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Green Ribbon group celebrates one year

The Mercer Island Green Ribbon Commission (GRC) commemorated a year of progress last Tuesday, Dec. 1. The committee was founded a year ago with the goal of raising eco-awareness among Islanders in order to reduce the Island’s carbon footprint.

Twelve months later, the commission has not changed, but rather has scoped down its goal. Its aim today is slightly more tangible: to help Islanders understand their carbon footprint and show them realistic ways to reduce this output.

Leading the way is Commission Co-vice Chair and City Councilmember Bruce Bassett.

Bassett, the founder of a small technology company, has spent nearly a year creating a Web site that measures and tracks the carbon footprint of individuals and households. The site is called EcoShift (www.ecoshift.org) and, although not complete, is already up and running.

“My hope is to get a handful of people visiting this site to build community, so that we can talk among ourselves and discuss how to make [EcoShift] bigger,” Bassett told fellow commission members.

Although the science behind it is complicated, EcoShift is remarkably easy to use.

Once registered, visitors enter individual and domestic data — from household electricity output to personal gas expenditure — to calculate their average monthly carbon footprint. These statistics are then graphed and compiled over the months, allowing users to observe their carbon footprint trends and track efforts at conservation. The data can also be compared to that of other EcoShift members, stirring up positive competition among Islanders.

“I encourage you all to sign up,” Bassett said, adding that he would be thrilled if the site was introduced to the Mercer Island High School curriculum.

MIHS senior Harry Bolson, attending the GRC meeting for the first time, responded emphatically.

“This is definitely something we could do in class,” he said.

Like Bassett, Bolson is pioneering Mercer Island’s path toward conservation. As his senior culminating project, the student plans to install a 6.9kW solar panel system on the MIHS roof, allowing the school to completely power its student store and marketing department through solar energy. Bolson is currently focused on earning financial support for his project, which he estimates will cost $13,000.

Indeed, efforts such as this is what the Green Ribbon Commission is all about.

The committee’s stated purpose is to “reduce the carbon emissions of Mercer Island residents” while its short-term focus is to reduce “energy use in single-family homes.” The committee is targeting Island families whose homes are heated “at or above average energy use,” according to Puget Sound Energy calculations.

Summarizing one’s domestic energy is easy; the entire process can be done by plugging in monthly bill statistics at www.pse.com under the “My PSE Account” subtitle.

Another area that the Green Ribbon Commission has adopted as a key focus is transportation. This issue, although daunting in its scope, must be approached by small communities such as Mercer Island, said GRC Transportation Chair Lucia Pirzio-Biroli.

“One of the biggest issues on Mercer Island is getting around people’s perceptions on transportation,” she said, adding that many Islanders struggle with finding an alternative to driving.

The Island’s geography and development — with North-end-only bridge access to the mainland and minimal public transportation — make public transportation an especially difficult problem. Yet things can be changed, said GRC member Frank Glick.

“Our long-term goal should be to get every Islander within a five-minute walking distance of a bus stop,” he said, adding that this would allow Island residents easy access to the Town Center light rail station, set for completion in 2012.

Such positive thinking is what fuels the Green Ribbon Commission ahead.

The Green Ribbon Commission’s next meeting is March 2. Islanders are encouraged to visit the commission’s Web site: www.mercergov.org/greenribboncommission.

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