This Ontario town is trying to be Canada’s first carbon-neutral community

If Eden Mills can do it, why can’t Prince Edward County do it?

The tiny village of Eden Mills is closing in on its goal, proving what collective action can achieve

Zawadzki used green tech like solar panels and rainwater barrels for his new Eden Mills home (Photograph by Cole Garside)

An hour’s drive from Toronto on the northwestern edge of Milton, Ont., is a little-known town with a little-known story of climate-change activism. With about 350 residents, Eden Mills has long sought to preserve its 19th-century charm, making it a haven for big-city escapees who enjoy cycling or placid walks along the Eramosa River. More recently, though, its inhabitants have worked toward a distinctly 21st-century goal: becoming Canada’s first carbon-neutral community.

The project has defined the past 12 years of Charles Simon’s life. He got the idea after watching a TV program about Ashton Hayes, which is aiming to become England’s first carbon-neutral village. It also happens to be located near where Simon, a retired engineer, grew up. After a summer visit to the U.K. in 2007, he returned to his own community with a vision. And to his surprise, his neighbours bought in.Other cities, provinces and entire countries currently grappling with climate crisis would love to be able to boast about Eden Mills’s results so far—at last count in 2013, the town was 75 per cent of the way to its goal of neutrality, thanks to an 18 per cent reduction in its carbon footprint and its abundant existing forest canopy that sucks up CO₂. Household emissions were down by 554 tonnes annually, while carbon sequestration resulting from greenery added by the community increased by 277 tonnes, or six per cent. (Preliminary results from a more recent count suggest the village is even closer, with the footprint down by 22 per cent.)

The carbon footprint of the 100-year-old red-brick community hall has decreased by 96 per cent, the result of a massive retrofit that began in 2009 (Photograph by Cole Garside)

The enduring symbol of its achievements: the village’s 100-year-old community hall, a red-brick edifice whose carbon footprint has decreased by 96 per cent. Its need for purchased energy has dropped an astonishing 91 per cent annually since a massive retrofit involving everything from a solar-panel array to programmable thermostats.

Yes, it’s a success story writ small, say residents. And yes, it’s a lot easier to move the needle in a tiny community that doesn’t rely on industry. But Simon and others say it demonstrates the impact collective action at the grassroots level can have. “We were saying, ‘We are part of the problem, we can’t wait for government, we can’t wait for powerful corporations,’ ” he recalls of the genesis of the project. “We thought, if we start something from the ground up, other people maybe will follow and maybe we will learn something along the way.” MORE

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