The Low-Carbon Diet?

From The Roslindale–West Roxbury Bulletin
March 5, 2009
by Scott Wachtler

Despite a heavy March snow, a good number of West Roxbury residents, including city councilors John Tobin and John Connolly came out to West on Centre to hear just what a Low-Carbon Diet Group is. The Smart Energy Party was held Monday night by the community based non-profit organization West Roxbury Saves Energy.

“The idea behind this is to spread the word to people about what they can do to save energy and reduce their carbon foot print,” Ray Porfilio, who along with his wife Rickie Harvey found the group, said. “The goal is to get households to take steps to reduce 5,000 pounds of carbon a year from their diet. That doesn’t sound like much, but if we can get 20 households to join in, that becomes 100,000 pounds. By getting more and more people to take part in the community, then suddenly you have a bigger number.”

Dave Mahoney and Liz Morian share a house on Beech Street — the home Mahoney grew up in. Since it’s an older home, drafts are a big issue for them when it comes to energy conservation. They came to the Smart Energy Party to meet up with other residents to see what they were doing to save energy.

“West Roxbury is a prime place to hold a meeting like this because we have a lot of larger older and drafty homes here so any information is needed… It’s crazy how expensive it is to heat a home here,” Mahoney said. “We have a 115-year-old stained glass window and we know we’re losing heat from it, but what can you do? You don’t want to get rid of it because it’s beautiful, but you also know that it’s costing a lot of money.”

West Roxbury Saves Energy provided flyers with 10 simple ways people can save energy and save money in the long run. Mahoney and Morian were happy to see that they were already doing a lot of things on the list, but they were also happy to see that there were other suggestions they had not thought of.

“I’m glad to say that I’ve been taking my own bags to Roche Bros. for over a year to pack my groceries,” Morian said. “But I never even thought of recycling wire hangers from the cleaners. I’ll be honest: we’ve just been throwing them away.”

Roche Bros. will refund customers five cents for each bag you bring for your purchases. Prime Cleaners in West Roxbury will also take off 5 cents from your cleaning bill for each wire hanger you return.

Ultimately, Mahoney and Morian said they’d love to do an energy audit in their home to see where they’re losing the most heat and energy. They recently converted all the light bulbs in the kitchen and living room with energy efficient Compact Fluorescent Lights.

“It was more expensive and at first I was worried that the light would make the rooms in our house look like an office building, but the CFLs have gotten better,’’ Mahoney said.

Becoming a smart energy user comes down to consumption, cost and carbon reduction, Porfilio said. He said Americans consume an average of 55,000 pounds of carbon per year and use 2 million plastic water bottles every five minutes,

“That’s 30 million in an hour!” he said. “That’s a staggering number so we have to look at our consumption, using less is better. It saves money and saves resources.”

Porfilio said cost comes into play because sometimes it will cost more to take part in greener programs. Last year he and his family offered to take part in NStar’s Green program which allows customers to choose to have their electricity come from either 50 or 100 percent renewable energy sources.

“It comes out to about an extra $7 or $14 on your bill to get your energy from them,” Harvey said. “But it’s worth it to our family.”

Porfilio encouraged those who came out to do their own carbon audit and provided a worksheet to everyone who attended. He used his family’s carbon audit to illustrate how they were able to cut 6,000 pounds off their carbon diet.

In 2007, Porfilio and his four-member family became interested in reducing their carbon footprint. By taking a carbon audit, they calculated that they where consuming 87,000 pounds of carbon — well above the 55,000 pound U.S. average.

Porfilio attributed the high number to the fact that his home and many of the homes in West Roxbury are older, larger and less energy efficient that newer homes. Harvey also works from home which means the house is “in use” all the time.

In 2008, Porfilio and his family began to get serious about reducing their carbon output. The City of Boston’s recycling program that started last summer has helped them cut down on their trash and joining NStar’s Green has helped them further lessen their carbon impact. Switching to CFLs also helped them to reduce their energy usage.

With just simple changes, the Porfilios were able to reduce their carbon footprint. Their goal is to further lower that number and reach the U.S. average within two years. To do that, Porfilio said he plans on winterizing his home this year and also purchasing carbon offsets which provides funding to support activities that save carbon.

“Although we have two teens, we’re committed to not becoming a three-car family,” Porfilio said. “I’ll be cycling to work more. That will further lower our footprint.”

Mahoney and Morian along with Connolly and his wife, joined with others in attendance to form two carbon diet groups which will work together to monitor their carbon consumption.

The groups plan on meeting regularly to discuss strategies for the next few months and then reconvene in late May or early June to discuss how it went.

“I’m excited to do the program,” Connolly said. “I’ll admit that I have a lot to do. I think the first thing we’ll do is swap out our old light blubs and replace them with CFLs. We’re also planning on weather proofing our house. I’m embarrassed to say it, but we’re probably a high consuming house, but that’s got to change.”

Tobin also felt like the carbon diet groups were a good idea.

“This wasn’t preachy at all, which was good,” he said. “I felt like I was in an over consumers anonymous group.”

Thanks to the city’s recycling program, he and other families have been able to cut down their garbage output to only two bags per week.

“I fill up two of those recycling bins!” Tobin said.