bicycling/hiking event supporting the Norwalk River Valley Trail and green transportation. The first Wilton Green Fair was underwritten by a CCEF Community Innovation Grant. Sustainable gardens have been created at the Wilton library and high school, with the latter’s produce given to local households and/or used in the cafeteria.
When asked for ways Natural Awakenings readers can make a difference, community leaders suggested supporting any of the programs/initiatives that resonate, whatever your abilities and interests. Support can come in many forms, including: active involvement (paid or volunteer); making a donation; spreading the word; and, simply being more sustainable in your own life. Recycle more. Grow a garden. Purchase locally made/grown items. Support bike lanes and walking routes. Sign-up for clean energy and help your town earn free solar panels, or, as with North American Power, earn extra income simply by sharing your passion for clean energy with others. Have a home energy assessment. Ensure your voice is heard when decisions are being made concerning sustainability. Reduce consumption. Everyone can help. And we’re all on this earth together.
One of the most hopeful things about working on an article like this is discovering how many people are uniting to launch or maintain programs that keep us healthy at present and ensure a vibrant future. Within the confines of one article it is impossible to mention all of the endeavors of local municipalities and citizens. This is just the proverbial iceberg tip with initial ideas to inspire individual and collective stewardship of our natural resources to benefit ourselves, each other, and our world. A special note of gratitude to citizens, community leaders, municipal staff members, and government leaders who took the time to call, email, convey messages, and contribute to this article with thoughts, facts, opinions, and a passion that is unmistakable, particularly Julie Belaga, Jana Bertkau, Ed Boman, Misty Beyer, Jen Carpenter, Remy Chevalier, Jeff Cordulack, Andre Dery, Janak Desai,Tad Diesel, Monique Dinor, Daphne Dixon, Steve Edwards, Erin Halsey, Bruce Hampson, Larry Kaley, Wendy Leonetti, Dan Levinson, Molly McGeehin, Erin McKenna, Pam Sloane, Michael Tetreau, Bob Wall, and Stephanie Weiner.