Thursday, September 24, 2009

Nicholas Grad Making Durham Sustainable

This semester I’m taking a class called Integrating Environmental Science and Policy, taught by Professor Charlotte Clark. I’ve enjoyed our in-depth examination environmental issues, as well as the numerous guest lecturers.

Last Monday, Nicholas School alumna Tobin Freid spoke to our class about her role as the first-ever Sustainability Manager for Durham City and County.

Durham’s Greenhouse Gas Emission Reduction Plan seeks to reduce government emissions by 50% and community emissions by 30% by 2030 by implementing high-performance buildings, energy efficiency and more efficient water treatment. (24% of Durham’s energy budget comes from water treatment!)

“When the plan was adopted, people didn’t want to see it sit on a shelf, they wanted to see it implemented,” Freid said. “That’s my job.”

“I get to make it up as I go along, because it’s so new, but it’s a huge responsibility, and people have huge expectations. It’s a lot of work, a lot of stress, but I love it.”

Freid directed the development of such new policies as idle reduction for city/county vehicles (not leaving a car running for an extended period of time when not in use), purchasing products that are recyclable, durable and non-toxic, informing employees of ways they can be environmentally responsible, and a high-performance building standard in the county, by which all new facilities will be built to certain standards of LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design).

Much of Freid’s job involves education. “Just because you put a policy out there, you still have to get people to follow it,” Freid said. To this end, Freid meets with a green team, composed of representatives from each of the city/county departments, gives presentations, hosts lunch-and-learn series, and posts information to an intranet site.

“ I can’t make everything happen. I need to get people to buy into this, and take it on as their own,” Freid said.

Freid also tracks energy use and emissions, to see how the goals of the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Plan are being achieved. “But where do you draw that bubble of where your emissions start and stop?” Freid said. “We send 25 flatbed trucks a day to Virginia with our trash. We only capture the emissions from the trucks up to the Durham county line. We are somehow responsible for them, but had to draw the line somewhere.”

Fortunately, the city of Durham has received $2.1 million in federal stimulus money to put towards energy conservation and job creation. The funds must be obligated within 18 months, and the money must be spent within 3 years. Freid plans to prioritize energy efficiency and conservation, maximize benefits over the longest possible terms, and invest funds in programs and projects that create and/or retain jobs.

“For now, I rely heavily on my interns. [Between the city and the county,] I have to do everything twice. I have a very very small budget, and I rely on the departments to buy in and find money in their budgets.”