Cooling it

If local activists have anything to say about it, DuPage County is in for a cool spell.

Success will depend on the participation of myriad sectors, from corporations to neighborhoods, nonprofits to governmental agencies.

That proposition was the basis of the 2014 DuPage Energy Summit, held recently at the Hotel Arista in far northwest Naperville. Titled “Making DuPage a Cool County: A plan for energy and economic stability,” the event drew business people, environmental advocates, residents and others with an interest in the effort to improve local air quality by cutting greenhouse gas emissions.

The DuPage effort is well underway.

When DuPage officials took on the Sierra Club’s Cool Counties challenge in September 2012, they established a target of decreasing countywide greenhouse gas emissions by 10 percent from 2007 levels by 2020, and 20 percent by 2030.

“It’s a pretty audacious goal, but I think it’s a very achievable goal,” said summit organizer Brook McDonald, chairman of the Green Government Council and president and CEO of the Conservation Foundation, headquartered in Naperville.

County Board Chairman Dan Cronin noted that every houshold, business and nonprofit organization in DuPage plays a role in emissions, and all must be enlisted in the work of reducing them.

“We recognized that this effort was not going to be easy, and it was going to take significant collaboration,” Cronin said.

The county was already well on its way to achieving the goal when the initiative was adopted. Total emissions, which are directly correlated to energy consumption, fell 7 percent in the county over five years after the baseline data was collected, from 16.55 million metric tons of carbon to 15.39 million by 2012, according to the findings of the Municipal Energy Profile Project. Figures from the project for DuPage, derived from measurements of vehicle miles driven and the consumption of electricity and natural gas, were shared at the summit by Lindy Wordlaw of the Center for Neighborhood Technology.

The causal factors lessened during those five years, when average household use of electricity fell 7.8 percent, and consumption of natural gas went down 13.8 percent. The reductions, Wordlaw said, resulted from factors that include improvements in energy efficiency and decreases in the size of residents’ homes.

Excess emissions do more than generate ozone and other forms of air pollution that have been tied to increases in global temperatures. They can aggravate medical conditions, said keynote speaker Mike Kolleng, manager of the American Lung Association’s Healthy Air Campaign.

The connections between air quality and public health, Kolleng said, are often overlooked. That mindset has roots that stretch back a couple of centuries. When the Industrial Revolution was gaining momentum, he said, air pollution was regarded as a sign of prosperity and progress.

Identifying some of the primary components of compromised air quality, Kolleng discussed the differences between ozone, sometimes called smog, and particulate matter, or soot. Both can hinder lung function.

Particulates can be as small as 1/30th of the diameter of a human hair.

“It’s not something you see, so much as it’s something you feel,” Kolleng said.

Smog can bring its own breathing woes, combining with proteins and lipids to cause inflammation in the lungs.

“Even in low doses, ozone can be extremely toxic,” he said.

Other speakers at the summit told stories of success in helping reduce smog and soot, sharing some of the steps they have taken to boost their energy efficiency. Representatives from ComEd and Nicor, two of the event’s sponsors, discussed the utilities’ initiatives, and Jeff Brown, the Arista’s general manager, spoke about some of the energy conservation strategies practiced at the inn, which is a Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design-certified facility.

“There’s a lot of cool things going on in DuPage County,” McDonald said.