Keene and Portsmouth Employees Compete in a Municipal Carbon ‘Throwdown’

By Denise Blaha

The cities of Keene and Portsmouth have long been at the forefront of implementing sustainability measures in their respective communities, so it isn’t surprising that both cities would look for opportunities to expand their environmental initiatives. What’s a bit more surprising is the method they selected, a friendly carbon “throwdown" between municipal staff in each city to go on an energy diet, reducing their household greenhouse gas emissions and energy costs.

They selected the New Hampshire Carbon Challenge (www.nhcarbonchallenge.org) as the official referee in their carbon-cutting contest. The New Hampshire Carbon Challenge (NHCC) is a joint initiative of the University of New Hampshire and Clean Air-Cool Planet, committed to providing residents and communities with the tools and support necessary to enable households to reduce their energy consumption and carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by 10,000 pounds per year. From April 1-17, 2009, municipal staffers in Portsmouth and Keene signed on to take the Carbon Challenge, pledging to take actions in their homes to reduce their energy consumption. The city with the most employees’ households taking the Carbon Challenge (as a percentage of all employees) was declared the winner in an awards presentation attended by Governor Lynch in Concord on Earth Day.

Roughly half of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions come from households through their energy consumption for motor vehicles, home heating and electricity. Moderate reductions in energy consumption can have a significant impact on reducing the risk of climate change, and can save money. By taking the Carbon Challenge, households gain valuable insight into how their families use energy and learn how simple actions can reduce energy consumption and environmental impacts. The Challenge gave both cities the opportunity to extend their many environmental actions to the residential sector and help their employees address spiraling energy costs. According to Portsmouth City Manager John P. Bohenko, “Portsmouth has a long-standing commitment to sustainability. The Portsmouth-Keene employee carbon challenge is another opportunity for each one of us to make a difference in helping to reduce the impacts of climate change." As Governor Lynch stated, “New Hampshire has shown we are willing to lead the way to address greenhouse gas pollution and the growing threat of climate change. The Carbon Challenge is a good way for our communities to lead by example and to encourage their citizens to reduce energy consumption, therefore reducing harmful greenhouse emissions."

Julia Dundorf, co-director of the NHCC, emphasizes that it’s easy to think that our individual actions don’t matter; positively or negatively. “What the NHCC makes clear is that small, individual actions do add up. In fact, the average household taking the NH Carbon Challenge can reduce its energy consumption by an average of 16 percent and save over $700 a year."

Dundorf adds that solutions to energy concerns are here now; this isn’t science fiction. Energy efficiency measures such as lighting upgrades, weatherization and efficient vehicles are available in all communities. And energy efficiency and conservation are a win-win all around—lowering greenhouse gases, increasing energy independence, leading to greater national security and creating green jobs right here in New Hampshire.

Inside the Keene-Portsmouth Challenge

The opening bell rang at midnight on April 1 and, by noon, 39 employees had already taken the Challenge. Up-to-the-minute results were made available through a “challenge ticker" on the NHCC website, and this live reporting spurred the competitive fever. According to Captain David Ferland of the Portsmouth Police Department, “I thought the Carbon Challenge was a great tool to learn ways to easily reduce energy consumption and save money, but the competitive aspect was a huge driver. I just kept telling our people, ‘C’mon. We can’t lose this to Keene!’"

Municipal employees from all departments were encouraged to participate and, while most were receptive, some employees were a bit more hesitant. “What we did to excite that group was to talk about energy savings and put it in terms of money, because there’s a big potential with these changes in lifestyle or changes in the way you use energy to save money, and that appeals to everybody," said Rhett Lamb, Keene’s Director of Planning.

After a bruising 17-day battle, the results were tabulated and verified, and Keene was declared the winner, with 55 percent of its employees taking the Carbon Challenge to Portsmouth’s 41 percent. Keene had 169 of its 305 employees take the Challenge for a total reduction of 965,274 pounds of carbon dioxide and $93,408 saved in energy costs. Portsmouth had 182 of its 440 employees participate, pledging to reduce their energy consumption through household actions that will save 1.2 million pounds of carbon dioxide and $115,906 in reduced energy costs.

Dundorf is quick to point out that the actions Keene and Portsmouth employees are taking could be implemented in other New Hampshire communities and beyond. “This kind of participation is truly inspiring. Both Keene and Portsmouth really took this seriously—from the mayors through to staff. And, although the competition makes this program fun and light-hearted, what’s really critical is that these two New Hampshire cities are setting an example for the rest of our state. In fact, if the Keene-Portsmouth Challenge was replicated throughout the state, New Hampshire households would save more than $150 million per year in reduced energy costs, and we would keep more than 1.6 billion pounds of climate warming greenhouse gases out of the atmosphere every year."

The award presentation at the State House on Earth Day also served as the official launch of the second phase of the Keene-Portsmouth Challenge: a city-wide challenge to residents, businesses and civic organizations in Portsmouth and Keene, to follow the lead of their municipal employees and similarly reduce their household energy consumption. The city with the most households participating in the New Hampshire Carbon Challenge will “win" this second competition round to conclude this October. Both cities have planned events this summer and fall to publicize and promote the challenge to their residents.

Take the Carbon Challenge

Other New Hampshire municipalities are hosting carbon challenges of their own. Earth Day marked the start of the Concord Carbon Challenge, and challenges have sprouted recently in Tamworth, Ossipee, Pelham and North Hampton, New Hampshire, and in Greenfield, Massachusetts. The challenge can also be used by businesses, schools and civic organizations to track the collective progress of their members in reducing energy consumption and costs. Individual households are invited to take the challenge as well. Taking the New Hampshire Carbon Challenge is one of the recommendations in the recently unveiled New Hampshire Climate Action Plan; visit the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services website at http://des.nh.gov/organization/divisions/air/tsb/tps/climate/index.htm to review the Action Plan.

The New Hampshire Carbon Challenge is eager to work with municipalities and will waive the usual $50 fee to municipalities who mention reading this article in New Hampshire Town and City magazine. To join the growing number of Granite State residents and organizations taking control of their energy costs by taking the Carbon Challenge, visit www.nhcarbonchallenge.org.

Denise Blaha is co-director of the New Hampshire Carbon Challenge and based at the University of New Hampshire. For more information, visit www.nhcarbonchallenge.org, call 603.862.3128 or e-mail info@nhcc.unh.edu.

Contact the cities of Keene and Portsmouth to learn about their sustainability plans and New Hampshire Carbon Challenge progress:

KEENE:
Rhett Lamb
Director of Planning
City of Keene
3 Washington Street
Keene, NH 03431
603.352.0133
rlamb@ci.keene.nh.us

PORTSMOUTH:
Peter Britz
Environmental Planner/Sustainability Coordinator
City of Portsmouth
Planning Department
1 Junkins Avenue
Portsmouth, NH 03801
603.610.7215
plbritz@ch.cityofportsmouth.com