Cabarrus Sustainability Council Committed to Improving Air Quality

Published 12:00 am Thursday, March 10, 2011

Improving local air quality by reducing the time motorists spend idling is this year’s goal for the Cabarrus Sustainability Council.
Chairwoman Dakeita Vanderburg-Johnson says members first considered improving overall air quality as its annual project, but decided the subject was just too broad. When they found out about the no idling efforts under way by the Center for the Environment’s Campaign for Clean Air, she says, “it was easier to wrap our arms around that.”
Shelia Armstrong, air quality outreach coordinator for the Center, shared information on the Center’s no idling program, provided written materials and trained Council members who have volunteered to speak to other groups about the initiative.
Vanderburg-Johnson says the goal of the council’s Clean Air Campaign is to work with schools and identify businesses where people idle their vehicles and encourage them to post free no idling signs provided by the N.C. Division of Air Quality. The signs feature a key in an ignition switch and say: “Turn Off Your Engine: Breathe Better, Save Money.”
The Center for the Environment also features a toolkit on its website for schools considering implementing a no idling program to follow.
“Personally, I had never thought that much about idling,” Vanderburg-Johnson says. But then she found out about the poor air quality in the area: The Charlotte-Gastonia-Salisbury metropolitan area — which includes Cabarrus County — has been identified as the 10th worst area in the United States by the American Lung Association.
Vanderburg-Johnson says she began to think twice about sitting in a drive-through line for a pharmacy, fast-food restaurant or bank with her vehicle running.
“All of a sudden, I wanted to park and go in or if I’m sitting in a fast-food line or a pharmacy line, I cut my car off,” she says. “I put it into use in my own life.”
Vanderburg-Johnson, president of Southgate Masonry and Lumber, also posted the no idling signs outside the Concord building supply business.  For years, she says drivers of the business’ 10 large, diesel trucks would idle, particularly in cold weather and even in warmer temperatures.
The mechanic at Southgate Masonry and Lumber told the drivers it’s OK to idle the diesel trucks for up to three minutes. After that, she says he told them to turn off their trucks.
“I didn’t get any flak from my drivers,” she says. “I thought I would.”
In addition to improving air quality, Vanderburg-Johnson says the no-idling-for-more-than-three-minutes policy saves the business money on fuel and decreases the overall engine wear on trucks.
 Vanderburg-Johnson also had signs posted in front of her office and the warehouse asking customers not to idle. “Sometimes if they just see them, it makes them think,” she says.
Samantha Moose, who represents the Cabarrus Economic Development on the council, estimates about 25 no idling signs provided by the Center for the Environment have been posted throughout the county so far as part of the project.
Moose says seven council members have received training to speak to various organizations to spur more interest in the idling reduction project. “We have asked them to speak to at least three-to-five groups over the next couple of months,” she says.
Survey Reveals Motivation
When speaking to community groups, the Cabarrus Sustainability Council members will show a PowerPoint presentation the Center developed. It includes information from Dana Chaney’s business communications class at Rowan-Cabarrus Community College.  After talking with Armstrong, Chaney decided to conduct a survey of staff and students to pinpoint their impressions on air quality and determine what would change their behavior on idling vehicles.
 “We had to get this out the week before Thanksgiving,” Chaney says. “I think the title of the email was ‘Are you thankful for air quality?’ because it was in that time frame.”
Within five minutes of sending out the mass email, Chaney says she started receiving phone calls from Rowan-Cabarrus faculty and staff asking questions about it. Even with people going out of town for the holiday, 197 completed the survey. “So we were thrilled,” she says.
Eighty percent of the respondents said saving money is what would motivate them to stop idling, and more than 70 percent said a no idling sign would influence them to stop idling.
When asked who or what would influence them not to idle their vehicles and instructed to check all that applied, 61.5 percent of the respondents said their mechanic. Other responses and percentages were as follows: air quality organization, 49.1 percent; doctors, 37.9 percent; State Department of Ecology, 32.5 percent; and media, 30.8 percent.
The survey results showed that 53.3 percent of the respondents were “very concerned” about air quality while 38.1 percent were “somewhat concerned” and 8.1 percent, “not at all.” Two percent said they didn’t know.
The overwhelming majority of respondents said they realized that idling contributes to overall air quality problems.
Mechanic Supports No Idling
As part of their survey, Chaney’s students interviewed four business people representing different careers, including mechanic Danny Williams Jr., who owns Jr’s Auto & Truck Repair in Salisbury.
Williams says he totally agreed with the students that emissions from idling are not only harmful to the environment, but to people breathing the air.
When it comes to parents who wait in line to drop off and pick up their children at schools and daycares, Williams says he has observed as many as 70 percent idling their vehicles, particularly in cold temperatures. He says he told the RCCC students that turning vehicles off for a few minutes in a line is not long enough to affect the heat in the vehicles.
When asked if he would post a no idling sign at his garage, Williams says he told them he would. After the interview, he says he noticed that South Rowan Academy in China Grove, where his son goes to day care and preschool, had no idling signs posted. “I was really glad to see that,” he says.
Vanderburg-Johnson says the council is hoping to have 50 to 75 no idling signs posted in Cabarrus County by fall. “That’s really our goal for the year,” she says.
 “I think people are really hungry for knowledge,” she says. “They want to understand how they can spend their dollars wisely and be green and not be taken in by advertising.”
The Center for the Environment at Catawba College was founded in 1996 to provide education and outreach centered on prevalent environmental challenges and to foster community-oriented sustainable solutions that can serve as a model for programs throughout the country.