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Dedham Environmental Coordinator Virginia LeClair, Part 2

On Tuesday I shared the first part of my conversation with Virginia LeClair, environmental coordinator for the town of Dedham, about the evolution of her job. We also talked about some outreach campaigns that the town is still working on. Read on to find out more.

What’s the Cool Dedham campaign?

The Cool Dedham campaign is modeled after the Cool Mass campaign, which is through the Massachusetts Climate Action Network. The town of Dedham was one of nine communities to be chosen to participate in this groundbreaking initiative that targets residential carbon emissions. We do that by working through a workbook called The Low-Carbon Diet. We have a Carbon Café, held at a café in Dedham. Our first Café we had 70 people come out, and we formed eco-teams—usually 7 or 8 individuals—who work to lower their carbon footprint. This workbook has 24 steps with easy low-hanging fruit to change their lifestyle to make a difference. We have a goal of getting 25% of Dedham’s 24,000 residents to lower their carbon emissions by 25% within a three-year-period.

We started off with this eco-team that was sort of the top of the eco teams; they nicknamed themselves the clothesline gang, because they hang all their clothes out on clotheslines. Their homes were already solar, they already drive hybrid vehicles, they’re vegetarians, they’re doing everything already that could lower their emissions, so we have used them as our standup model of what an eco-team could be, and they’ve really been great in getting the community involved.

It’s honestly been a challenge to try to get that many residents to continue to be engaged and to continue to spread the word about it. So we’re extending that three-year period, and it’s going to be much longer than that. I think that was a very ambitious goal. That’s what a lot of other communities are finding, too. It’s a big challenge, but it’s something that we’re working at.

How are you measuring results?

We’re measuring results by asking the participants to report back to us. And MCAN has a list of questions that they send to us at the end of each year asking us about the total emissions that we believe our eco-teams have reduced. The book is not really scientific, quantitative, but there is a workbook in the back where you can plug in how much you believe that you will reduce if you participate in these measures. So through that we can get a rough estimate of what we believe that we’re reducing as a result.

Is the focus of this entirely on residents or is it also on businesses?

That’s just residents. For businesses we have another program that we just started: commercial recycling. We received a Sustainable Material Recovery Grant from the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection Bureau of Waste Prevention. We received technical assistance from a municipal assistance coordinator, and she helped us create a survey that we sent out to Dedham businesses. We’re focusing on Dedham Square, and we’re finding out what they recycle. The reason we started this is that a lot of Dedham businesses don’t recycle, or they recycle but they take it home with them, and that’s because their landlord has not provided recycling services for them. They provide trash services. So we’re trying to find out what their needs are through a survey, and now we are going to put out a request for proposal to hauling companies and see if we can lump these businesses that share an alley in together to save them money on recycling. Also to save space; there’s such limited space in these alleys.

But recycling is usually cheaper than trash pickup, isn’t it?

It is. Exactly. So that’s part of our education campaign of trying to educate these owners and landlords that they’ll actually end up saving money, because it’s actually more expensive to dispose of trash than it is to dispose of recycling.

There’s so much more that I need to learn about urban planning! Thanks to Virginia for putting up with my curiosity.

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