By Huck Fairman

With warnings about the threats to the natural world and to human civilization coming from numerous sources, many local residents have been wondering what they can do, as individuals, and as members of a community.

High school students, following Swedish Greta Thunberg’s example, have skipped school to strike, protesting the lack of adequate initiatives by governments at all levels. (The town of Princeton and NJ’s new governor are in fact taking many steps.) Graduate students have organized to reach out to both industry and government to find ways to reduce emissions and environmentally destructive policies.

But what can citizens outside of schools do to contribute to efforts to reduce emissions, change energy usage and preserve the natural world that sustains us? Looking at the town of Princeton, and the region, it turns out there are many steps in many different areas of our communities that people can participate in or take individually.

Among the many options, residents can buy or lease electric cars whose model choices will be increasing in the next few years and whose prices are expected to come down. Options to rent or lease them will also be increasing, as will the number of charging stations, required for those living in apartments or who drive to work. (Sustainable Princeton is tracking charging-station usage with an eye toward future installations.)

With the number of bike lanes growing, biking should become a more appealing alternative to many.

Residents can reduce their energy usage, either by turning down thermostats, or having a home or business energy audit, and then improving insulation, purchasing more efficient heating and cooling units and changing over to LED light bulbs.

Solar panels and/or geothermal heating and cooling can also save energy costs and reduce emissions. Solar panels can either be purchased by owners, or leased from installation companies for reduced energy costs. One resident, having had solar panels installed, claimed his total heating-cooling bill for the year was $8 — following the one-time installation costs.

The complex promise of “community solar,” where households join together to pay for but then benefit from shared installations, lies ahead, with both the state legislature and power companies, such as PSE&G, working toward solutions.

To date, 18 other states have found ways to make it work. At present, a local community solar installation would probably require a developer to manage the installation and the connection between residents and power company.

Sustainable Princeton (SP) can guide people in most of these decisions. But in addition to that guidance, SP is helping to coordinate a number of other town initiatives. 50 volunteers from the corporate, university, local school and government worlds have, using their expertise, undertaken to help the town reduce emissions and increase resiliency in the face of our changing climate and its storms. (New Jersey experienced record rainfall in 2018. Dealing with that excess water requires planning and infrastructure.)

Sustainable Princeton’s many-faceted efforts received an important boost when, in 2017, SP received a $100,000 grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to develop a Climate Action Plan for the purpose of setting out strategies, goals and actions to lower emissions and prepare for climate change.

A Steering Committee was formed, followed by Working Groups to address: Energy, Resiliency, Natural Resources, Land Use and Transportation, and Materials Management. The Plan will be shared for public input in early April. (More detail can be found on SP’s website.)

In addition, the town is hoping to re-start its composting program once problems have been solved. By collecting food waste and yard waste from participants, the program both generated highly nutrient organic soil and reduced the methane produced in landfills from the anaerobic breakdown of these organic materials.

For small to medium size businesses, New Jersey’s Direct Install Program can provide a free energy assessment and then up to 70 percent of efficiency upgrade costs for those that qualify.

Thus for residents and businesses who want to take responsibility for their own energy footprints, there are a number of programs and sources to investigate and then join or utilize in order reduce emissions and costs, as well as help sustain our environments. Sustainable Princeton offers a wide range of resources to help guide the town and residents in efforts to go green and save money.

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