This past week, the city of Cowansville marked the first anniversary of the launch of its monthly Écodéfis campaign, aimed at encouraging residents to adopt more environmentally responsible behaviours.
Starting in January 2021, a new eco-challenge was posted every month to the city’s website. More than 300 residents formally signed up for the challenges, and many others learned about the challenges by word of mouth, according to Mayor Sylvie Beauregard. “It’s not hard to find people who want to improve their behaviour and reduce their environmental imprint,” she said. “More and more people are aware of environmental issues and want to take action.”
The January challenge invited people to reduce the carbon footprint of their computer use, by reducing screen luminosity, turning off electronics when not in use, turning off their cameras during videoconferences and repairing instead of replacing electronics. According to city documentation, each minute of videoconferencing emits the equivalent of 15 grams of CO2.
In February, participants were asked to save energy by turning their thermostats down one degree, washing dishes in cold water and sealing windows to avoid wasting heat. In March, they learned about eco-friendly driving. In April, “spring cleaning month,” they were challenged to discover their local recycling centre and use eco-friendly cleaning products. May was devoted to local and zero-waste food shopping, reducing meat consumption and choosing sustainable fish. In June, participants were challenged to reduce water consumption, and in July, they discovered the environmental impact of the clothing industry and were invited to buy secondhand clothing and learn to sew. August was recycling month, and in September, participants reduced chemical runoff by choosing (or making) non-toxic cleaning supplies. In October, they learned how to organize their refrigerators to reduce food waste; November was composting month and in December, they were encouraged to share what they’d learned over the year with friends and family. Each challenge included a few basic suggestions, followed by more involved and time-consuming activities for people who wanted to take their involvement to the next level.
The project was developed by city communications director Fanny Poisson, who says she was inspired by a similar project in Magog, although that project didn’t use the same month-by-month format.
Beauregard acknowledged that it was difficult to calculate the exact impact that the project had had on water and electricity use in Cowansville. “We don’t have specific statistics…but if everyone does their part, things will improve,” she said. “It takes 21 days for a person to change an established habit. The goal of the challenges was to allow residents to [change their habits] at their rhythm and at the level they preferred.”
“I learned a lot about the clothing industry and the transport aspect of shopping,” the mayor added. “Online shopping means a lot more delivery trucks are on the road, and that creates greenhouse gases; you’re in the comfort of your home, but [the process] creates a lot of pollution.”
The city does not plan to develop new challenges for 2022, but the 2021 challenges will remain on the municipal website (cowansville.ca/citoyens/environnement/plan-strategique-et-developpement-durable#ecodefis; in French only) for anyone who would like some inspiration toward reducing their environmental impact in the coming year.