Carrboro Mayor's Carbon Challenge

For my New Year's Resolution for 2007, I decided to take tangible steps to reduce my carbon footprint. I was already doing something by riding my bicycle more and driving less, but I wanted to go a step further. But, I didn't want to spend a lot of money doing it.

First I audited my family's energy purchases. We were buying gasoline, electricity, and natural gas. I determined that we were directly generating 81 pounds of CO2 a day! That's far below the national average in the United States, but it is still a big number.

Next, I looked at the cost of strategies for reducing my carbon footprint. Sadly, some strategies were quite expensive, but other strategies were very cost-effective. I was ready to have my New Year's resolution cost me at least a little money, but I wasn't ready for the realization that my resolution might cost less!

By carefully evaluating my options, I chose a combination of increased energy efficiency measures and alternative fuels to reduce my family's CO2 production by 20%, while also reducing our monthly expenses. The minor step I took reduced our expenses without reducing our quality of life. And this result was achieved for a family that already did a lot of walking, bicycling and generally had already previously done a lot to reduce its fossil fuel consumption.

Now, in collaboration with the UNC Institute for the Environment, I am inviting area residents to participate in project based on my personal experience. Here's my proposal: If your family would like to sign up for the Mayor's Carbon Challenge, send me an email at – I will send you free tools for analyzing your household energy usage and CO2 output. Using the CO2 audit and in consultation with the Institute for the Environment, you can assess a variety of cost-effective changes that you can put to work to reduce your family's carbon footprint.

Our goal will be to reduce participants' CO2 production by 20% in an easy, cost-effective, convenient and fun way. Ready to give it a try? Emailing me is the first step.

In six months or so we will report back here to let readers know how this project is working. And all of the participants in the Mayor's Carbon Challenge will be invited to meet with our state and federal elected officials to show them how great the opportunities are for protecting our climate, our planet and our pocketbooks.

Your information will be kept strictly confidential, so email me today at to sign up. Make it your Earth Day Resolution!



Most of the solar producers are just households with small systems. It's good that they are there, but we should be careful not to let the utilities fly the green flag over supporting solar via the Green Power program. These home systems don't usually produce more power than one home can use. The power goes back onto the grid when there is excess and they use grid power when they need it. With my system, my excess power goes into my batteries. I don't get reimbursed with GreenPower money, but it's my power and the utilities don't get to use it for PR. Plus when the grid goes down, we've got power at night.

I'm not opposed to the GreenPower program but we should keep it in perspective. I would prefer that people put their money into "seceding" from the utility and I hope that GreenPower payments are not just being used to assuage guilt or are done in lieu of making home power improvem,ents.

C'mon, Mark, give us specifics on what you did to make the 20%!

Ross, there are lots of ways to do it, but after analyzing my particular situation I decided to trade in my gas guzzling Subaru for a higher efficiency diesel VW. That step alone improved my gas milage by 85%, but I took it one step further and am running my car on biodiesel. We also made a few other changes that were much smaller and are not as interesting to read about on the internet ;)

Au contraire, it's the little things (that other folks might not even think of trying) that are very interesting in the context of a thread like this.

I live in a solar home out in Chatham (more on that in a minute), and when people ask me about solar technology & suchlike, I tell them that the three most exciting technologies in my house, in terms of bang for the buck, are the compact fluorescent lights, the radiant barrier built into the roof, and the honeycomb shades on the windows. None of those are very sexy, at least not compared to the solar hot water system, but they make a huge difference in terms of energy costs.

Re: the Subaru . . . I drive one too. I bought it because when you live in Chatham and it snows/ices, you either have 4WD, or you wait for the roads to completely melt. Of course, in the 4 years since I bought it, I've actually driven it on snow/ice probably 2-3 times (thanks, Global Warming!). How I miss my '92 Escort Wagon that was still getting 30MPG with 185,000 miles on it . . .

We've made our own household plan to reduce our carbon footprint, which is going to go into effect sometime this year: sell the house that's 30+ miles from work, get rid of one of the two cars, and move to an apartment in downtown Durham, ~10 miles from work. That's the first thing you notice when you run a CO2 audit: commuting is a killer, psychically as well as carbon-wise.

Yeah, add to that list my $45 programmable thermostat, Ross. It saves a lot of energy.

I'd like to see the list of tools. Could you post them instead of sending them through email?

I've collected a number of carbon calculators:
If anyone has one that isn't on this list, please let me know. The Safe Climate tool appears to be the basis for most of the others, but my favorite is the one from Native Energy.

i ride around in an electic wheelchair and only have to charge it every2 days

I just ran across this fantastic (and 18 page) article by Thomas Friedman from Sunday's NY Times. He makes the clear point that there is a direct correlation b/w increased gas prices and decreased democracy (and more radical islamic power). We are effectively funding terrorists by buying Saudi oil. That's one good reason for me to start taking the bus to Durham. Here's the article:

I recently replaced a bunch (18-20) of recessed, 75W R-40 bulbs in my house with CFLs. Can anyone suggest the most ecologically sound way to dispose of these used (but still functional bulbs)? I was thinking of leaving them at the recycling shed on Eubanks so that someone might get the additional use out of them (and save the cost of purchasing new ones) but then I'd be aiding someone in using energy-inefficient devices. On the other hand, some people might not be able to afford the up-front cost of CFLs. Any suggestions?

Does anyone know if the enviro fair that was at the Town Commons last spring is being organized again this year? I thought it was a great event. Really raised awareness and I was able to buy a bunch of CFLs cheap!

The next Earth Action Fest is planned for April 13, 2008 at Smith Middle School.

George, i have two (not mutually exclusive) ideas for you regarding the disposition of incandescent bulbs:

1. Use them up by putting them in light fixtures that are very seldom used - such as, perhaps, in your attic. They will still be innefficient there, but they will not be used much.

2. Use them in places where the heat they produce is not wasteful - such as in the crawlspace of an older house whose pipes might otherwise freeze in winter. Then turn them on when extremely cold weather is anticipated. Also they could be used in a dog house or chicken coop in winter.


According to my calculation, CFLs pay for themselves in about 2 months so as much as I hate creating trash, I went ahead and disposed of my incandescents. UNC students are raising money to buy CFLs for local, low-income families. Maybe you could mitigate the guilt of creating trash by contributing to their efforts (distribution being managed through IFC).

It's a bit late for this tid bit but I'll let it go anyhow... Today only, for earth day, Home Depot is giving away a million CFLs to people who visit thier stores. I don't think anyone will save much energy by driving to Durham fo a free lightbulb. Stop in if you are passing by though.

check the link below for my source

If you do go, carpool, like I did this morning.

The bulbs come with a coupon for 50 cents off of your next purchase of more CFLs of the same brand, so turn around and grab a few more while you're there... not to sound too much like an advertisement for traveling out of county to a big box store. I prefer to think of myself as an energy pirate, stowing away in the cabin of a friend's car, pillaging Durham for its stock of free CFLs before returning home to enjoy my booty. :)

There is a Home Depot in Orange County just up 86.

Does anyone have any info on NC Greenpower? I'm thinking about signing up, but I'm (very) skeptical. It seems like a feel-good program that could ultimately do more harm than good, if people think they can pay $4 extra per month and just continue their current wasteful habits of energy consumption. Most of the "green" energy is apparently coming from animal waste and landfill sources -- not really renewable, and not things we want to rely on having an unlimited supply of....

I'm an NC Greenpower subscriber. Until there is a good market indicator of the demand/support for renewable and/or non-polluting energy sources, we won't make any progress. There's a growing number of wind farms in the western part of the state:

The Renewable Energy and Efficiency Portfolio Standard should be very helpful in driving the market even further than NC Green Power has done:

There is a Home Depot in Orange County just up 86.

True, but when I'm just hitching a ride to take something for free, the guilt factor doesn't kick in very strongly.

Ethan- we've been doing NC GreenPower for over a year. I agree with Terri that it is a good way to express market demand for clean power, and I'm glad to do that. At the same time, we're also trying to cut down our power usage through efficiency.

Think of it as a challenge- add the $4 block to your bill, then work to keep your bill at the previous monetary level or lower through conservation while simultaneously buying some electricity from NC GreenPower. I installed a programmable thermostat two months ago, and it is already helping.

I agree that there needs to be a way to express market demand for clean electricity, but if NC Greenpower is really getting the majority of its energy from landfill methane and animal waste, that's neither clean nor green.


Please excuse my ignorance but if using methane gas from a landfill that already exists doesn't qualify as being green please explain why not. I'm not saying I would build more landfills to exploit this source but if they are already there, releasing methane to the atmosphere, why not get some benefit from them?

According to the fall 2006 newsletter from NC Green Power, there are only 2 methane producers and over 50 solar producers. They don't indicate the volume of energy purchased from the producers, so I suppose it's possible that the 2 methane sites actually produce more than the solar producers. But I don't really object to that. We have to start somewhere. If we already had viable production alternatives, we wouldn't need NC Green Power.

George, landfill gas is about 60% methane, most of the rest is CO2, but there are many other contaminants. It's not nearly as clean-burning as natural gas is.

My concern is that NC Greenpower is primarily set up to subsidize landfill gas and animal waste as energy sources, when those

a. should be able to develop without subsidies; there are already some big corporate players moving into those areas


b. are being presented as clean and renewable energy sources when they are actually polluting and dependent on a steady or increasing stream of waste.

According to a recent article in the Charlotte Observer, the average NC Greenpower supplier generates enough power for 1,450 homes. 53 of the 60 suppliers they cite are home solar rigs that probably don't generate enough electricity for more than a handful of homes, so that means the vast majority of the energy is coming from a few very large suppliers. I'll try to find out more...

But notice how the web-site features solar at the very top.

They don't lead with hog farm methane and logging waste.

I don't recall that OP took note of the Sierra Club's honoring Orange County, Chapel Hill, Carrboro, and Hillsborough as "Cool Cities" last week. There's a nice CHN column by Bernadette Pelissier on the topic.

UNC was also honored as a "Cool College."

Can Chapel Hillians participate in the carbon challenge?

I have already taken a lot of small steps but am eager to do more. I'm in the middle of 30 days without using the car to run errands and am discovering just how wasteful a lot of my driving was. Now that I ride my bike everywhere, I am much more organized in my errands. Before, I would impulsively drive to the store every time I felt I need something. Even though these were usually short trips, they add up over time. 10 miles per day of needless driving equals 3,650 miles per year. Another benefit is I also am getting in great shape!

We installed a programmable thermostat at home 3 months ago. Prior to the install, our previous two monthly bills were over $70. We have not had a bill over $60 since. Our kwh usage is down, too.

Sheila: Mark's post above says "If your family would like to sign up for the Mayor's Carbon Challenge, send me an email at" No mention of residency requirements. It sounds like a pretty open invitation to me.

We've saved a lot using programmable thermostats as well as flourescent lights. We put our hot water heater on a timer and wrapped it in a energy sleeve--very reasonably priced at Lowes--- which made more of a difference than I expected.

Oh, and there is a very interesting article in today's NY Times. "Putting the Energy Hogs in the Home on a Strict Low Power Diet." It states that the Department of Energy estimates that 40% of all electricity used to power home electronics is used while the devices are turned off.


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