Sustainability influences all of the operations and projects at the Town of Huntsville. But what, exactly, is it? Broadly defined, behaving sustainably ensures we can meet our needs today while remaining conscious of what future generations will need to meet their own needs. If we meet ours without compromising theirs, we’re being sustainable.
The town takes a 3-pillar approach to sustainability, considering the economic, environmental, and social impacts of its projects and operations, said Rebecca Francis, Town of Huntsville’s Sustainability Co-ordinator.
While they think about it in everything they do, town staff need to strike a balance between those three pillars with some occasionally coming out stronger than others. The new installation of LED lights in many of the town’s streetlights is a prime example.
“LED technology is at the point where costs have come down and the energy savings are phenomenal,” said Francis. “It’s a great energy-efficiency project and the town is always looking for ways to save money. Thanks to the long life of LEDs, we will see our costs come down in both energy and maintenance costs within four years.”
But the town needed to balance cost savings with environmental impact – the least expensive of LED lights are also the brightest. “With lighting we are always concerned about dark skies, so we chose a lighting level that gets us energy savings while also not getting as much light shining upward into the night sky.”
More than 500 lights are being changed in the town’s cobra-head style streetlights. The more decorative lights downtown and in a few neighbourhoods won’t be changed yet. “They are as much for ambiance as for lighting the way. Replacing them would be more expensive and we know there is emerging technology that may make them cheaper in the near future. It’s on our radar.”
The town also hopes to increase its complement of solar panels to reap further energy savings.
“We have applied to the IESO’s (Independent Electricity System Operators) Feed-in Tariff (FIT) program to install solar panels on the Canada Summit Centre. It would be about a 250 kilowatt solar generation system, which is 25 times what we have on our other buildings.”
The town will know in the spring if the project has been approved and Francis is hopeful it will go ahead. “It’s an opportunity for revenue generation and provides good return on investment. Renewable energy also contributes to diversification of the provincial electricity system so we’re not relying on only one way to get our power. It’s neat to think of our town as a renewable energy producer.”
The Town also promotes sustainable living among its residents and that includes more active ways of getting around.
“Sustainability comes nicely into play in active transportation,” said Francis. “If we design spaces with pedestrians and cyclists in mind, they are going to be friendly for everyone and not just for cars. Active transportation has an economic impact – pedestrians and cyclists spend more money at the businesses they go by, and (those modes of transportation) decrease the wear and tear on our roads so there’s a savings in maintenance costs. And many times our trips are less than 5 kilometres long, so if we can replace even one of those per week with cycling or walking it makes a difference in our health – it has a social impact.”
The first, and hopefully annual, Mayor’s Bike Ride in August was one way that the Town has promoted active transportation. “It allowed people who might not cycle a lot to gain renewed confidence that they know the rules of the road and know how to share space on the road. I liked that it created space for positive conversation about how we want to share our roads – it goes both ways. That was acknowledged and there’s enthusiasm to share that message to make our roads safe for lots of different users.”
Local groups and businesses, like The SportLab, championed the project – something Francis thinks is positive. “We like to see that community mindedness and have community champions come forward for these projects.”
Community members are also encouraged to approach the Town to champion their own sustainability projects, as one local woman did. “At this time of year we create awareness about not feeding deer. It was started by a community member last year – we helped her write and publish a brochure along with Muskoka Conservancy to remind people that it’s not necessary to feed deer. It’s not helpful to them – it can be quite the opposite. We want to remind people that we can coexist with wildlife and that there are smart ways to do that.”
Part of Francis’s role as Sustainability Co-ordinator is to help community members in their own sustainability efforts. “If they have something passionate about that they would like to pursue with the town’s help, there’s a process for that. The project needs to be presented to council and I help with that process, and then that person needs to stay on as a community champion. It’s part of how we implement the Unity Plan – the Town’s sustainability plan. We want sustainability projects to be relevant to the community, and we want residents to be setting the standard for how they would like others to act, and the issues they think are important.”
Huntsville is a vibrant, welcoming and healthy place in which to live and play as we foster innovation, celebrate arts, culture, heritage, and recreation, develop a strong and resilient economy and follow an ethic of social caring and environmental stewardshipHuntsville’s sustainability vision
Sustainabilty at Huntsville Public Library
On October 20, the Huntsville Public Library was short-listed for an Ontario Public Library Service Award – the Angus Mowat Award of Excellence – for its Sustainability @ HPL project. The award recognizes a commitment to excellence in the delivery of public library service.
“(The project) is a great example of how communities can work together – libraries are a place of connectedness,” said Cortney Lee-Comeau, Coordinator; Outreach, Programs and Partnerships. “Sustainability is such an important topic and people have been very supportive and engaged in our new programs, services and new sustainability collection.”
Lee-Comeau particularly liked the projects Green Series. “We brought in a speaker a month to provide workshops for the public. It’s something we’ll continue to do in the spring because it was so popular.”
The library is also collecting seeds for Seeds @ HPL, its seed lending library. “If anyone has extra seeds right now, we always welcome donations,” said Lee-Comeau. “Think of it as a safe house for seeds. We accept any open-pollinated seeds – no GMOs or hybrid seeds.
The Town will be implementing more sustainability projects in the future, but expect to see more focus on energy, said Francis. “Energy conservation, energy generation, reducing our energy consumption in town buildings – that will be the way we will be focusing our sustainability efforts. It meets the environmental, economic and social considerations for sustainability.”
Photos courtesy of the Town of Huntsville except where noted