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Sustainable Missoula: Local climate action continues with new Carbon Offset Program

Cornerstone Apartments provides a blueprint on how collaboration and persistence can help Missoula address both climate change and the immediate challenges of housing those most in need.

These are turbulent times. Eight months of an ever-worsening pandemic, political divisiveness and a tumultuous election, stormy weather around the country (often with clear climate fingerprints). It’s a roller coaster, and yet even with the turbulence of 2020, there is real work getting done – collaborative efforts that manage to make steady progress even amidst the turmoil.

Here’s one such effort:

At Climate Smart Missoula we’ve launched a new initiative, the Footprint Fund, with our first “proof of concept” project: Cornerstone Apartments. This project provides a blueprint on how collaboration and persistence can help us address both climate change and the immediate challenges of housing those most in need.

After years of planning and building, the Missoula Housing Authority has completed Cornerstone Apartments, an urban infill, 12-unit housing complex for very-low-income people, with priority given to frequent users of the City’s emergency response systems. Partners recently hosted a virtual ribbon cutting to celebrate, viewable here and described in the Current.

Getting here wasn’t easy. As the Housing Authority, together with MMW Architects, dove into decisions around features of the apartment complex, construction costs started to soar–an issue all too common with today’s building projects. All involved didn’t want to let tight budgets prevent them from designing an environmentally sustainable building.

When the project, which included high-efficiency heat pumps as a key feature, came in over-budget, these were one of the items on the chopping block, to be replaced with cheaper, less-efficient electric resistance heaters. No doubt installing the inefficient heaters would be a missed opportunity to reduce energy bills and carbon emissions.

What to do?

Enter Clearwater Credit Union and Climate Smart to “bridge the gap” with their new Footprint Fund– a local carbon offset program that enables businesses or individuals to “offset” their own emissions by contributing to projects that reduce emissions elsewhere and which would not have happened otherwise.

Clearwater Credit Union is committed to reducing their environmental impact, with a goal of reaching carbon neutrality by the end of 2020. They’re working diligently to drive down their emissions, yet at this time carbon neutrality also requires purchasing “carbon offsets” to reach their goal. Although many carbon offsets are available for purchase, Clearwater wanted to keep their money in our community, building climate resilience right here.

Using the new Footprint Fund, Clearwater paid half of the cost of the high-efficiency heat pumps in exchange for the credits from the greenhouse gas reductions from the energy savings. The project generated almost 900 metric tons of CO2 equivalent savings, enough to offset almost two years of Clearwater’s emissions, at a price of ~$25/ton. And the lower energy and operation and maintenance costs will save the Housing Authority around $107,000 over the lifetime of the system.

What’s not to love about all this?

What’s next?

Climate Smart is now looking for new development projects where additional support is needed to make energy efficiency measures possible. And we’re looking for businesses, organizations and individuals that would like to reduce their carbon footprint by financially supporting such projects.

Simply put, we can be the broker for these win-win projects. To understand more of the ins-and-outs of this new initiative head to missoulafootprintfund.org.

What’s the lesson?

We know that what brought this successful project together is collaborative partnerships built on trust, persistence, and creative problem solving. Climate Smart Missoula, Clearwater, MMW Architects, and the Missoula Housing Authority are all committed to addressing multiple challenging issues at once, by working across disciplines and helping each other. Together we smooth the turbulent waters of these times.

Lori Davidson, executive director of Missoula Housing Authority sums it up well: “Cornerstone is about creating the future, a place for new beginnings. These homes will provide that safe place for years to come while being mindful of our climate impact.”

Finally, what’s the bigger lesson?

We know this Cornerstone project and our Footprint Fund are not the only efforts that feature persistence and collaboration. Just look at myriad restoration projects happening around this area, from the Rattlesnake Dam removal to fixing a critical fish passage on Lolo Creek. Community groups like the Clark Fork Coalition, Trout Unlimited, Five Valleys Land Trust, Community Food and Agriculture and others all partner with local and state government agencies over multiple years to build healthier ecological and human systems. We are all committed to continue this through these challenging times.

As we move into 2021 with a new President and administration, this proof of concept project is a microcosm of the creative and integrated responses we can mount to address climate change at the federal level and across the country. The Biden-Harris “Build Back Better” plan weaves climate change into its top priorities – economic recovery, crumbling infrastructure, and racial justice. Just as we’ve seen in the Cornerstone project, we don’t have to exchange one value for the other. Instead, we can make progress on multiple values simultaneously.

We are hopeful the Build Back Better plan will come to fruition, though what exactly will happen at the federal and state levels is still unclear. One thing is certain at the local level: Missoulians will continue to accelerate collaborative, interdisciplinary approaches to address the most pressing challenges facing our community. We hope you’ll join us.

Amy is executive director at Climate Smart Missoula

Sustainability Happenings

As COVID-19 has altered many community events, some have moved on-line or found creative outlets. Here we offer ideas about sustainable ways to stay involved in our community. If you like these offerings, consider signing up for Climate Smart’s eNewsletter here. And sign up for Home ReSource’s eNews via their homepage here.

November 13 – 30. Virtual KIDDOMATIC at the Roxy celebrates the kid in all of us. This festival’s international films will inspire our youngest community members to become global citizens and the next cinephiles. Buy tickets and support the Roxy.

November 16. 4 pm on. Virtual Keystone XL Public Hearing: Opportunity to weigh in and tell the Montana DEQ to deny the water permit for the XL pipeline. Sponsored by Montana Sierra Club, ACLU of Montana and others. Learn more via Facebook and RSVP here. Not on Facebook? Head here for more.

November 17, 5:30 – 7pm. Environmental Humanities Roundtable on Science Communication. Sign up here for the Zoom link.

December 5, 6:30pm. Montana Outdoor Hall of Fame Awards. Free online ceremony – more info and how to register here.

This and every Saturday through April. Winter Market And you can eat local all winter. Find your favorite farmer’s at the Winter Market Every Saturday this winter – old Lucky’s market at Southgate mall. Vendors will be spaced safely. Wear your mask of course, don’t doddle. Eat healthy.

Travel Sustainably and safely. Missoula in Motion offers FREE bike lights (one set per person available upon request) at the front desk of City Hall. Walk-ins are welcome to visit though the entrance off Ryman St, Monday-Friday, 8am-5pm.

Find more activities and events at Missoulaevents.net and on Montana Environmental Information Center’s Conservation Calendar.

Need something to read or listen to? Here are a few recommendations.