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Building a Sustainable Garden State, One Community at a Time

In Frenchtown, actions included conducting an energy audit on its public buildings -- the borough hall and police headquarters -- which resulted in conversion from oil heat to natural gas, a lighting upgrade, and the installation of programmable thermostats.

Seventy percent of the audit’s cost was paid for by the Jersey Board of Public Utilities, ,while the remainder came from state and municipal funds. The resulting improvements were paid for in part by federal funding of $20,000.

The rewards of the energy audit came in the form of fuel bills which more than halved to $4,000 a year because of conversion to natural gas, as well as 50 points toward certification, or almost a quarter of the town’s 170-point total.

To earn 10 more points, the green team built a community garden on half an acre of land that had been purchased by the Federal Emergency Management Agency after the lot had been repeatedly flooded by the Delaware River.

In a project spearheaded by the local Lions Club, the land was cleared and fenced, all by local volunteers who also built raised beds and wooden walkways out of pallets. In-kind donations came from a local farmer who tilled the land and donated fence posts, and from local businesses including Lowes, Home Depot, and Ocean Spray. Local businesses have donated food waste for composting while the municipal court has used the garden for community-service projects.

For another 10 points, the community held a green fair which promoted a host of sustainable practices including waste reduction, line-drying of laundry, and collecting rain water in barrels. Vendors at the event in September 2012 were barred from serving food in Styrofoam containers.

The Hunterdon County community of some 1,400 people has united around the sustainability program, which has become more than just a means of saving money, said Mayor Warren Cooper.

“Something magical happens in this Sustainable Jersey effort,” Cooper said. “We’ve incorporated the goal of being a sustainable community into our self-concept.”

Cooper argued that the local program does not reflect the efforts of a small cadre of eco-zealots but has engaged the whole community, which he described as a rural blue-collar town with a diverse socioeconomic profile. “If we can do it, anybody can do it,” he said.

Now that it has the buy-in of many municipalities, Sustainable Jersey is extending its reach to school systems. In a program due to be launched in fall 2014, the group is creating a code of best practices and sustainability metrics for schools. When implemented, the program will provide specific measures that schools can take to go green; they will be encouraged to use any cost savings from measures such as reduced energy use to improve educational programs.

The schools program will be an opportunity to combine different aspects of sustainability such as health and environmentalism, Drewes said. For example, an effort to stop parents idling their cars while picking up children from school could improve air quality, reduce childhood asthma and fuel consumption, and lower carbon emissions, she said.

“When the municipal program had such an impact, schools said they wanted to get in on this,” said Drewes. “The certification model is a way for us to celebrate this and help move schools and municipal governments forward.”

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