The tiny village of Eden Mills
punches way above its weight. With just 350 people, Eden Mills holds one of Canada’s premiere annual writers’ festivals
and, in 2007, made it a goal to become North America’s first carbon neutral community. Five years in and they’re three-quarters of the way towards their goal. The village boasts per capita emissions of only 8 tonnes, compared with the Canadian average of over 14 tonnes. The village has become an inspiring example for other Ontario communities looking to decrease their environmental impact and create a better legacy for their children.
Eden Mills (near Guelph) is like many villages and towns, with a mix of incomes, types and ages of homes, job locations, and attitudes towards the environment and conservation. One factor that sets Eden Mills apart is the level of community involvement and volunteerism. They have an active Eden Mills and District Community Club “committed to keeping Eden Mills and the surrounding area a true neighbourhood, rather than a bedroom community where neighbours are strangers.” The Eden Mills Writers’ Festival is perhaps the largest volunteer event in North America. The historic village millpond was restored and is managed by a local association of volunteers who contributed hundreds of hours in heavy labour to rebuild the dam walls and other structures. Ongoing management involves strengthening the shoreline and maintaining the beach.
This tradition of community collaboration set the foundation for Eden Mills’ ambitious carbon neutral goal. Rather than waiting for federal or provincial carbon emission regulations or incentives, the village thought globally (in terms of its environmental impact) and acted locally.
In 2007, the villagers crowded into their small, 100-year-old Community Hall to put forth their goal: to have Eden Mills produce no more carbon dioxide than it would absorb (specifically in the areas of household emissions and local and international travel). At the meeting, residents identified local talent that could be useful in this endeavor and formed a carbon neutral committee to organize initiatives. The first step was to conduct a survey of homes in their community to determine a baseline carbon emission level. The survey included home energy use, land transportation (cars), and air travel.
The second step was to determine the amount of carbon absorbed by the trees within the village boundaries. The answer: the existing trees absorbed 2,354 tonnes of carbon emissions each year, representing about 50% of village emissions.
The survey is re-conducted every two years to determine improvements and to identify the focus of where future reduction efforts might take place. Of 163 households, 58, 71, and 74 households completed the survey in 2007, 2009, and 2011. The baseline emissions rate in 2007 was 4,708 tonnes.
To help residents identify ways to green their homes and lifestyles, the carbon neutral committee organized regular workshops on topics such as geothermal heating, solar energy, green energy purchasing options, reducing car dependence, and canning and preserving. Through education and public discussion, people made changes to their homes.
Below is the number of households that made each change:
New insulation 22
New windows 26
New caulking and/or weather stripping 22
Installation of a programmable thermostat 21
Insulation of water heater and/or pipes 20
New water heater 19
Installation of solar water heater 2
Installation of solar electric panels 2
New energy star appliances 25
Installation of heat pump 8
Installation of LED lighting 13
Installation of fluorescent lights 33
Along the way, the community celebrated their achievements. In June 2010, Eden Mills held a Sunshine Celebration at the home of the first household to install solar panels feeding into the Ontario hydro grid. Celebrants were invited to bring their favourite parasol, enjoy fresh strawberries, and a lot of family fun as they came together to “flip the switch” on the panels and learn about solar power. The panels feed about 7,645 kWh of electricity into the grid annually.
As a result of the community’s efforts, Eden Mills reduced their carbon emissions by 22% since 2007. And new tree plantings over the last five years have resulted in the absorption of an additional 282 tonnes of CO2
. This means Eden Mills has to reduce their emissions by 22% more to meet their carbon neutral goal.
The community has presented at national conferences and won awards for its initiatives, including becoming a finalist for the Earth Day Canada Hometown Heroes Awards Program and two of the carbon neutral committee members receiving Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medals.
While the community may eventually start including the environmental cost of materials they purchase (i.e., how much energy goes into creating a car), for now they’re focused on achieving full carbon neutrality in regards to the key areas of household emissions. Their goal is to be a model of sustainability for other communities. To that end, they are retro-fitting the landmark Community Hall to energy efficiency. To date, a new roof, ceiling insulation and new energy-saving windows have reduced the carbon footprint of the Hall by 28%. After installation of one new air-to-air heat pump, which will replace an old propane furnace, the Hall footprint will have been reduced by 63%. When the retrofit project is complete the Hall’s footprint will have been reduced by more than 80%.
They are also are happy to talk to communities anywhere in the world looking to make positive environmental changes, including sending them DVDs or books that were helpful to Eden Mills.
If you’re interested in starting a carbon neutral movement in your community, a good first step is to download the free “So, You Want to Go Carbon Neutral” guide from www.goingcarbonneutral.ca
which outlines the exact steps taken by the village on their journey so far.