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Business: Transportation

Idle-Free Zone – Summer 2002 Edition

Idle-Free Zone

Testing … 1, 2, 3

"Turn it off please." These simple words are being heard – and heeded – more and more in two Canadian communities that are taking action to reduce unnecessary vehicle idling.

The cities of Mississauga and Greater Sudbury are now testing the idle-free tools and information offered on the Idle-Free Zone Web site. This two-year pilot project, funded by Natural Resources Canada, will help refine the tool kit and most importantly, enable sharing of what works well and lessons learned when it comes to putting a halt to unnecessary idling in our communities.

This electronic newsletter and future issues will chart Mississauga's and Greater Sudbury's progress during the pilot project and share the stories of other communities' campaigns to curb vehicle idling.

Be sure to visit the Idle-Free Zone again for future newsletters.

Links and downloads

  • Add your name to our mailing list and receive future idle-free updates – including news about new features and additions to the Idle-Free Zone.

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Get what you need to take action against unnecessary vehicle idling – enter the Zone!

Increasingly, Canadians are recognizing that vehicle idling is one environmental problem that can be addressed with relative ease at the local level – all it takes is the turn of a key.

Canadians are also discovering that the information and tools needed to reduce idling are readily available in the Idle-Free Zone, Canada's first idle-free Web site.

An idle-free campaign in your community is doable and can be implemented cost-effectively. The Idle-Free Zone features information and a tool kit to help you get started and provides free, ready-to-use researched materials with downloadable graphics designed to save you time and money.

See what's in the Anti-Idling Tool Kit.

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Getting its own house in order

The Government of Canada kicks off vehicle idle-free campaign

"Turn off your engines" was the message that federal public servants heard during a week-long, idle-free blitz promoted by two government departments.

Herb Dhaliwal, Minister of Natural Resources Canada and Environment Minister David Anderson issued a challenge to their staff to "walk the talk" throughout Environment Week in June.

"Eliminating unnecessary idling is a no-cost way to address environmental problems," said Minister Dhaliwal. "It's as simple as turning a key. Achieving progress on the "simple stuff" will open doors for the more fundamental changes needed to address climate change in the future."

"Unnecessary idling is a huge waste of fuel and money," said Minister Anderson, "and it's also the source of needless greenhouse gas emissions."

Minister of Natural Resources.Plans are underway to take the campaign to other Government facilities across Canada. The campaign will help the Government of Canada meet objectives set out in the Federal House in Order Initiative. This initiative, introduced last summer, set a target of reducing GHG emissions within its operations by 31 percent from 1990 levels by 2010.

Herb Dhaliwal, Minister of Natural Resources Canada and departmental mascot – the NRCat encourage employee Louis Brzozowski to turn off his engine and to read up on the benefits of reduced idling.

Environment week photo.Members of the Office of Energy Efficiency at Natural Resources Canada conducted an internal employee awareness campaign during Environment Week. The group staged week long interventions with motorists in the departmental parking lot. Information brochures and vinyl decals were handed out to employees (which drivers posted in their windshield) to seek a commitment to reduce unnecessary vehicle idling.

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Two Community Campaigns to Reduce Idling

Here's a snapshot of what Mississauga and Greater Sudbury, both of which are midway through their idle-free campaigns, are doing to reduce unnecessary idling – and of some of their early accomplishments!

Did you know?

You can find out the amount of GHG emissions your community can save by reducing unnecessary vehicle idling. Look for the carbon dioxide (CO2) calculator in the "Tool Kit" section of the Idle-Free Zone Web site.

Using the information and tools found on the Idle-Free Zone Web site as a starting point, Mississauga and Greater Sudbury each crafted an idle-free strategy based on local needs and circumstances. There are many similarities between the two campaign strategies, as well as lots of local twists.

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Local Action Plans

Both cities incorporated the idle-free campaigns into their local environmental action plans to ensure a link between efforts to reduce idling and broader community plans for environmental and community improvement.

Mississauga's local action plan

In Mississauga, the city's air quality advisory committee sees the campaign as a key initiative to improve local air quality. Established in 1998, the committee includes staff from all four major city departments and the Region of Peel Health Department, as well as city councillors and Mississauga's environmental coordinator. The committee's mandate is to recommend short- and long-term strategies to improve local air quality by reducing greenhouse gases and smog-producing emissions and to increase community support of environmentally sustainable measures.

The air quality committee, and in particular its chair, Brenda Sakauye, Mississauga's environmental coordinator, has been the driving force behind many of the city's environmental initiatives, including the idle-free campaign.

In June 2002, the committee will review Mississauga's new local action plan, which will feature the idle-free campaign as an important measure to improve the environment through community-based action.

Earthcare Sudbury

In Greater Sudbury, the campaign is a "quick start" for EARTHCARE SUDBURY's new plan for a greener, more sustainable community. EARTHCARE SUDBURY is a partnership between the city of Greater Sudbury and 40 community agencies, organizations and local citizens. This unique partnership is now finalizing its local action plan to create a more environmentally friendly community.

"This idle-free campaign is a great start to our overall plan to protect the environment in Greater Sudbury," says Dr. David Pearson, Chair of EARTHCARE SUDBURY. "Our goal is to reach as many as 30 000 local drivers over the course of the year-long campaign".

Greater Sudbury's Mayor Jim Gordon agrees that the idle-free campaign is a great way to kick-start the local action plan. "Asking drivers to avoid unnecessary vehicle idling makes perfect sense. Idling a vehicle's engine while parked wastes gas, costs money and contributes to poor air quality and climate change. People around an idling vehicle, as well as the driver, breathe unnecessary fumes from a vehicle that's travelling nowhere".

Learn more about EARTHCARE SUDBURY. (This link will open a new window. To return to this page, use File, Close from that window's top menu.)

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Campaign Evaluation

Both campaigns have included a strong evaluation component, with surveys and studies to measure the success of the overall campaign and each major campaign initiative.

Prior to starting their campaigns, each city conducted a telephone survey with residents to examine current attitudes toward idling, as well as idling behaviours.

After the campaigns are complete, the telephone survey will be done again to track changes in idling attitudes and behaviours as a result of the campaign.

As described in more detail below (see Personal "Interventions" at Community Locations), both cities have recognized the importance of speaking with people where idling is occurring to help change behaviours. Mississauga is focusing on transit pick-up locations, schools and "hot spots" like arenas and community centres, while Greater Sudbury is zoning in on schools and commercial parking lots. To help evaluate the effectiveness of these approaches, observations of the amount and length of idling that is occurring are being made both before and after the "interventions."

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Public Awareness

Both cities have launched comprehensive efforts to inform people about the idling issue, using a mix of advertising, posters, signs, local media and Web communications. Each used downloadable images and graphics from the Idle-Free Zone, but chose different themes and messages. Greater Sudbury took advantage of the bilingual materials. Mississauga established a dedicated Web site for its campaign – using the Idle-Free license plate graphic from the tool kit as a centrepiece for the Web site look. (This link will open a new window. To return to this page, use File, Close from that window's top menu.)

Key public awareness approaches used in the pilot project

Mississauga
Greater Sudbury
  • Media launch and events
  • Newspaper advertising
  • Radio spots
  • Information cards and stickers
  • Signs at idling "hot spots"
  • Posters for community locations
  • Bus and transit shelter ads
  • Cable TV coverage
  • Dedicated Web site
  • Media launch and events
  • Newspaper advertising
  • Radio spots
  • Information cards and stickers
  • Signs at idling "hot spots"
  • Posters for community locations
  • Brochures for community locations
  • Bilingual materials












The following are a few samples of the public awareness materials prepared by each community using the free downloadable images and graphics from the Idle-Free Zone.

Sample materials.

Each city has also sought media coverage for the campaigns. "I am declaring Mississauga an idle-free zone" – with these words, Mississauga Mayor Hazel McCallion launched the city's campaign at a media event in October 2001. Greater Sudbury hosted a similar media launch involving Mayor Jim Gordon and other community leaders. Both campaigns have received extensive coverage in local and national publications.

Click below to see the scripts for the thirty-second radio spots on the topic of idling that were developed and used by each community.

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"In House" Idle-Free Initiative

Each city has launched an "in-house" program to reduce idling by municipal employees, whether they are driving municipal fleet vehicles or their own personal vehicles.

Did you know?

If you are planning to organize a public meeting on the topic of unnecessary vehicle idling, you don't have to spend hours developing a convincing argument to encourage a behaviour change. Get a fully prepared PowerPoint® presentation, complete with speaking notes, from the "Tool Kit" section of the Idle-Free Zone Web site.

As part of its workplace initiative to reduce idling across municipal operations, Greater Sudbury has twinned with its north-western neighbour, Sault Ste. Marie. Under the partnership, each city is monitoring how much idling is occurring in their municipal fleets – including buses, works vehicles, ambulances and other support vehicles. After the data is in, the two cities will share results and map out strategies to reduce idling in their respective fleets.

  • Obtain a sample survey used by Greater Sudbury to study idling by its fleet vehicles.

Mississauga has taken a two-pronged approach to reduce unnecessary vehicle idling by city staff. Similar to Greater Sudbury, Mississauga is examining ways to minimize idling by its fleet drivers. The city is just wrapping up its "fleet research initiative," which involved extensive research with drivers and managers and a review of public and private sector "best practices" to identify ways to reduce unnecessary idling. Watch for the results of this study in the next newsletter.

In addition, Mississauga has also undertaken an internal campaign to raise awareness about the idling issue among its almost 6000 employees. The workplace campaign featured a wide variety of awareness-building approaches, including an e-mail from the city manager, intranet communication of idling "facts and figures," posters, fact sheets, articles in the employee newsletter, contests and distribution of idle-free information cards and stickers with pay cheques. Idle-free campaign staff also made personal contact with over 250 employees at the Mississauga Civic Centre, providing those approached with an information card and a vinyl decal (which could be posted on their vehicle's windshield) and seeking a commitment to avoid unnecessary idling.

Preliminary results from Mississauga's workplace initiative are promising. Of the 258 employees who received personal contact, a very high percentage were willing to speak with campaign staff regarding idling issues (97 percent) and to take an information card (99 percent) and a decal (99 percent). Further, 88 percent made a commitment to reduce idling and posted a decal on their personal vehicle. These results indicate very strong interest in the city's idle-free campaign and in taking action to reduce unnecessary vehicle idling.

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Personal "Interventions" at Community Locations

Both cities have recognized the importance of personal contact with people at locations where idling is occurring throughout their communities to help change behaviours. This recognition is based to a large extent on research findings contained on the Idle-Free Zone Web site that demonstrate the success of personal interventions and the use of community-based social marketing (CBSM) techniques to influence idling behaviours.

The "Turn it Off" pilot project pioneered the use of CBSM techniques to address vehicle idling.

Little girl icon.With this approach and armed with an information card and a vinyl decal (which drivers put on their vehicle's windshield), campaign staff conduct personal interventions at community locations by approaching drivers to seek a commitment to avoid idling.

Mississauga's campaign is targeting a number of community locations where unnecessary idling is taking place, including GO Transit passenger pick-up locations, schools and municipal "hot spots" such as arenas and community centres. Greater Sudbury is zoning in on schools and commercial parking lots.

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Stopping Idling at Mississauga's GO Stations

Pre-campaign studies found that GO Transit passenger pick-up locations were a great place to start Mississauga's campaign – over 30 percent of drivers were observed idling for an average of 4.5 minutes at the city's GO Transit stations.

GO Transit Pick-upGO Transit was quick to become a partner in Mississauga's idle-free campaign. Also, it had recently won a National Transportation Week award for reducing idling by its buses and support vehicles.

GO Transit passenger pick-up locations were a fine place to start Mississauga's campaign – more than 30 percent of drivers were observed idling for an average of four and a half minutes at the city's GO Transit stations. From left to right: Eldred King, Chairman, GO Transit, Catherine Ray, Natural Resources Canada, George Carlson, Mississauga Ward 6 Councillor; and GO Bear, GO Transit's mascot.

As part of the initiative, campaign staff approached almost 1400 drivers in the "kiss and ride" areas of the eight GO Transit stations in Mississauga. Preliminary results show that most drivers were willing to speak with staff about vehicle idling (92 percent) and to take an information card (91 percent) and a decal for their windshield (81 percent).

GO Transit has now installed permanent idle-free signs at its Mississauga stations to ensure that the campaign continues well into the future.

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Mississauga Students Help Drive Idle-Free Message

Four environmental studies students from the University of Toronto at Mississauga are on the front lines of Mississauga's idle-free campaign – interacting with drivers at idling "hot spots" in Mississauga.

Photo of Mississauga students.The four students have been involved in a series of "interventions," providing drivers with information about the issue of idling and asking them to turn their engines off if they are parked for longer than 10 seconds.

Mississauga's idle-free "ambassadors" have found that the interventions generate both interest and support. According to one of the ambassadors, many drivers "Didn't realize that car idling is harmful to the environment."

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No Idling at Sudbury or Mississauga Schools

Imagine a passenger pick-up zone where parents waiting for their children have their engines turned off and the air is free of unnecessary vehicle exhaust. That's the goal of Greater Sudbury's school initiative, with ambitious plans to make all 49 schools in the former city of Sudbury idle-free by the end of June.

man beside car.Campaign staff will approach vehicles stopped outside Sudbury schools and ask drivers to place a decal on their windshield to indicate a commitment to stop idling while parked. School buses will also do their part – the bus companies serving city schools have agreed to post the decals on their buses and to follow existing idle-free policies.

One Greater Sudbury school, Wanup Public School, will go one step further. The Wanup E-Team, a group of 100 environmentally conscious students, will seek pledges from their families to avoid unnecessary idling.

Mississauga has also taken a comprehensive approach to reduce idling at city schools. An idle-free kit has been provided to every school in the city, explaining how to reduce vehicle idling outside schools and providing idle-free communications materials and curriculum ideas. A smaller sub-set of 19 elementary schools has received permanent idle-free signs, as well as personal interventions by project staff.

Be sure to visit the Idle-Free Zone Web site again this fall for results of the two community school initiatives.

  • Obtain a sample cover letter based on the one in Mississauga's idle-free school kit. This letter is designed to come from the local board of education, illustrating their support for the campaign and encouraging their schools to participate. (Word document)

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Greater Sudbury Targets Mall Idlers

Noticing that unnecessary idling is happening at several city malls and commercial parking lots, Greater Sudbury decided to conduct personal interventions at these locations. Included with this approach was the installation of idle-free signs. As the malls and commercial parking lots are private property, campaign staff needed to contact the facility owners to arrange for sign placement and seek permission to conduct the interventions.

During the initiative, campaign staff approached 912 drivers in the parking lots of local commercial establishments. Preliminary results show that many drivers were willing to speak with staff about vehicle idling (72 percent) and to take an information card (61 percent) and a decal for their windshield (60 percent). Just over a fifth of the drivers (21 percent) applied the decal on the spot. More results are expected later this fall.

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Private Sector Initiative

Did you know?

You can easily get your project up and running with your local school, chamber of commerce or municipal government. The "What You Can Do" section makes it easy for you to get a project up and running with your local school, chamber of commerce or municipal government..

Mississauga is now developing plans to reach out to the city's many businesses and industries to encourage them to make their facilities idle-free. Already, a handful of local companies have approached campaign staff and requested copies of idle-free communications materials. Watch for details about Mississauga's private sector strategy in the next newsletter.

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Early Lessons Learned

In rolling out their idle-free campaigns, Mississauga and Greater Sudbury offer some early observations and lessons learned.

Attack the idling myths

The three idling myths …

  1. your engine should be warmed up for long periods before driving

  2. idling is good for your engine

  3. shutting off and restarting your vehicle is hard on the engine

… are alive and well in the two pilot communities.

"You need to put these front and centre in your campaign along with the facts," says Mississauga's communications advisor Siobhan Kukolic. "The myths and facts are just one of many great nuggets of information we found on the Web site."

Read the common Myths About Vehicle Idling.

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Get your own house in order

men discussing idling.According to Greater Sudbury's project advisor, Paul Graham, "You can't do anything with the public without getting your own house in order. The municipality must take the lead on issues like idling."

Both communities have launched workplace initiatives to reduce idling across all municipal operations, including public transit, in parallel with efforts to reduce idling at other community locations.

Partnerships Are Key to Success

"You really need community partners to effectively implement your campaign," says Brenda Sakauye, project manager for Mississauga's idle-free campaign. "We've struck great partnerships with GO Transit, the school boards, and with the University of Toronto at Mississauga – whose students have given our campaign legs . . . literally." Greater Sudbury has also set up partnerships with local school boards and twinned with the city of Sault Ste. Marie on its workplace initiative.

Finding and managing project staff

Both campaigns have used community-based social marketing approaches from the tool kit, which involve personal "interventions" by project staff to help reduce idling at community locations. "You need people power to do the interventions, and it can be tricky to find and manage the staff," says Maureen Spinney, project manager for Greater Sudbury's idle-free campaign. Greater Sudbury has hired students from Laurentian University, while Mississauga found volunteers through a unique environmental internship arrangement with the University of Toronto at Mississauga.

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Council and Senior Management Support Is Critical

Both campaign teams have fostered and received strong support from their councils and senior management. The mayor of each city helped launch the campaigns, and formal council endorsement was sought and provided. In Mississauga, the initiative was introduced through the air quality advisory committee, which is comprised of department heads and councillors – ensuring both political and staff support. In Greater Sudbury, the idle-free campaign was quickly adopted by EARTHCARE SUDBURY – a partnership of the city and 40 community groups – and helped to cultivate broad-based community support and awareness.

Web site tool kit provides a great starting point

Idle-Free Zone Tool Kit.Both cities have drawn extensively on the images, information and graphic materials available in the Idle-Free Zone tool kit. "All the graphic elements have worked really well," says Mississauga's Kukolic. "In many cases, we just added our logo."

Mississauga has also created some new tools using the Web site images, including t-shirts, radio spots, letterhead and its own dedicated idle-free Web site. Adds Kukolic, "The tool kit is a great starting point, but you need to do the legwork to tailor it for local use. You need to know your community and what the local hooks are."

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Survey Says … What Pilot Community Residents Think About Idling

Overwhelming support for action on idling

Pre-campaign surveys in the two communities show that people see idling as a problem and are highly supportive of personal and community action.

Community Perspectives Greater Sudbury Mississauga
Believe idling causes unnecessary air pollution 95% 90%
Support action to reduce idling 87% 94%

Where idling is happening

Idling is happening both at home and on the road. The following chart shows the main locations where people report idling one or more times during the last day that they drove.

Locations Where Idling Occurs Greater Sudbury Mississauga
Drive-through at fast food restaurant or bank 22% 22%
Waiting for family or friends in driveway at home 15% 18%
Waiting for family or friends in locations other than home 14% 12%

In Mississauga, one third of survey respondents (33 percent) said that they idle their engine before driving, whether at home or on the road, on average for almost three minutes. Considering that Natural Resources Canada suggests that no more than 30 seconds of warm-up time is required, there is a lot of room for improvement.

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Why Idling Is Happening

The survey results also show that Greater Sudbury and Mississauga residents seem to believe some of the myths about idling.

Beliefs Greater Sudbury Mississauga
  • Agree that "it is good for a vehicle to warm up for long periods before driving in the winter."
59% 60%
  • Agree that "for brief stops, it uses more gas to restart the vehicle than to idle."
39% 40%
  • Agree that "it is easier on the vehicle's starter motor to let a vehicle idle."
38% 30%

Read the common Myths About Vehicle Idling

What residents are saying about the campaigns:

  • "I am often appalled at the number of idling vehicles I encounter on a daily basis, while either walking or running … Thank you for your commitment and concern regarding our air supply."

  • "This is really one of those no-cost improvements to the environment that doesn't impinge at all on personal comfort."

  • "I agree with you 100 percent. It's incredible how many people leave their engines idling without a thought!"

  • "I love the campaign – great idea."

  • "I wish we could have a project like this all across the country … and the world!"

Click below to obtain full reports from the two community surveys.

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Share Your Community Stories

Did you know?

General Info, in the Anti-Idling Tool Kit section of the Idle-Free Zone Web site, gives you easy access to a variety of brief, well-researched information, including frequently asked questions. Also available are full-length, ready to use articles that are suitable for use as inserts for newsletters.

Future issues of this newsletter, as well as a nationally distributed newsletter, will profile the efforts of communities across Canada to become idle-free zones.

Tell us your success stories, lessons learned and photos, and let us know how the Web site information and tool kit helped you or how it can be improved.