EcoPerth: An Action plan and Governance model to address climate change from a Small Town Perspective

Kathy Thomas and Jim Hamilton
Published September 15, 2006

Case Summary

EcoPerth is a non-profit organization created in 1997 primarily to address climate change issues within the town of Perth, Ontario (population approximately 6,000) and the surrounding rural area. The creation and initial growth of ecoPerth was nurtured by funding from the Climate Change Action Fund. A wide range of projects have been undertaken and successfully completed, ranging from a formal energy retrofit of municipal properties to tree planting projects, bulk purchases of energy saving solar heaters, initiatives to encourage cycling and carpooling, awareness campaigns, and market opportunities to promote consumption of local produce.

EcoPerth is a volunteer driven organization focused on action, rather than on planning or studies. EcoPerth has a Board of Directors whose members have included the Head of Public Works, the Chair of the Business Improvement Association, as well as the owner of the local newspaper, local store owners, and councilors.

Sustainable Development Characteristics

The ecoPerth website summarizes its goals and modus operandi as follows:

Perth has set out on the road to show how a small town, in central Canada, can respond to the issues of climate change. Partnering with local businesses, groups and individuals, ecoPerth is about making projects happen - projects that are environmentally sustainable and economically efficient.”

The goal of ecoPerth is addressing climate change by minimizing waste of energy, water, and other scarce resources, and promoting a sustainable community. To date, over 40 different projects have been successfully implemented.

EcoPerth is loosely structured around four main areas, each of which encompasses a variety of individual projects. These four areas are:

  1. Buildings Team

  2. Green Team

  3. Transportation Team

  4. Communications Team

A detailed list of projects undertaken under these four areas is included in Appendix A.

From an infrastructure perspective, the projects that focus on transportation could have a potential impact on reducing the need for additional roadwork in addition to reducing green house gases through reduced vehicle use. The projects undertaken under the umbrella of green initiatives and buildings initiatives help to preserve the greenscape, improve water management and use, and improve energy consumption and efficiency. Taken as a whole, the various projects lead to a more sustainable and livable community that engages its citizens, strengthens local cooperation and interaction (both social and economic), and reduces waste.

EcoPerth is sustained by volunteers and has received support via several government grants and incentives. Where feasible, ecoPerth promotes and builds on government programs, such as Natural Resource Canada's Energuide for Houses Program, the One Tonne Challenge and the Renewable Energy Deployment Initiative that was useful in the solar water heater project. A partnership with the Canadian Mortgage Housing Corporation (CMHC) provided the funding to develop a guide for other municipalities to use to follow the lead established by ecoPerth.

Critical Success Factors

Action Orientation

One of the critical success factors that is a distinguishing hallmark of ecoPerth is its action orientation. In contrast to the usual approach to projects aimed at modifying consumer behaviour, which includes a preliminary planning phase, followed by an awareness phase and culminates in an action plan/implementation only after the foundations have been thoroughly laid out in the first two phases, ecoPerth focuses on action.

Project Focus and Volunteer Engagement

In keeping with the philosophy of facilitating action, the ecoPerth model encourages volunteers to become champions by assuming responsibility and ownership to complete specific projects. Volunteers can be individuals, local businesses, community associations, or concerned citizens. Projects have clearly defined goals and the end achievement is typically a tangible product or event.

The original three environmental consultants who were involved with the creation of ecoPerth continue to work with the organization a decade later, assisted by hundreds of  volunteers from the private and public sector and the community at large. This provides continuity in leadership, governance and maintaining the vision of ecoPerth.

The focus on a wide range of concrete “do-able” projects, many of which require only minimum funding, has ensured the engagement of a broad segment of the community over time, from business to individuals to schools to service groups. EcoPerth encourages partnerships and hands off projects to other organizations where it makes sense to do so. EcoPerth avoids duplication of efforts by creating strategic partnerships and ensuring appropriate co-ordination within the community.

Visibility

At its start, the completion of one large project (the retrofit of the town hall, arena, etc.) by the town acted as a catalyst, raised its visibility, created momentum and lent credibility to ecoPerth in the community.

Community Contact Information

Bob Argue is one of the three people who were instrumental in starting ecoPerth, and is the person who was interviewed for this study. His coordinates are:

Telephone: 613-268-2907

Email: bob@ecoperth.on.ca; info@ecoperth.on.ca

What Worked?

  1. Action oriented (not planning and feasibility studies).

  2. Diversity and parallel action on multiple ideas, for projects big and small, to as many people/sectors as possible, and encouraging volunteers to “catch” those projects they could champion and implement (an effective technique to encourage commitment and buy-in).

  3. Publicizing many small, discrete, self-contained projects that could be initiated, replicated and completed by different volunteers or service organizations or sectors, with relatively fast results, as well as offering larger more complex projects.

  4. Letting the community decide what projects are appropriate, thereby promoting local decision making and autonomy.

  5. Offering encouragement, nurturing and critical, timely feedback.

What Didn’t Work?

  1. Plans requiring lengthy feasibility studies, lots of documentation, and long waits for approval resulted in burning volunteer resources on work that did not always provide tangible evidence of progress.

  2. Plans to introduce Energy Service Company (ESCO) energy retrofits to smaller organizations were not initially successful. Further research is ongoing.

Financial Costs and Funding Sources

The federal Climate Change Action Fund provided the impetus to create kickstart ecoPerth. Aproximately $200,000 in funding over a two-year period was provided after a successful application was made in 1998. The funding was used to develop the capacity and infrastructure of ecoPerth and provided critical seed money to fund four part-time positions (capacity) over two years, and for a range of expenses such as newsletters, print ads, public meetings, etc.

Additional funding has been provided more recently via a grant for $2,400 from the town to subsidize ecoPerth's rent plus $20,000 from the Laidlaw Foundation to work on children's and environmental issues.

EcoPerth is run by volunteers and many current projects require investments of time rather than significant capital investments.

Research Analysis

Analysis of this case study leads to several key observations:

A grassroots approach, focusing on discrete projects, and a minimal emphasis on hierarchy and approval processes/procedures appears to be particularly efficient and effective in a small community setting, and would likely be replicable in other rural/small town settings. There are also useful lessons here for larger communities. EcoPerth has received several awards and widespread recognition as a model for other communities to replicate.

In the early stages, it was important for ecoPerth to complete a number of small, but do-able projects, to do them well and build credibility within the community, as failure, particulary in small communities, is highly visible. On a positive note, as a corollary, successes could also be easily observed and noted. A number of visible early successes helped to generate a positive atmosphere, leading to further interest, momentum and commitment to more volunteer effort to champion further projects within the community.

In order to obtain buy-in and ensure volunteer engagement and project ownership, it is preferable to select projects that demonstrate clearly identifiable benefits, including economic savings and/or measurable reductions in use of limited resources or harmful substances.

Volunteer work is an essential component of this model, but a certain degree of funding is still required to pay for expenses that cannot be totally absorbed or subsidized, such as printing costs, and meeting/speaker costs, and most crucially, to initiate momentum in early planning phases.

In conclusion, ecoPerth is a self-organizing, non-hierarchical organization that elicits passion and commitment in the community from its organizers and volunteers.

Other Resources

The ecoPerth website

The ecoPerth website includes this link to assist users to download documents developed as a result of ecoPerth initiatives, and which may be useful to replicate projects.

Another useful resource is the Eco-communities link on the website, which includes numerous downloadable files for other communities to use as templates, with examples of press releases, promotional material, etc. This project was completed with assistance from Ontario Healthy Communities Association and the Trillium Foundation.

Refer also to CMHC's June 2001 Research Highlight Socio-Economic Series Issue 82. EcoPerth: A Small Rural Community Takes Action on Climate Change

Detailed Background Case Description

For nearly a decade, ecoPerth identified projects and found local champions to initiate and follow through on a wide range of initiatives to address climate change and the broader aspects of sustainable development within the Perth area.

Three environmental consultants with a local firm (REIC) wanted to engage the community in sustainable issues at about the same time as the federal Climate Change Action Fund was created. The consultants provided the impetus to create ecoPerth and were successul in applying for $200,000 in funding over a two-year period from the fund. The initial funding was used to develop critical capacity and infrastructure and provided seed money to fund four part-time positions over two years, and for a range of expenses such as newsletters, print ads, and public meetings.

EcoPerth is run by volunteers and many current projects require investments of time rather than significant capital investments. The three environmental consultants who helped to create ecoPerth in 1997 continue to the present time to dedicate their time and energy, assisted by hundreds of other volunteers who have given their time and spearheaded individual projects. Volunteers are expected to take on the responsibility for the completion of specific projects.

EcoPerth's focus is clearly on action and project-oriented. Detailed governance structures and procedures, hierarchical decision-making processes, and formal documentation/studies are all eschewed to the degree possible in favour of simply making change happen. The assumption is that awareness will follow action rather than necessarily lead in the challenge to create a more sustainable community. Typically, once there is a critical mass of support to initiate and complete a project, it is given the go-ahead. Volunteers are encouraged to take on projects because many projects require a manageable chunk of time, require minimal funding, and can be completed within a short- to medium-time frame. Volunteers can thus feel that can accomplish a specific tangible goal, rather than making a commitment of unknown duration and scope.

Projects are divided into four main categories - transportation, buildings, green, and communication (Refer to Appendix A for a detailed listing of projects.) The Transportation Team currently has ongoing projects to increase bicycle usage, reduce idling in vehicles, help find alternatives to conventional family cars, promote/facilitate carpooling, and encourage use of a daily commuter bus to Ottawa. These initiatives, as well as certain projects within the buildings and green portfolios, such as the rainwater conservation program, programs for pesticide free natural lawns, and programs to encourage the patronage of local food producers (e.g. farm gate sales, Local Flavour campaigns, etc.) have links to and/or impacts on infrastructure requirements.

The Buildings Team sponsors a variety of projects to reduce energy use in area homes and municipal buildings. Of particular note, are the Municipal Building Energy Retrofit program, undertaken in conjunction with an ESCO that has resulted in ongoing annual savings of $40,000-$50,000 and carbon dioxide savings estimated at 450 tonnes per year, and the promotion of solar domestic hot water systems through the use of bulk ordering, with attendant cost savings for consumers.

The Communications Team arranges for speakers, contributes articles to the local media and promotes awareness of ecoPerth and the opportunities for citizens, organizations and businesses to take action on their own or to partner with others. In many cases, ecoPerth provides the catalyst to bring together groups/individuals to tackle a specific project, providing a forum for interested people to find useful information and links to other interested parties.

EcoPerth has made effective use of partnerships with a broad range of partners. Some partnerships, such as with the Town of Perth, have been longstanding. Other partnerships developed to facilitate single strategic projects. Partners include:

  1. REIC Perth

  2. the Corporation of the Town of Perth

  3. Downtown Heritage Perth Business Improvement Area

  4. the Lanark and Leeds Green Community

  5. the Perth Courier (local weekly newspaper)

  6. Algonquin College, Perth Campus

  7. Many local businesses and groups

  8. Enbridge Consumers Gas

  9. Ontario Health Communities Coalition

  10. Green Communities Association

  11. the Federation of Canadian Municipalities

  12. ICLEI Partners for Climate Protection

  13. Environment Canada

  14. Natural Resources Canada

  15. the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC)

  16. the Climate Change Action Fund

  17. Safe Communities Partnership of Perth and District partners on projects of mutual interest.

CMHC, in a 2001 research article about ecoPerth identified four key factors for viable projects:

  1. Doable:  money, time and resources are available, likelihood of success is good

  2. Champion:  to initiate the project, to keep it moving

  3. Economic:  direct benefits with measurable payback makes it easier to sell

  4. High profile:  increases awareness, be creative to create visibility

While avoiding meetings and studies as much as possible, ecoPerth's leaders acknowledge the usefulness of scheduling periodic reviews of projects as well as documenting community baselines. Periodic reviews help to avoid prolonged use of limited resources on projects that may turn out to be less viable and which should be dropped, or spending time maintaining projects that could logically be assumed by another organization or group. The development of baseline data permits the measurement of the impacts and benefits of various projects.

Efforts to apply the ESCO model of financing were used effectively to retrofit municipal buildings (e.g. town hall, arena, etc.) to higher standards of energy efficiency, generating significant savings. While plans to promote the ESCO model among other businesses have not been successful to date, due to the lack of economies of scale and lack of capacity within the community, ecoPerth's leaders continue to look for ways to adapt the process to facilitate the adoption of ESCO financing for smaller scale projects.

The ecoPerth website has evolved over time and now provides a wealth of information. The website is a useful resource, well-organized, highlights the range/purpose/scope of different projects both completed and ongoing, and leads to other useful links. It is designed to pique the interest and participation of future volunteers.

Strategic Questions

  1. How quickly and effectively can the lessons and achievements of ecoPerth be replicated in other small towns?

  2. To what degree can the lessons and achievements of ecoPerth be applied to larger urban centers? What modifications, if any, would be appropriate?

Resources and References

CMHC Research Highlight, June 2001, EcoPerth: A Small Rural Community Takes Action on Climate Change.

Hamilton, J. and K.I. Thomas. 2004. Innovative Community Energy Projects, Department of Natural Resources, Canada, Government of Canada.

ecoPerth

All About Perth

Appendix A

What's Happening?

The range of ecoPerth projects that are currently up and running. Taken from the ecoPerth website

The Building TeamCurrent Projects
Rainwater Conservation ProgramRain barrels have been made available to the public.
A Bright IdeaGood qualilty 15-watt compact fluorescent light bulbs come gift wrapped!
Soap Bubble GreenhouseEnvironmentally-friendly soap bubbles to shade and insulate greenhouses.
Solar Domestic Hot Water SystemsA bulk order allows systems to be installed at a substantial discount to residents.
Municipal Building Energy RetrofitsAn Energy Service Company has been selected to work with the town, businesses and institutions for energy efficient retrofitting.
EnerGuide for HousesA local contractor has been certified and equipped to provide "EnerGuide for Houses" audits with computerized blower-door equipment.
Christmas Light TimersDowntown Christmas lights have been put on timers. Now there's a bright idea!
Energy ConservationWe all learned something about energy conservation during the blackout, but the trick will be to not forget what we learned. What actions did you take?
Relamping ProjectTBA
The Green TeamCurrent Projects
Truckload Tree SaleA buck and a quarter a tree, they're almost free!!
Farm Gate SalesEncouraging small local growers, and reducing the distance food travels.
The ecoPerth Recipe ColumnProviding recipes, storage tips and nutritional information about currently available local produce.
Towpath PlantingsEncouraging a corridor for humans and animals along the Tay.
Local Flavour CampaignEncouraging local food retailers and restaurants to feature locally grown food.
Pesticide Free Naturally CampaignShows people how to wean their lawn off drugs, and encourages them to promote that with a lawn sign.
Reel Mower Promotionreel mowers are available for trials and demonstrations with a discount coupon also available.
Local Food BoxLocal growers and consumers have been brought together via Food Box Programs and increased space at local retailers.
Roll Over To CloverEcoPerth is encouraging people to overseed their lawns with White Dutch Clover. It's drought-resistent, hardy, outcompetes weeds, and adds nitrogen. What's not to like?
Local Flavour BusinessesBy supporting restaurants, bakeries, and grocers that use local produce, we are not only supporting them but also the farms and growers whose goods they use.
Shoreline NaturalizationTBA

The Transportation Team

Current Projects

ecoRideThis started as a local bulletin board for listing rides wanted/offered.
Green ShiftHelping us to find alternatives to the conventional family cars
Perth Bicycle Users Group "PBUG"A group formed to promote bicycles as an alternative transportation system.
Bicycle Salvage at the Landfill SiteAn area established at the landfill site where old bikes are left and can be reclaimed or used for parts.
Tire pressure clinicsTires are checked and inflated to proper pressure and literature on energy-efficient driving habits distributed.
Anti-Idling SignageNo-idling signs installed at the rail crossings in town.
Commuter BusDid you know there is a daily commuter bus running from Perth to Ottawa and back?
Communication TeamCurrent Projects
Polar Bear PlungeThe recipient of pledges for the January 1, 2004 plunge is ecoPerth.
First Class across CanadaTwo of Perth's grade four classes are racing their way across Canada! Well ... sort of.
Personal Action PledgeA survey, feedback, and action card to prompt individual/household action.
Speaking EngagementsPresentations to various age groups and organizations on climate change and ecoPerth activities.
Kyoto and YouA look at both the big and baby steps we can do help in the effort.
Tay River EcoFestA great open air fest celebrating stewardship.
Awards and RecogitionecoPerth gets Perth, Ontario named as a top three finalist in Energy Efficiency Awards.
Green LinkHelping people to access green products and services, including “green” power.
Neighbourhood ecoPerthBringing neighbourhoods together in joint green projects.

This case study for EcoPerth provides a great example for how communities can act on climate change. The action oriented process that ecoPerth took allowed citizens to get engaged to improve their community’s social, economic and environmental framework through a variety of tangible, do-able projects with identifiable benefits.

What I found surprising about this case study, but very inspiring, is that ecoPerth showed that you do not have to spend a lot of time planning and changing people’s behaviour before implementation of actions can occur. By simply making changes happen, citizen awareness will follow the initial actions, and this will help lead to behavior change and create a more sustainable community. This model, of less planning and more doing, can be used by other communities struggling to keep volunteers and the greater community engaged in sustainability and climate change projects.

I am also really happy to see the ecoCommunities website that evolved from ecoPerth, as it provides a valuable resource tool for other small and medium sized communities working to take action on climate change. This tool allows the successes of ecoPerth to be shared and repeated in other communities. I am excited about a few easy actions that I could see implemented in my community right away, such as the pesticide free campaign. I only wish this website was updated, as all the resources are dated 2004. The same goes for the main ecoPerth website, as it is also out-of-date. The website still references federal government programs, such as ecoEnergy and the One Tonne Challenge, both of which have been cancelled for some time now.

I would be really interested in seeing some updated information on how successful ecoPerth has been since they this case study was prepared. The case study indicates that ecoPerth had developed community baseline measurements to review their successes, but I was not able to find any information on how well they have done in their 16 years of operation. The ecoPerth website does not contain any information into these performance measures.

Overall, the ecoPerth case study is a great learning tool for smaller communities looking to take action on climate change, which many are presently doing. Even without updated measurement information, I will recommend this case study to leaders in my community, as there are many great actions we can take immediately in an effort to improve our community sustainability and action on climate change.

peter daniel woods

Sun, 2007-02-25 16:35

The action oriented focus of the Ecoperth project is its main selling feature and probably why it has been so successful to date. I have witnessed numerous "good ideas" that have been quashed because of too many pre-planning commitments.

There seems to be an enormous amount of time dedicated to resolving issues before the action starts. The issues become steeped in controversy and nothing happens on the ground. In an action oriented appproach the motivation to solve problems and continue with the project seems to be much more of an invigorating and pragmatic approach.