Christine Symington

As Sustainable Princeton moves forward in defining its Climate Action Plan (CAP), the group hopes to engage community members in the process. “We want to get feedback from people and get a deeper understanding of their concerns,” says program director Christine Symington.

To spur public interest, the group will host a series of community conversations, including “What is a Climate Action Plan and Why Does Princeton Need One?” on Wednesday, May 16, from 7 to 8:30 p.m. at the Princeton Public Library. Dr. George DiFerdinando Jr., chair of the Princeton Board of Health and adjunct professor at the Rutgers School of Health, will lead the discussion. For future events and more information visit www.sustainableprinceton.org.

The May 16 presentation follows the group’s public discussion this past March which shared the results of its greenhouse gas inventory based on measurements of emissions between 2010 and 2017.

The report defines three types of emissions: Production: electricity, gas and waste decomposition; Consumption: all things consumed, including housing, transportation, food, goods and services; Other: emissions that are not or cannot be accounted for. The report shows that the entire Princeton community is responsible for 393,870 tons of production-based carbon dioxide equivalent per year; and almost 759,800 tons of consumption-based equivalent per year.

Based on the production inventory, the report shows that in 2017, the highest number of Princeton’s emissions came from the commercial sector (44.85 percent), which includes retail, offices, multifamily units, nonprofits, and schools; followed by transportation (32.27 percent); residential (19.75 percent); solid waste (2.09 percent); and less than one percent from water and industry. Commercial use included heating and cooling, and plug load (electricity used to power devices).

Princeton’s CAP goal is to have a completed a plan by 2019 to present to the mayor and council for adoption. “Now that we know the major sources of emissions, we can prioritize actions that will reduce them,” says Symington.

In part Princeton’s plan will be influenced by New Jersey’s state CAP, which has a goal to reduce emissions by 80 percent by 2050. The state plan is currently being reviewed for possible changes, Symington says. Moving ahead, the Princeton group may follow the state or come up with its own goals.

Symington is encouraged by Governor Murphy’s actions during his first four months of taking office. The fact that he issued an executive order to rejoin the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative and supports offshore wind is a good portent of what can come, she says.

Working with others: Sustainable Princeton collaborates with several municipalities and groups to actualize its CAP goals and related objectives. The organization worked with Greener by Design, an energy and environmental consulting company to produce the greenhouse gas inventory.

As a member of the Mercer County Sustainability Coalition, Sustainable Princeton shares ideas and progress with Trenton, Lawrence, Hopewell, Ewing, and West Windsor. One recent success story was the annual Mercer Green Fest held in March at Rider University, which drew more than 1,000 visitors. At Communiversity last month Sustainable Princeton hosted three resource recovery tents, collecting recyclables and food waste.

The group also partners with Tiger Challenge, a group of Princeton University undergraduates who are developing awareness campaigns and solutions for the municipality based on their conversations with community members.

Sustainable Princeton is also partnering with the town’s bicycle advisory committee to promote its efforts to make cycling and walking viable as modes of transportation.

Another ongoing project is the reduction of food waste through composting. “A few years ago, Mercer County Improvement Authority conducted a study that audited curbside waste from residents,” says Symington. “They determined that 25 percent of what is put into the trash is food waste. People who participate in the Princeton curbside waste program say the actual trash that they send to the landfill is next to nothing.”

What you can do: While the CAP is a work in progress, individuals and businesses can do things right now to reduce emissions and prepare for the effects of climate change, says Symington.

She is a champion of the motto: reduce, reuse, recycle. “We should focus on reducing and reusing first,” she says, noting China’s actions to limit the recyclables it will accept from the U.S. and other countries. She suggests drinking from your own reusable water bottles and coffee mugs and bringing your own tote bags to the store.

Since transportation by motorized vehicles is a large cause of emissions, she encourages walking and biking and considering an electric car when you need to replace your existing vehicle.

Companies and employees can help reduce their carbon footprint and receive recognition for their efforts by qualifying to be a member of the Sustainable Business Registry. Businesses can apply online (registry.njsbdc.com) by describing their sustainable practices, identifying at least one environmental benefit and one cost saving from a practice.

In anticipation of climate-related events, Symington’s advice is to think resiliency. Be prepared for projected effects like flooding, she says. She recommends planting rain gardens that capture storm water runoff, which helps keep soil in place and prevents pollutants from entering the waterways. She also recommends rain barrels to collect water for gardening and other uses.

“Water is a resource that we should try to get back into the soil,” she says. To combat expected heat waves, she urges residents to get informed about cooling stations offered by municipalities or community groups.

“Combating climate change is not just about reducing emissions. It’s about being prepared for the expected impacts,” she says.

Getting the community engaged is critical to the success of the Climate Action Plan, says Symington. “We want residents to be part of the conversation. We could bring a group of really smart people together and make a plan, but that wouldn’t be enough to determine its success. We encourage people to come to our community conversations.”

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