I lost 5,000 pounds in eight weeks.
Actually, I shaved more than that off my carbon footprint. I was surprised by how easy it was, because my husband and I have lived in a net-zero energy house for the past six years. I thought I was doing all the “easy stuff”: recycling, reducing miles driven, changing light bulbs, meatless Monday. And I was doing it, but it never hurts to dive in a little deeper.
A couple months ago, a friend showed me the “cool community” program and talked me into starting a local group. The idea is to gather a group of five to eight neighbors to do a carbon-reduction workbook called “Low-Carbon Diet”.
We wanted to get it started in Asheville, so we got a group of eight committed environmentalists to try it out. Most of us thought we were doing pretty well—several of us even have solar on our houses. The program is pretty basic, so we didn’t expect to get a lot out of it personally. It turns out we were wrong about that!
The program is really basic. You can do the program even if you don’t have much (or any) money to spend on energy upgrades. The most “handyman” thing the program asks you to consider doing is to change a showerhead.
Everything is a choice—there’s nothing you have to do. But the program is also really powerful. It was developed by The Empowerment Institute, and they have found the average participant decreases their carbon footprint by 25 percent. Our group members all hit this target.
What surprised all of us was how fun the program was. We met four times over eight weeks at a different member’s home each time. As we shared our successes and the ways we were getting hung up, we realized each of us was an expert at something: home energy, gardening, food production, internet research, canning, and even sewing. So now we each have our own “stable of experts” we can call when we want to do something that’s new to us.
We also realized group brainstorming is really powerful—we came up with some good ideas I never would have dreamed up on my own. We really did develop a community.
What were some of our successes?
Showering was an area where a lot of us had been resistant to making a change. One person had even tried a low-flow showerhead and didn’t like it. I was able to talk her through buying the right “high-performance/low-flow” showerhead. If you get a good one, it’s actually a higher-pressure shower that feels great. She tried it again and loved it. Someone else in the group shared that she started timing her showers to two songs on the radio, a change that turned out to be really fun and helpful for those who wanted to try shorter showers.
One of the group members spent several hours researching the different types of power strips that could be used to reduce vampire loads. He explained to us which type worked best for cell phone chargers, computers, and AV equipment. He also bought a meter to measure the vampire power his home appliances were using, and let other members of the group borrow it.
I was reminded of the little everyday stuff that really adds up. Was I using my clothesline as much as possible? Was I combining trips when I could? Had we bought new appliances that needed to be checked for vampire power?
In the modern world, it’s so easy to accidentally create wasteful carbon emissions that it helps to check in periodically to make sure you’re still on track. It really helps to have the support and encouragement of friends.
Some of us also decided to offset carbon emissions, and we got local and creative about how to do that. Some of us volunteered with Energy Saver’s Network (ESN) and got offsets using sweat equity. ESN is an organization that provides free energy upgrades to low income families in our community, so you’re helping real people while you’re reducing carbon emissions. I chose to donate to Appalachian Offsets, which will be putting solar panels on the roof of Isaac Dickson Elementary School. Others bought green power through Arcadia.
We form new groups regularly, so if you are interested, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We will also provide an experienced facilitator for a group in your neighborhood if you have five to eight friends who want to participate.
If you’re new to energy efficiency and haven’t changed your light bulbs yet, this program was designed for you. If you’ve been in this game for decades, this program has a lot to give you too.
Amy Musser is a founder of Vandemusser Design, an Asheville area company that provides green certification and energy-efficiency consulting to contractors, architects, and homeowners. She and her husband and business partner, Matthew Vande, have lived in a net-zero energy house since 2011.
You can also view this article as it was originally published on page 65 of the 2017-18 edition of the directory.