December 15, 2021

Progress on Climate Action Plan Strategies Despite Challenges of Ongoing Pandemic

TAKING ACTION ON CLIMATE: In Princeton’s Caldwell Park neighborhood, known as a certified Sustainable Princeton STAR neighborhood, residents installed a meadow this year to help address abundant stormwater, which is a priority of the Princeton Climate Action Plan.

By Anne Levin

Sustainable Princeton recently announced that 22 of the Princeton Climate Action Plan’s 84 strategies have either been completed or initiated during 2021. This progress is in spite of — and in some cases, because of — the pandemic.

With fewer people commuting and offices closed, there was a downturn in greenhouse gas emissions. “Princeton’s community greenhouse gas emissions trended down substantially in 2020 (22 percent reduction compared to the 2010 baseline),” reads a release from Sustainable Princeton. “The drop is likely due to transportation and building energy consumption reductions associated with the pandemic.”

In a phone conversation this week, Sustainable Princeton Executive Director Molly Jones and Program Director Christine Symington said the hope is that the statistics will signify a trend.

“We can’t pinpoint exactly how much of this is related to COVID, but we acknowledge that it is the majority,” said Jones. “What we’re hopeful for is that a lot of the behaviors during that period will solidify. I think we’ve reached this tipping point where so many of these behaviors are becoming much more commonplace. Electric vehicles, the way buildings are being built, and climate-conscious community development — it’s all really beginning to happen.”

Princeton’s Climate Action Plan was completed in 2019. The goal is to reduce emissions by 50 percent, based on 2010 emissions, by 2030; 65 percent by 2040; and 80 percent by 2050.

Sustainable Princeton’s list of 22 strategies that illustrate progress in addressing climate change fall into the categories of energy, land use and transportation, natural resources, resilience, and materials management. Among them: increased participation in the Princeton Community Renewable Energy program, Princeton Community Housing’s breaking ground on the town’s first all-electric affordable housing development; and Princeton University’s first phase of a new campus heating and cooling system that includes “an all-electric heat pump plant tied to one of the largest high-performance geo-exchange fields.”

“That alone signifies tremendous growth,” said Jones. “Geothermal is a huge win to our community emissions that will be felt for years to come, because the University is responsible for such a large part of our footprint.”

Symington added, “The large-scale things like geothermal will lock in reductions and keep our emissions trending downward in the future. It would be great to see more large-scale projects like that across the town.”

Additional strategies cited by Sustainable Princeton’s report include the return of the municipality’s free public transit bus to service, the updated noise ordinance to limit the use of gas-powered leaf blowers and other landscaping equipment, the hiring of the town’s first open space manager, efforts by Friends of Herrontown Woods and Friends of Princeton Open Space to replace invasive plant species with native species while encouraging residents to engage with nature, the coming installation of eight publicly available electric vehicle charging stations, and the new Community Solar program.

“When we look at the development projects being put forth in town, we’re seeing them incorporate green buildings more than we’ve ever seen before,” said Jones, citing Princeton Community Housing’s new, all-electric project as an example. “As we transition to electrifying everything, that is how we’re going to reach our goal of 80 by 50. We’ll go from having early adopters to having it be more like everyone is an adopter. This is becoming mainstream. That’s what’s exciting about this year.”