PhD Candidate, Simon Fraser University
Published November 22nd, 2012
Eagle Island is a small-scale example of how leadership can result in action on climate change. Eagle Island is a community of 30 homes, located within the municipality of West Vancouver. Through holding local parties, obtaining some funding, and forming a partnership with local firefighters, Eagle Island resident Tarah Stafford was able to increase the energy efficiency of 26 homes on the Island. The success of Stafford’s initiative was picked up by the organization Cool North Shore and Stafford is now working with this group to carry out similar programs in other North Shore communities (notably Blueridge and Horseshoe Bay) using the name Cool Neighbourhoods.
Sustainable Development Characteristics
The community has not yet assessed the amount of GHG emissions it was able to reduce; this information is still being obtained from the 26 households that undertook home retrofits.
Critical Success Factors
Eagle Island’s success was entirely due to the passion of one community leader, Tarah Stafford. Stafford spent a significant amount of (unpaid) time convincing the community about the seriousness of climate change and the need to increase energy efficiency in homes; obtaining funding; and seeking partnerships. Without Stafford’s persistence and drive, this initiative would not have happened. Stafford also realized that people would be more receptive to becoming involved with an energy retrofit program if it was fun. To this end community meetings were organized as dinner parties and this was successful in bringing on more people as they wanted to participate in these community social events.
Aside from the integral role played by Stafford, Eagle Island was successful because it is such a small place. With only 30 or so houses, contained geographically on an island, Stafford was easily able to reach out to everyone in the community and bring most of them on board.
Another success factor was the District of West Vancouver authorizing its Energy Manager, Steve Jenkins, to assist Stafford with her initiative. As someone without a vested interest in energy retrofits, Jenkins was able to act as an unbiased source of expertise surrounding the technology and the auditing process. Together, Jenkins and Stafford convinced 85% of Eagle Island residents to undergo an energy audit. After the audits were performed, Jenkins was able to help residents interpret the data they received.
Bringing on the fire department to conduct the thermal imaging of homes proved to be very successful. People liked seeing the images produced by this process as it made energy waste visible. People also inherently trust firefighters and were receptive to having the fire department carry out this process.1
What Didn’t work?
Not all residents were involved with the program. 6 households could not be convinced to join for various reasons: denial that climate change exists; the fact that the houses were new; or that retrofits had already been undertaken.2
Financial Costs and Funding Sources
Tarah Stafford worked as a volunteer and was successful in obtaining some small amounts of government funding; getting bulk discounts on heat pumps and windows; and invited the fire department to conduct thermal imaging, free of charge. Overall there were very few costs outside of what individual households paid to carry out the retrofits.
Once Stafford connected with the Cool North Shore organization, the group applied for and won a $15,000 grant from BC Hydro Power Smart, to conduct a feasibility pilot for expanding the program outside of Eagle Island. Since then, Cool North Shore has received a $36,000 grant from the Real Estate Foundation and the federal government gave $100,000 for scaling up to do 1000 houses on the North Shore over a period of a year and a half.3
This case is interesting from the perspective of community engagement leading to action on climate change. It will be interesting to follow up with Cool North Shore over the next few years to find out the complexities of transferring a program like Cool Neighbourhoods from one community context to another. In particular, an interesting analysis would be to follow these ‘Cool Neighbourhoods’ and investigate if and how the energy retrofit program acted as an entry point for community members to do other sustainability work at the local level.
Detailed Background Case Description
The energy retrofit program on Eagle Island began with one resident, Tarah Stafford, becoming motivated to engage in climate action after watching An Inconvenient Truth. She decided to start at a small scale, in her own neighborhood. Eagle Island is a small island of 31 houses, located just off the shore of the District of West Vancouver. In early 2010, Stafford reached out to several of her neighbours over a dinner party, in an effort to garner interest in reducing Eagle Island’s contribution to climate change through doing home retrofits. This dinner was successful and Stafford managed to bring on board some of her neighbours who had been skeptical about the need to take action on climate change. She next hosted a party and invited the whole neighborhood: 60% of residents attended, along with Trish Panz, a councillor for the District of West Vancouver and Steve Jenkins, the Sustainability Manager for the District. Knowing she had the support of the majority of residents, Stafford, along with the help of Steve Jenkins who had been authorized by the District of West Vancouver to assist Stafford in her initiative, carried out research on what kinds of retrofits were necessary to increase energy efficiency, and reduced costs for residents by obtaining bulk discounts on necessary items like windows and heat pumps. The first step in carrying out the retrofits was doing audits to figure out where heat was escaping and where air was being let into the homes. Steve Jenkins conceived of the idea to invite local firefighters into homes to do thermal imaging to produce a visual image where people could see where heat is escaping.
The Eagle Island grassroots initiative received a lot of attention in West Vancouver and increasingly in the larger Vancouver area. In April 2011 Stafford was invited along with the West Vancouver Mayor, a councillor, and the Sustainability Manager, to present at the United Nations and receive a ‘Global Green City’ award for their efforts in this and other initiatives in West Vancouver.
Now that 26 houses have completed their energy retrofits, the community is looking to other ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Since the Island is only reachable by boat, community members are working on getting electric barges and electric charging stations installed.
The organization Cool North Shore learned about the Eagle Island initiative in late 2010 and worked with Stafford on a pilot project to determine the feasibility of expanding the program to other communities. Since then, Cool North Shore has been working with Stafford in Horseshoe Bay and Blueridge on the North Shore and on Bowen Island, calling the initiative ‘Cool Neighbourhoods’.
Resources and References
Media Release: Homeowners Get Help From Firefighters with Energy Audits http://westvancouver.ca/Level3.aspx?id=31402
1Personal correspondence, September 18, 2012, return to text
2Personal correspondence, September 18, 2012, return to text
3Personal correspondence, September 28, 2012, return to text