By Guest Columnist ROB AARON, board member of Greening Neighborhoods
A little over a year ago, a small group of people living in the Peachtree Hills neighborhood decided that saving the planet wasn’t going to work. Not that saving the planet wasn’t a laudable goal, but frankly it didn’t prove to be much of a motivator. Saving the planet was far too big and too abstract to be meaningful in people’s daily lives.
So we decided we’d work to save something else near and dear to us: money. We decided it was time to stop throwing money up the chimney and out the window. It was time to spend money intelligently, to reset the defaults on our own lives.
With a little knowledge and a little work, we realized we could make our houses more efficient, our food more nourishing, and our lives more sustainable. If we could make simple changes that made our lifestyles more sustainable, then why not encourage and challenge our neighbors to do the same?
If we worked together, the whole neighborhood could do it. Then maybe other neighborhoods…then maybe the whole city…well, you see where this is headed.
Thus was born Greening Neighborhoods, a group based on the idea that the real work for positive change can only come from the grassroots level.
Greening Neighborhoods is a participatory, engaged effort where neighbors show neighbors how to make the small changes that add up to a smaller impact for everyone.
A pilot project was started under the leadership of architect George Hornbein in the Peachtree Hills neighborhood to track and compare household energy use and to educate ourselves on reducing our consumption.
Green Peachtree Hills successfully uses neighbor-to-neighbor education, assistance, cost tracking, and even a little good-natured peer pressure to reduce the energy use of participating households.
Central to the project is the Baseline Energy Tracker, where a household can easily track their utility bills to see how their conservation efforts are paying off. But the really interesting twist comes when we merge this data to calculate the average household energy use and show our members how their energy use compares to their neighborhood average.
This is information people haven’t had before, and it’s a powerful motivator. As we go forward we envision competitions between neighborhoods, church groups, and schools, where one group challenges another group to reduce their use. We think this will be a fun way to create a virtuous circle.
Greening Neighborhoods provides a framework for change, but we don’t try to force people to change. Instead, we’re trying to nudge our members toward change by comparing their individual decisions to the decisions of their friends and neighbors.
When they can see how their neighborhood is improving, it makes them want to change, too. I also want to stress that this isn’t a political crusade. We emphasize saving money, not saving the planet. But by sharing information and stories, knowledge and neighborly support, we hope to make sustainable change happen.
We are planning to embark on a campaign to enlist neighborhoods throughout Atlanta to join with us, and we’d like to invite you. You can join for free by going to our website at http://greeningneighborhoods.com.
While you’re there, sign up for our weekly money-saving energy tips. We also have a number of guides and helpful reports on how to reduce your utility bills with a few easy fixes (like ditching your old light bulbs). And you can use our tools to track your home energy use.
We welcome your participation, and we know you’ll enjoy seeing those smaller utility bills.