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April 05, 2011

This Is Climate Idol

This article originally appeared in ICLEI USA's Local Action blog.

 Climate Idols Photos

Move over, American Idol, and make way for Climate Idols. This friendly competition pits four households in Duluth, MN, against Thunder Bay, Ontario -- two sister cities whose governments share an interest in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, conserving energy, and addressing climate change. Each city has chosen four households, or “idols,” to compete against each other in four sustainability categories, and in turn inspire the rest of their community members.

Like ICLEI’s Green Business Challenge, which encourages business leaders to adopt sustainable practices at the local level, the Climate Idols Challenge aims to show average households that sustainable living is easy and beneficial. Both Duluth and Thunder bay recognized a golden opportunity.

"Sister City programs are a terrific platform for friendly competition. To meet climate protection goals, cities need to creatively engage residents on conservation initiatives for energy, fuel, solid waste, and more," says Michael Davidson, Midwest Regional Director for ICLEI USA. "Hats off to Duluth for leveraging its Sister City relationship with Thunder Bay so that residents in both cities have a direct stake in the creation of more livable communities and a healthier region.”

The Climate Idols competition comes at a time when the City of Duluth is also in the process of further expanding the Duluth Energy Efficiency Plan (DEEP), an initiative dedicated to increasing household energy efficiency through resources such as energy rebate programs and online workshops on cost-saving improvements to local homes.

Duluth Climate Idols Logo

How it Works

Launched in February 2011, Climate Idols challenges four households selected from each city to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and live more sustainably by making simple but effective changes to certain practices and behaviors. Duluth and Thunder Bay were inspired by the experience of another sister city, Växjö, Sweden, one of originating cities for a program called Climate Pilots. Växjö is known as the greenest city in Europe.

Through the Climate Idols challenge, participants aim to set an example for their communities. The households are judged on four areas: energy, transportation, food and lifestyle.

The volunteers are given an “energy baseline” in order to establish a consumption history for their homes, and then are provided with recommendations on how to improve their home energy efficiency through upgrades like water-saving devices and LED lighting. The participants must reduce their energy consumption by 15 percent in order to complete the challenge.

Participants are judged on how effectively they use a combination of public transportation, human-powered travel, and carpooling with a larger goal of reducing fuel consumption by 12 percent. The households are required to keep gas receipts to track their fuel use.

In order to promote a more sustainable diet, participants complete a series of challenges designed around eating organic, seasonal local foods, including food from their own gardens. Participants are encouraged to examine what kind of effect their eating habits have on the environment and the local economy.

The lifestyle portion of the challenge encompasses a wide range of practices, including waste reduction, reusing everyday items, purchasing second-hand clothing, recycling, and patronizing the local library. Households are asked to be mindful of “non-essential” consumer purchasing.

The idols are encouraged to blog about their experiences so that other households can follow their progress.

"These are real people, real families making changes, and they're able to see how these changes affect the environment," says Eric Schlacks, Gas and Energy Coordinator for the city of Duluth. "People are willing to take these challenges on in a public forum, and it shows a lot of the things people can do for the environment are actually very simple things." Schlacks is encouraged by the expression of support for the program, from the city’s building safety division, to local supermarkets, to the American Society of Architects, and even an area car dealership.

>> Read More About Climate Idols
>> Read About Sweden’s Climate Pilots Program

FYI, the District of Columbia launched a similar program based on the Swedish model in 2009.

-- George Knowles, ICLEI USA


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