Pickering families try to cut energy use 10 per cent

PICKERING, ONTARIO - Ally Zaheer wields a lot of power for a 5-year-old.

She runs around the family home turning off lights, television, running water – anything she thinks is wasting energy.

"She'll shut off lights when we're still in the room or turn the TV off when we're still watching it," says her mother Stephanie.

Ally not only takes energy conservation seriously, she's sparking the rest of the family to action.

"We had a cracked window where cold air was getting in and she kept saying `you really have to get that fixed this winter, mom'," adds Stephanie.

They've done that and more since signing up with "We have the power," a pilot project in Pickering to reduce household energy consumption by 10 per cent by the end of March.

About 750 families have joined the program, which is run by Durham Sustain Ability (DSA), a volunteer organization, with support from the ministry of energy, city of Pickering, energy company Veridian Corp. and Dominion Stores.

Already environmentally conscious, the Zaheers cranked up their efforts after Ally, who's in senior kindergarten, brought a DSA resource kit home from Rosebank Road Public School.

"You'd run out of water and electricity" if you waste energy, she explains. "Daddy leaves the TV on when he does the dishes and makes pancakes. And he leaves the water running too!"

"Daddy" insists Ally is exaggerating but admits her diligence is paying off.

"It's helping us because we used to leave the lights on all the time," says Najas Zaheer, a programmer analyst who works from home. "And I'm trying to keep the computer turned off more although that's not always convenient because I like to check email often."

While the youngest child Eleanor, 8 months, is a bit young to save the planet, Ally's working on her other sister, 3-year-old Olivia.

"I took Ally to pick up garbage for two hours on an environmental day when she was 4 and that stuck with her. Now she's teaching Olivia to pick up garbage," Stephanie says.

People of all ages have the power "to make a difference" starting at home, the source of 40 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions, says DSA's executive director Jack McGinnis.

He says electricity saved by a 10 per cent energy reduction in 1,000 households could supply Pickering's schools for a month.

The group's website, https://www.sustain-ability.ca, offers tips on reducing consumption along with a calculator to work out savings. Many of the ideas are low- or no-cost steps like lowering the thermostat, turning off power bars when computer and entertainment systems aren't in use and changing to compact fluorescent light bulbs.

Cecil Ramnauth, director of the Devi Mandir Hindu temple on Brock Rd., has seen the difference such measures can make. By changing 100-watt bulbs to compact fluorescents, they've reduced energy consumption by 66 per cent, says Ramnauth, who recently invited a DSA volunteer to a Sunday service to sign up congregants for the "We have the power" project.

The temple has also installed a solar panel to light the parking lot and started a composting and waste reduction plan, he says, crediting young people for driving energy conservation measures at the temple.

"They're really passionate about making a difference to the environment."

Rishe Binda, a university student and leader of the youth group, proudly points to a small pile of garbage in the corner of the auditorium: Trash from Sunday lunches for 400 has dropped from four bags to one, he says. Now they're switching from pop to water from a cooler to cut down on plastic bottles.

And the 10-year-old building is about to undergo an energy audit as part of "greening sacred spaces," says Stephanie Jagroop, 15, the temple's secretary for the energy conservation program in places of worship.

"Saving the environment is very important," she says, listing all the steps she follows at home such as dimming lights, watching less TV and using cold water for laundry.

"I'm encouraging everyone I know to sign up," she says, adding many of her friends and their parents are following her example.

Bidya Persaud, a member of the temple, already has her family of five washing dishes by hand and hanging laundry up to dry rather than use appliances.

But the Ajax resident is anxious to get more tips "for maximum savings" so she's registering with DSA's program when it expands into other areas of Durham Region next month.

"It just takes a little thought before it becomes a habit," she says about saving energy.


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