HIGHLAND PARK – Highland Park was designated as Climate Showcase Community where leaders will encourage borough stakeholders to reduce the municipality’s carbon footprint.
Highland Park joins Montclair and Cherry Hill in this distinction. Cherry Hill received a $40,000 grant from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that will provide funding for the next two years for committees to work in each municipality to reduce the carbon footprint, said Highland Park Borough Council Member Jon Erickson, who helped develop the project with Sustainable New Jersey at The College of New Jersey.
While the funding is available for two years, the local project will run through 2050. The goal of the local campaign, called “It’s in Our Power Highland Park,” is for Highland Park to reduce its carbon footprint by 80 percent by 2050 or 4 percent a year, said Matthew Kaplan, community greenhouse gas and energy coordinator and administer the grant.
The campaign will officially kick off May 10 with the Highland Park Earth and Health Fair 2011, where people will be asked to sign pledge cards agreeing to work to reduce their carbon footprints. The fair is from 6-9 p.m. at Highland Park High School, 102 N. Fifth Avenue. There will be food, kids’ activities, exhibits, health screenings, zumba and belly dancing lessons, electric car demonstrations and gardening tips. The Borough of Highland Park, Highland Park Board of Health, Highland Park Public Schools and Sustainable Highland Park are sponsoring the event.
Leading up to the Earth and Health Fair, there will be meetings throughout the borough with key stakeholders, from residents to business owners and school administrators to inform them of the campaign and encourage them to participate in the project. The next public meeting is at 8:15 p.m., April 28 at Congregation Ahavas Achim, 216 South First Avenue.
“We’re going around and getting feedback from stakeholders. We want to let them know that this is what we’re thinking about. And we’ll ask them if it’s reasonable,” Kaplan said of the smaller meetings.
And at the May 3 Borough Council meeting, the council is expected to adopt a resolution in support of the campaign.
On April 12, the committee did a presentation at Main Street Highland Park (MSHP), the non-profit that promotes the businesses along Raritan Avenue in the borough.
“This is one more example of how Highland Park and the businesses lead by example,” said James McCrone, executive director of MSHP. “I was very impressed with the good turnout, the presentation and discussion.”
McCrone said he is encouraging businesses to participate in the campaign.
“We know who the stakeholders are and we will help bring them together,” he added.
Teri Jover, chair of Sustainable Highland Park, the committee formed by the borough council to help with the campaign, said Highland Park is already positioned to make an impact on its carbon footprint.
“There’s already a strong interest in sustainability,” she said. “Before it was big, our town had been very interested in promoting that concept. We can become one of the most sustainable towns in the United States.”
Erickson said “At a time when gas prices are around $4 a gallon anything we can do to reduce our dependency on petroleum, coal and foreign oil and address the climate change will help. We can show that towns the size of Highland Park can do things and other towns can follow. We have the opportunity to be a model for other towns in America.”
While Sustainable Highland Park is trying to reduce the borough’s carbon footprint, Jover said those who participate would save money in the long run.
“We’re trying to save people money. People’s bills will go down. We can become more efficient. We’re helping Highland Park and ourselves save money,” she continued.
Highland Park uses 85,000 metric tons of carbon a year. The average American’s carbon footprint, which is the measure of amount of greenhouse gases, is a little more the 28 metric tons.
Kaplan said since 20-25 percent of the businesses in Highland Park are tenant occupied, rather than owner occupied, it may be a challenge to reduce their carbon footprints, but it’s not impossible.
“The business community is unique. Most are tenants. We want to focus on things we can ask the tenants to do,” he said, offering that the business owners with fleets purchase hybrid vehicles, energy-efficient lighting, Energy Star appliances, use both sides of the paper for printing and turning off lights and power strips when they’re not in use.
Home and business owners will receive a decal to display in their window once they sign the pledge and Kaplan hopes consumers will shop the businesses more frequently that are participating in the campaign.
For more information about “It’s In Our Power,” visit http://ourpowerhighlandpark.org/.
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