Fairfax officials, residents unite to maintain sustainable lifestyle

April 27, 2011

Fairfax County has been making environmentally friendly changes to county buildings, but lags behind neighboring jurisdictions when it comes to reaching out to residents and businesses. Several residents are working to fill the gap.

“Fairfax County can be extraordinarily energy efficient in our own facilities,” said Sharon Bulova (D), chairman of Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. “But a major payoff comes with the private sector engaging in the process.”

County-owned vehicles and buildings equate to less than 5 percent of the entire county’s energy use. To reach the remaining 95 percent in the public sector, Bulova created a task force that included a variety of commercial, educational, government and utility representatives to develop a consensus on how to reduce energy consumption countywide. The Energy Task Force will set up efficiency strategies and ways to keep the issue on the front burner, she said.

Unlike Montgomery County and the District, Fairfax does not offer monetary incentives to encourage the community to live a sustainable lifestyle.

“We’ve been struggling just as everyone else has, trying to survive the great recession,” Bulova said. “We’ve not entertained ideas to give rebates or reduction in taxes.”

Instead, they are trying to lead by example by making changes their own facilities, she said.

Lights on county ball fields will soon turn off when the field is not in use. More county-owned hybrid vehicles will hit the streets, and several energy-efficient air-conditioning and heating systems will be installed in schools, community centers and the county jail.

All those projects are funded through $9.6 million in American Recovery and Reinvestment grants, also known as stimulus funds. Of that, more than $420,000 will be used for residential outreach.

Bud Thompson of Great Falls has experience in that area. He and a few neighbors started the Cool Community Project. The organizers are at every farmers market, in churches and at the libraries recruiting families to the program. So far they have 300.

The biggest problem Thompson sees is “individual apathy,” he said. “Just not being able to generate enough concern through general education.”

The Cool Community Project provides a 28-point checklist, complete with reference materials, for households to work through for greener living in a variety of categories, including transportation and appliances. The project sends e-mail alerts on tips to stay motivated. With each fix, a household gets points towards being a “Cool Neighbor.”

“I know it is working. I get e-mails from folks telling me their point totals and asking tons of questions,” Thompson said.

This year, he hopes to have 500 families signed up.

“Energy efficiency, cleaner environment, whatever they want to buy into, we are selling it,” he said.

Programs such as Thompson’s are a good start for the community, said Stella Koch, chairman of the county’s Environmental Quality Advisory Council. She credits the county for its work and said residents and businesses are starting to catch on.

Koch works for the Audubon Naturalist Society and regularly takes residents to a local stream and explains the workings of the wildlife and affects of development.

“All of these programs that may appear simplistic,” she said. “They make you see . . . that we have an impact on the planet.”

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