It has been almost 2 years since I wrote my first post on this blog. The objective was to share my own experience in trying to make a biggest impact on climate change. I also set out to share knowledge and resources with others who are also interested in fighting climate change. One of the best resources I came across is right in my community – Green Newton. Green Newton’s “Take Action” tool is an excellent way to assess and take steps to make a difference. In includes steps span form actions you can start immediately and don’t cost anything, such as changing your thermostat settings, to more substantive investments such as heat pumps or electric vehicles.
Earlier this year, I decided to join the board of Green Newton, as another commitment and step in my learning. As I got the know the other board members, I gained tremendous admiration for their dedication and time commitment to the organization. As I thought about my journey, I asked Marcia Cooper (President of Green Newton) and Sunwoo Kahng about their experiences and wanted to share it here.
Can you share how you got involved in the climate movement and Green Newton?
Marcia: After hearing about Green Newton in the early 1990’s, I became a member and began working together with other volunteers on the organization’s bi-monthly newsletter mailing. Participating in other occasional volunteer activities seemed easy enough to fit into my typical routines, and in 2005, when asked to serve on Green Newton’s Board of Directors, I said “yes” without missing a beat. The commitment of fellow board members and the organization’s positive influence in the community was so impressive to me that in 2008, when asked to serve as the group’s president, I agreed, never imagining that some 13 years later, I would still feel so enriched by serving in that capacity.
Sunwoo: I’d always been curious but uncommitted about environmentalism. We ended up buying a tear down because I loved the walkability of the location but also because there were not many houses on the market. I thought if we were to spend all those resources to build a new house, I wanted it to be sustainable so that it would be a better house for the future. We built to the LEED standard and I learned a lot about sustainable building overseeing much of the construction—not many knew what sustainable building meant back in 2006. That was the beginning of my active interest in sustainability and it has deepened through the last 13 years.
I joined Green Newton once we moved here and ran the organic garden tour for several years. When Green Newton decided in 2014 to invest more heavily in a new website and e-newsletters, I volunteered to manage it. I have a background in information science.
There are so many areas to address with climate change, what topics are you most passionate about? How do you select the areas to invest your time?
Marcia: While environmental advocacy is right up there, my highest priority is to inform people about how they can make a difference in reducing our community’s greenhouse gas emissions. Everyone needs to know that around 61% of Newton’s greenhouse gas emissions is attributed to our energy use in our homes, and from our vehicles. Our decisions and personal actions can make a huge positive difference. My wish is that each individual would make a commitment to “use less and green the rest”, which is the essence of the City’s “4 Our Future” campaign. Though there are various energy-saving steps for everyone to take, the most impactful four are: insulate and air seal your home, upgrade heating system with heat pump technology, purchase an electric vehicle when it’s time to replace a vehicle and install solar if possible.
Sunwoo: Though I have an interest in sustainable building because of my own home building experience, my personal passion is zero waste. I spent my years at Mason-Rice creating and running a composting program for all PTO events, and then joined the City’s Sustainable Materials Management Commission to try to work more broadly in the city. I don’t work an outside job and decided I would be the primary one in our family to give back to the community. I have the advantage of being able to devote a lot of my time to unpaid work and therefore can take on bigger roles. Good or bad, this City relies heavily on volunteers to get much of its good work done.
What are the most rewarding aspects of volunteering at Green Newton?
Marcia: It is most exciting to see how we’ve helped hundreds of households to get Mass Save Home Energy Assessments — and in the past two years — over 100 households to upgrade to heat pump technology, and over 100 homes to go solar. Green Newton leaders also collaborate with Newton’s EV Task Force to assist folks with obtaining detailed information about electric vehicle models, prices, miles on a charge and incentives. For me, it has been a unique opportunity to work with a wonderful group of citizens and city leaders, who are equally determined to help in one way or another to achieve significant environmental progress in our community.
Sunwoo: I feel a sense of community and support for my beliefs regarding environmental responsibility. Sometimes it can feel lonely advocating for sustainability (like the Lorax!). In the last few years, I feel Green Newton is having more impact on changes in the city, and is really being heard more. That is very rewarding. We have to continue to grow our mailing list and encourage more passionate people to join the effort.
Can you suggest some good resources for people to learn what they can do to make an impact in their daily lives?
Marcia: My top recommendation is to start with the Green Newton’s Take Action tool that can be found at https://community.massenergize.org/greennewton/actions, and under the “Things you can do” heading on www.greennewton.org, there’s a a number of excellent ideas for making an impact. Additionally, if anyone needs help to make decisions pertaining to weatherization upgrades at home, it makes a lot of sense to contact the city’s Energy Coach, Liora Silkes at firstname.lastname@example.org
Sunwoo: Start small and start with something that is meaningful to you. It may be reducing how much food you waste, buying less stuff, going meatless once a week, changing to LED bulbs, etc. Then keep adding bigger steps like getting a home energy assessment or considering EVs for your next car purchase. I was taught waste is bad growing up. That is a big motivator for me in all the climate action I take. Talking to people who have made changes and getting that feeling of support and community is big. There are so many resources on the internet to educate yourself and get ideas.
What recommendations do you have for people who want to get more involved in affecting climate change?
Marcia: Good question! We would appreciate getting more help to connect with local community groups, such as religious congregations, clubs and book groups, in order to schedule brief presentations on the “4 Our Future” campaign. Also, it would be great to share Green Newton’s social media messages and bring more attention to our climate advocacy, programs and initiatives. Our Youth Leadership Program is open to high school students, and residents of all ages are welcome to participate in Green Newton’s ongoing efforts to make a big environmental difference in our community. Please contact email@example.com to learn more.
Sunwoo: Keep up with the local politics on climate action and be vocal, join an environmental group to get support and learn how to affect change. Lot of the members of Green Newton’s board have passion projects and pursue them, often with the organization’s support. We can’t individually do it all, but as more of us take part, we can effect dramatic change. Lean on other like-minded people if you get discouraged. Remember that whatever we do, we are lessening the burden our children will have to bear
The experience and dedication that Marcia and Sunwoo bring to Green Newton is impressive. I hope over the years I can make an impact as well, and learn from all the volunteers at Green Newton. Are you ready to dive in? Start by learning more about the environmental organizations in your community. You can start with small steps.