I am convinced bureaucracy, not global warming, is what is actually going to be the main contributor to our collective demise. The more time I spend in the environmental movement, the more I realize that the innovations, the technology and the possibilities for living a more sustainable life are available to us, but it is the corporations and politicians who are stalling, and at times, actively blocking real and significant change and progress.

Take BC Hydro for example. A lot of people in British Columbia think they are great. After all, most of us are able to get electricity from a renewable source – hydro (of course we have to skim over any environmental damage that was done in building the dam, but hydro is still widely accepted as much, much better than a coal-burning power plant).

BC Hydro also runs a cool Power Smart program encouraging people to reduce energy by 10%. They promote the use of energy efficient fridges and operate a pick up and recycle program for old fridges – they even give you $30 for your old one. They operate many great programs encouraging energy savings and offer a slew of rebates. In fact, BC Hydro even has a website full of Smart Green Guides where they promote everything from turning equipment off when not in use to avoiding disposable dishes to reducing meat consumption. Sounds like a bunch of great green advice, right?

Recently though I have been reminded again, just how difficult it is for companies to make real and significant changes in reducing greenhouse gases within their own companies. Most companies are quick to give advice, but not so quick to actualize their own advice.

Take engine idling for example. We live in a rural setting and BC Hydro drivers come onto the property (where we also have our office) regularly to read the electricity meter. They drive onto the property, leave their engine idling, saunter out of the car, walk across a garden or two, read the meter, saunter back across the lawn, rummage for some papers, make a phone call or take some notes and drive off again.

Often they leave their engine idling during the entire process.

It doesn’t sound like much, but think, just for a moment, how many meters one BC Hydro employee is reading in a day and the fact that they probably leave their engines idling the entire time. Well, maybe they turn them off for lunch and/or coffee breaks, but it potentially adds up to a lot of unnecessary greenhouse gases spewing into the atmosphere. Not all BC Hydro drivers in the province engine idle, but the majority that I have seen on Salt Spring Island sure do.

Engine idling might not seem like a major contributor to climate change when you compare it to the airplane emissions or coal burning plants, you might think it is just another example of ignorant and unnecessary waste like disposable cutlery and single use coffee cups and plastic bags, but the reality is engine idling and vehicle emissions are a serious contributor to greenhouse gases. And BC Hydro is only one example of a much much larger problem.

In Canada, the transportation sector is one of the largest sources of greenhouse gas emissions. For every litre of gasoline used, the average car produces about 2.4 kilograms of carbon dioxide (CO2). Natural Resources Canada advises, ‘If every driver of a light-duty vehicle in Canada avoided idling for just five minutes a day, we would prevent more than 1.6 million tons of CO2 from entering the atmosphere each year.’ This is the equivalent of taking an estimated 490,000 cars off the road each year.

Worse still, a recent study suggests that in the peak of winter, Canadians voluntarily idle their vehicles for a combined total of more than 75 million minutes a day – equivalent to one vehicle idling for 143 years.

Many nations around the world cite transportation as the largest producer of carbon dioxide in their countries.

Salt Spring Island, where we live, has an appalling amount of engine idling. We see work vehicles engine idling, garbage pick-up vehicles idling, the food delivery vehicles and the courier companies engine idle (we now refuse to use local courier services because they continue, regardless of how many times we contact them, to engine idle), and this is in addition to all the other vehicles that are left idling while people wait in the ferry line-ups, drop off a video, run into the grocery store, etc., etc.

If there exists a worse community for engine idling, I have never seen it.

Yet, engine idling reduction strategies are one easy and obvious example of how communities and businesses around the world can assist in taking responsibility for their climate change contributions. Policies to reduce engine idling vary from community to community and country to country.

In the USA, the reduction of unnecessary engine idling is slowly permeating into the mainstream consciousness. However, there is much room for improvement. Currently, trucks are permitted to idle for 5 minutes in each one-hour period in various American counties. Many Canadian communities allow 3 minutes of idling in a one-hour period. Even though North Americans are slow to catch on about the need to reduce unnecessary engine idling, much of the rest of the world is making strides to improve air quality and reduce greenhouse gases.

In Sweden, individuals have long refrained from engine idling when stopped in vehicle traffic. In Switzerland, there are laws that you have to turn your engine off if you are waiting at a red traffic light. Scotland and England have cracked down on engine idling through education campaigns, fines and air pollution awareness strategies. In other European countries, permissible durations of engine idling vary from 10 seconds to 3 minutes. Italy and France allow 10 seconds, while drivers can idle for 40 seconds in Germany and 60 seconds in Holland. Several cities in Taiwan have banned engine idling effective in 2008. Hong Kong, Japan and Singapore allow 3 minutes of engine idling in any one-hour period. Fines and enforcement measures varies country to country.

But back to BC Hydro. After hearing the vehicle engine idling on the property again this morning, I went outside and told the driver to turn their engine off and not to engine idle on this property again. The worker, started laughing, gave no reply, so I repeated my request to turn the engine off, and she kept laughing and got in her car and drove away.

I am not sure what is so funny about engine idling, but I am notoriously humourless on this subject.

So, I called BC Hydro again. This is the second, maybe third time I have contacted BC Hydro about engine idling. From the outside, it appears like they have no engine idling policy in place (or certainly not one their fleet drivers are aware of), and each time I speak to an earnest PR person, they assure me that someone will speak to someone else on Salt Spring Island to make sure no more engine idling takes place. This works for about 2-3 months and then a new person comes along and starts engine idling again.

After a callback from BC Hydro, I know they are making efforts to reduce engine idling via an internal campaign (and kudos to the company...), but clearly a bit more effort is needed.

I simply cannot wrap my head around why companies don’t implement a stop engine idling policy. Why the hesitation? The benefits for the planet and in fuel savings is immediate and undeniable. Don't companies want to save money in these tough economic times?

On Vancouver Island, I ran an anti-engine idling campaign (in partnership with another green gal) and we were able to accomplish a lot of engine idling awareness raising on an absolute shoestring budget. We proved, very clearly, that you could create an engine idling program for your staff with very little resources.

In a nutshell:

You create a simple photocopy or e-mail that tells all your staff about the new engine idling policy coming into place and what you expect from staff and by when, you explain the rationale for the policy, you place engine idling awareness posters in staff rooms, offices, lunch rooms, etc. (these are available for free from a number of sources), you then place stickers on the vehicles asking the public to report unnecessary vehicle idling (If you see this vehicle idling, call…) and you place a one line reminder about the company’s engine idling policy on pay check stubs or envelopes. When new staff is hired you include the company’s engine idling policy as part of their orientation.

The ability to create an engine idling campaign that significantly reduces the carbon footprint of any company operating a fleet of vehicles is extremely economical. So why don’t companies jump at the opportunity to reduce their greenhouses gases and company carbon footprint? And do we need to keep mentioning the fuel savings?

Is it apathy, laziness or just plain disinterest? Or maybe just a combination of all three? As I said at the beginning, it is the bureaucracy and a lack of initiative that will most likely be the source of our demise.

But in the meantime, when we see vehicles idling unnecessarily, be it BC Hydro or any other company or individual driver, let’s remember to politely remind drivers to turn off their vehicle engine when stationary, for the well-being of the planet we all share.

Valerie Williams is a writer living on Salt Spring Island. She is the editor of GreenMuze. com.

Via:www.greenmuze. ??m

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