Green parking plan starts slowly in Nashville

Nashville wants 30 nonprofits to help build awareness of carbon offset program
Metro Nashvilles carbon offset green parking program the first in the country has gotten off to a slow start, with only five people signed up to offset their carbon emissions in exchange for free downtown parking.

Metro Public Works officials say beefing up promotions with a Channel 3 spot and gathering more support from environmentally conscious organizations will energize the parking program, which began in July.

Metro partnered with EarthCredits, a nonprofit environmental organization, to collect funds from motorists who pay to offset their cars annual carbon dioxide emissions and carry out green projects, such as tree planting and solar energy development. The program is available only to motorists who register their cars through the Davidson County Clerks Office. The carbon offset program was offered as an alternative to the free downtown parking program offered to those who drive energy-efficient vehicles such as hybrids.

So far, about $360 has been collected for the green projects, but it will take much more awareness and money for the program to have an impact, said Roy Dale, EarthCredits founder.

I think its unfortunate that more people dont know about it, he said. People want to see monies going toward environmental improvements that they can put their hands on. I think more nonprofits and more education about it could really get the numbers up.

Jeff Morris said he and his wife, Rebecca, likely would not have made an investment in the future green projects without the parking incentive. The process of going online to determine his 2006 Toyota Corollas annual carbon emissions was simple, he said. The cost to offset the emissions per year was about $40, and he paid $10 at the county clerks office for a green parking permit. The Green Hills couple has used the permit for nights at the Schermerhorn Symphony Center, downtown meetings and lunch.

Looking for change and paying for meters was a headache, so its nice to have that headache gone and know that Ive done something about my carbon footprint, Morris said. It was a little bit of a surprise that only a few people were doing this, but I think word of mouth will help.

Green parkers still have to adhere to the posted time limits, and they usually pay between $30 and $70 to offset their annual carbon emissions, Dale said.

30 nonprofits sought

Metro will enlist about 30 local nonprofits to spread the word and sign on to collect the funds and offer a variety of projects that improve air quality, use solar energy and reduce greenhouse gases, said Jenna Smith, former sustainability manager for Mayor Karl Dean. Raising awareness is a benefit of green parking, but the main goal is reducing Nashvilles carbon footprint.

Deans 2009 Green Ribbon Committee suggested green parking, home weatherization and other energy-efficient programs as ways to reduce greenhouse gases by 5 percent in Nashville by 2012 and 20 percent by 2020, said Smith, who was a member of that committee. Transportation makes up 32.6 percent of Nashvilles carbon emissions, according to a 2009 Greenhouse Gas Inventory.

No one program can do it, but this is another way Nashville can become a greener city, she said.

Smith, now a contract administrator with Metro Public Works, has set up the Public Works website for the green parking program. With enough participation, a green project could be approved by Metro over the next several months, she said.

But Dale has used his own money and donations to start the Parks at Ewing Creek, a greenspace that would reduce flood risks.

Even if the investment is low early on, Metro has already made a bold move by starting such a program, said Alterra Hetzel, spokeswoman for Carbon fund.org, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit carbon reduction and climate solutions organization.

Whats important is that the city and nonprofits explain the why. You can plant a hundred trees, but it has to have a climate benefit, Hetzel said. Renewable energy, energy efficiency and reforestation can be done through these offset programs, so I think its positive that nonprofits have stepped up to take part.
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Earth Credits
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www.earthcredits.org/
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