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Idle-Free Zone – Winter 2003 Edition

Winter 2003 Edition

Idle-Free Message Spreading Across Canada

"Turn it off!"

These simple, yet powerful words are being heard increasingly throughout Canada as municipalities, community groups and businesses take action to curb unnecessary vehicle idling.

This electronic newsletter is full of news about innovative and expanding community-based idle-free campaigns that are being rolled out in different parts of Canada. Read on to learn what Canadians are doing to reduce idling and make their schoolyards, workplaces, and entire communities "Idle-Free Zones". You can also sample the latest results from Mississauga and Greater Sudbury, two communities that are leading the charge to be idle-free.

Be sure to visit the Idle-Free Zone again for future issues of this newsletter

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Canadians No Longer Idle About Unnecessary Vehicle Emissions

Vehicle idling is an issue that has really begun to capture the attention of Canadians. It's something we've all experienced – walking past a parked vehicle, puffs of exhaust belching from the rear, but going nowhere. And increasingly, people are recognizing that idling a vehicle's engine while parked makes no sense. It's a bad habit that's costing us millions of dollars a year in wasted fuel and is producing needless pollution – contributing to problems like climate change and smog, which affect our health.

Canadians strongly support campaigns to reduce vehicle idling. In recent surveys, 94 percent of Mississauga residents said they support action on idling, while 95 percent of Greater Sudbury residents responded that idling causes unnecessary air pollution. As one resident put it, "This is really one of those no-cost improvements to the environment that doesn't impinge at all on personal comfort."

The good news is that unnecessary vehicle idling is one environmental problem that can be addressed with relative ease – all it takes is the turn of a key. And every Canadian can do his or her part to "turn it off" while parked, whether waiting to pick someone up, running an errand, or working as a courier, taxi or truck driver. Anyone who drives a vehicle can be part of the solution.

Growing community-based action

With strong public support for action to reduce idling and the simplicity of the "turn it off" solution, an idle-free campaign is a terrific community-based environmental improvement initiative. Idle-free campaigns can be broad – rolled out at a citywide level – or local, designed to make a neighbourhood, schoolyard or business area an "idle-free zone." Whatever the scale, these campaigns are a great way to kick-start or enhance environmental local action plans. Idling is also the perfect issue for municipalities, community groups, businesses, school councils, or even individuals to take the lead on, knowing that Canadians are ready to turn the key and be idle-free.

Over the past several years, local campaigns to reduce unnecessary idling have sprung up across Canada. The cities of Mississauga and Greater Sudbury are well into a two-year pilot project to implement citywide idle-free campaigns using the tools and information offered on the Idle-Free Zone Web site. Funded by Natural Resources Canada, these campaigns wrapped up in late 2002, with complete results and lessons learned expected in early 2003.

Using the Idle-Free Zone as a resource, many other local idle-free campaigns have been launched. Led by municipalities, community groups, businesses, or creative partnerships involving government and non-government organizations, these campaigns are working to help Canadians kick the idling habit.

Links and downloads

  • Visit the Idle-Free Zone to get ideas for your own idle-free campaign, or to obtain free, ready-to-use materials to help your community go idle-free.

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Four Clear Reasons to Launch An Idle-Free Campaign

The reasons to launch an idle-free campaign have never been clearer. Idling is one issue where the benefits – to individuals, to communities and to Canada – of taking action clearly outweigh the costs and effort needed to implement the solution.

All it takes is the turn of a key.

  • Save money – Idling a vehicle for 10 minutes a day burns more than 100 litres of gasoline in a year. If every Canadian motorist avoided idling their vehicle for just five minutes each day, we would save millions of dollars in fuel costs.

  • Breathe easier – Because the driver and others around them won't have to breathe in unhealthy exhaust fumes from a vehicle that is going nowhere.

  • Spare the air – Reduced idling helps combat problems like smog and climate change. We could prevent more than one million tonnes of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere if each Canadian motorist avoided idling for just five minutes each day.

  • Reduce engine wear and tear – Excessive idling can actually damage a vehicle's engine components, including the cylinders, spark plugs and exhaust system.

Links and downloads

  • The Idle-Free Zone features more information on the effects of vehicle idling, and a Tool Kit that includes free, ready-to-use materials to help you launch your campaign.

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Local Campaigns to Reduce Vehicle Idling

Many local campaigns to reduce unnecessary idling have emerged in recent months, as the anti-message continues to spread across Canada.

This issue of the Zone newsletter profiles six recent initiatives from different parts of Canada.

Watch for more stories of exciting community-based idle-free initiatives in future issues.

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Greenest City Rolls Out Idle – Free Day in the GTA

Greenest City – a Toronto-based environmental group – declared Wednesday, August 21 2002, Idle-Free Day across the Greater Toronto Area. With a rallying cry of "Stop fuming and do something," 20 Idle-Free "brigadiers" hit the streets of Toronto to challenge motorists to "Turn it off!"

The brigadiers, armed with idle-free brochures and "For Our Air" cling vinyl windshield decals, approached drivers with a simple message – stop idling and help reduce the "Blanket of smog that is making ordinary Torontonians sick." Over 600 motorists were approached, and asked to make a commitment to not idle while parked.

According to organizer Chris Benjamin, the reaction was very positive. "This was my first experience talking to drivers about idling, and it was actually much easier than I expected. I found that drivers were generally quite polite and willing to listen to what I had to say – the key was to be as brief as possible, staying friendly and upbeat." Greenest City estimates that the commitments made by drivers translate into over 20 tonnes of carbon dioxide that won't be emitted into the air as a result of Idle-Free Day.

Greenest City enjoyed the most media exposure they've ever had for any event or project, with extensive television, radio and print coverage of Idle-Free Day. Plans are in the works to hold the event on an ongoing basis.

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Idle-Free in the Far North

Windshield decalEncouraging people to reduce idling in the far north is a challenge, according to Jennifer Sanders of the Northwest Territories Climate Change Centre (CCC). "When it's 30 below, people are thinking more about getting into a warm car than reducing greenhouse gas emissions or saving money."

Sanders' goal is to encourage residents of Yellowknife to idle less. "We've found that people respond well to health messages," she says, "and one way to have a healthier environment is through less vehicle exhaust in the air. So healthy families is our focus, with a clear link to things that people can do to help – like not idling during that 15-minute stopover at the post office."

The CCC's idle-free campaign – jointly funded by the federal and territorial governments – has several prongs. Agreements have been reached with Yellowknife's Mayor and school board to create idle-free zones at city hall and local schools. Members of the newly formed "idle-free action group" distribute idle-free pamphlets and conduct spot checks to discourage idling in community locations. "We call them our idle-free armies," says Sanders. "Some of our volunteers are very enthusiastic about putting a stop to idling."

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Blue Sky the Goal in Calgary

Sustainable Calgary is a community-based volunteer group working to promote, encourage and support community level actions and initiatives that move Calgary towards a sustainable future. The group's "Blue Sky Campaign" specifically targets vehicle idling, urging Calgarians to "Be air aware – idle with care."

"We started with a pilot project at two elementary schools and a transit Kiss-and-Ride location," says Dimple Roy, a campaign organizer. "We wanted to see how drivers would react before trying the project on a broader scale. The pilot was quite successful. People were quite open to our message."

During the pilot, campaign workers approached drivers at the two schools and transit pick-up location with an information card and cling vinyl windshield decal. Campaigners asked drivers to post the decal and make a commitment to reduce idling. "Over 130 people gave us their names, and we plan to follow up with them soon to see if they're following through," says Roy.

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Fleet Vehicles Targeted in Halifax

Unnecessary idling in large vehicle fleets was the focus of an idle-free project in Halifax this past summer. The Halifax-based Ecology Action Centre worked with four major fleets representing about 1800 vehicles – including ambulances, municipal and provincial government vehicles and Halifax Transit buses – to educate managers and drivers about idling, and come up with solutions.

The project began with presentations to fleet managers to raise and discuss the idling problem, and to highlight the benefits of idling reductions. Posters, brochures and cling vinyl windshield decals from the Idle-Free Zone Web site were provided for distribution to fleet drivers. In some cases, presentations were made directly to groups of drivers. In others, the participating organizations communicated idle-free messages through the distribution of materials and through articles in company newsletters.

One very positive result of the project is that each of the participating fleets has committed to make idling reduction a central part of future driver training sessions. Project organizers are also recommending a "fleet challenge" as a follow-up initiative to further reduce idling emissions in a friendly competition among Halifax area fleets.

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Gasoline Industry Pumps Idle-Free Message

Motorists can save fuel and money by not letting their engines run unnecessarily while parked. That was the central message of a public awareness campaign tested at participating gasoline stations in Mississauga this past summer.

Allan Rock Minister of IndustryA joint project of the Canadian Petroleum Products Institute (CPPI) and Natural Resources Canada, the campaign was designed to remind drivers to turn off their vehicles if stopped for more than 10 seconds. More than 50 Esso, Petro-Canada, Shell, Sunoco, and Canadian Tire stations participated in the campaign, which used posters, banners, cling vinyl window decals, air fresheners and information cards to raise awareness about idling at the station level. Student "ambassadors" were on hand at the participating sites to distribute materials and answer questions. Newspaper, transit shelter and radio ads were also used to remind drivers to "turn it off" throughout the Mississauga area.

Allan Rock Minister of Industry with NRCatDuring the two-week campaign, over 11 000 drivers were approached by the "ambassadors" at the station level. The response was overwhelming positive, with 86 percent of drivers willing to discuss idling issues. Over 80 percent made a commitment on the spot to reduce idling. CPPI is now considering ways to expand the campaign to its members' stations in other parts of Canada.

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Trucks and Buses Asked to "Spare the Air" in Niagara

Trucks and Buses asked to "Spare the Air" in NiagaraWith over 100 000 tour buses visiting the Niagara River Corridor each year, the Niagara Parks Commission (NPC) saw a need to clear the air about unnecessary idling. In partnership with three local municipalities, the Peace Bridge Authority and the Government of Canada, the NPC launched the "Spare the Air" Emissions Reduction Program in 2001. Originally targeted at buses, the program has recently been expanded to include the many transport trucks using the international Peace Bridge.

Photo of dignitariesThe program focuses on 27 sites in the Niagara area where trucks and buses congregate. "Spare the Air" signs have been posted at these sites, coupled with the distribution of information brochures to company owners and drivers, and media promotion. The program encourages drivers of motor coaches and trucks to turn off their engines when parked.

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Update on Idle-Free Campaigns in Mississauga and Greater Sudbury

Idle-Free ZoneThe cities of Mississauga and Greater Sudbury are continuing to roll out citywide idle-free campaigns to test the 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 Web-based 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.

A snapshot of the citywide campaigns

Using the information and tools found on the Idle-Free Zone Web site, project staff in Mississauga and Greater Sudbury crafted a citywide idle-free strategy based on local needs and circumstances. A brief overview of the key elements of the two campaigns is provided below:

Local action plan

Both cities have incorporated the campaigns into their local environmental action plans. In Greater Sudbury, the campaign is a "quick start" for EARTHCARE SUDBURY's new plan for a greener, more sustainable community. In Mississauga, the city's Air Quality Advisory Committee sees the campaign as a key initiative to improve local air quality.

Private sector

Mississauga has reached out to many of the city's businesses and industries to encourage them to reduce idling at their facilities, and to enlist these organizations to co-promote the idle-free message to their employees, customers and clients.

Personal "interventions" at community locations

In order to help change behaviours, both cities have recognized the importance of speaking with people where idling is occurring. Mississauga has focused on transit pick-up locations, schools, and idling "hotspots" like arenas and community centres, while Greater Sudbury is zoning in on schools and commercial parking lots.

Public awareness

Both cities have launched efforts to inform people about vehicle idling through a mix of advertising, posters, signs, local media, and Web-based communications. Each city has used downloadable images and graphics from the Idle-Free Zone, but they chose different themes and messages. For example, Greater Sudbury took advantage of the bilingual materials.

"In house" initiative

Each city has set up a program to reduce idling by municipal employees, whether they are driving vehicles that belong to municipal fleets or their own vehicles.


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

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Campaign Results Begin to Roll In

Now that the two-year pilot project is drawing to a close in Mississauga and Greater Sudbury, plenty of results and highlights are emerging from the two citywide idle-free campaigns.

This issue of the Zone newsletter features results from the highly successful school-based idle-free initiatives in each city, as well as the latest information on Mississauga's business/industry outreach initiative.

Visit the Idle-Free Zone in Spring 2003 to see the next Zone issue – which will include additional results and highlights, as well as lessons learned from the two campaigns.

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School Idle-Free Initiatives Get An "A+"

It doesn't quite add up. With unprecedented community concern about the safety and well-being of our children, why is it that at many schools, students are emerging from school buildings at the final bell into a cloud of unhealthy vehicle exhaust from parents and care-givers in idling vehicles, and from buses waiting to transport them home?

This is a question that recent idle-free initiatives in Mississauga and Greater Sudbury took on, with the goal of reducing engine idling by parents, care-givers and bus drivers, and creating idle-free zones around school yards throughout each city.

What was done?

Both cities took a similar approach to their campaigns, with the following common activities:

  • before the campaign, observations of idling behaviour were made at several schools to see the extent of the problem

  • metal idle-free zone signs were posted near student pick-up zones at participating schools

  • campaign staff approached drivers with an information card and cling vinyl windshield decal at participating schools, explaining the idling issue and seeking a commitment to avoid idling in the future

  • school bus companies and drivers were encouraged to participate

  • post-campaign observations were taken at several schools to determine the effectiveness of the campaign

Greater Sudbury's campaign targeted all 49 schools throughout the city, with idle-free signs posted and visits by campaign staff at each school.

In Mississauga, with over 200 schools in the city, campaign staff decided on a two-tiered approach. Twenty elementary schools were chosen to receive metal signs and campaign staff visits. Generally, these schools had experienced problems with idling vehicles in the past, or wanted to take part in a proactive environmental project. The remaining Mississauga schools received a special idle-free information kit. With background information about the idling issue, posters, curriculum-based activities, and ready-to-use inserts for school newsletters, these kits were designed to get every school involved in the campaign.

  • Obtain a copy of Mississauga's idle-free schools kit from the city's idle-free Web site.

A snapshot of the school-based campaigns

City Information Kits Distributed to Schools Pre- and Post-Campaign Observations Signs Posted and Personal Contact by Campaign Staff
Greater Sudbury NA 3 schools 49 schools
Mississauga 200 4 schools 20 schools

What were the results?

The pre-campaign observations revealed that unnecessary idling at schoolyards is widespread, with 54 percent of motorists seen idling in Mississauga, and 50 percent in Greater Sudbury. The average amount of time spent idling by drivers was also high – just under four minutes in Greater Sudbury, and over eight minutes in Mississauga. These figures are particularly alarming because children are the ones breathing in this unnecessary pollution – children breathe faster than adults, and inhale more air per pound of body weight than grown-ups.

The good news is that the two school campaigns were overwhelmingly successful – both in reducing the amount and length of unnecessary idling – when comparing the pre- and post-campaign observations. In Mississauga, the campaign decreased the amount of idling by 46 percent, and the length of time spent idling by more than half – a staggering 56 percent. In Greater Sudbury, the campaign resulted in a 34 percent decrease in idling, and a 32 percent decrease in idling duration.

Greater Sudbury also recorded idling reductions by drivers of short and long buses, with similarly successful results. Drivers of long buses reduced their idling from 57 percent to 46 percent, a modest decrease. In contrast, the drivers of short buses reduced their idling from 72 percent to 43 percent, a 39 percent decrease. Better yet, drivers of both long and short buses significantly reduced the length of time spent idling, with reductions of 47 percent (long buses) and 57 percent (short buses).

Summary of campaign results: idling reductions by parents and caregivers

City Results Pre-campaign Post-campaign % Reduction
Idling Frequency 54% 29% 46%
Idling Duration 8:15 3:36 56%
Greater Sudbury
Idling Frequency 50% 33% 34%
Idling Duration 3:40 2:30 32%

  • Obtain copies of the materials used in Greater Sudbury's school-based idle-free initiative, including the information card, cling vinyl sticker and metal sign. (ZIP file)

Success factors and lessons learned

In implementing their school-based idle-free initiatives, project staff have pinpointed a number of success factors and lessons learned that should be considered by other communities contemplating a school-based campaign:

Partnerships with school boards and participating schools

In order to increase the comfort level and receptiveness of individual schools, school boards should be approached first to seek support for the project. For example, in Mississauga campaign staff made presentations to both the Public and Catholic school boards, and obtained approval to proceed with the initiative. Dealing with the school boards first also facilitates interaction with board staff who oversee school bus transportation, enabling buses to be addressed as part of the initiative. Following communication with the boards, arrangements can be made with staff at each school – usually the principal – to install signs and proceed with other campaign activities, such as on-site visits by campaign staff.

Include school buses in the campaign

If your campaign is asking parents and caregivers to reduce idling, a similar request must be made of the bus companies and drivers who are picking up and dropping off students at the schools. School buses are highly visible in the school parking and drop-off areas, and an idling bus can have very negative repercussions for your campaign. The operators of the bus lines should be contacted prior to approaching individual drivers. Greater Sudbury's campaign illustrated that substantial reductions in school bus idling are possible with the support of the school boards and bus companies. Similarly in Mississauga, the boards' transportation managers issued a request to the numerous bus companies that serve that city's schools to reduce or eliminate idling – with great success. In each city, the bus companies determined how best to involve their individual drivers in the initiative.

Placement of metal signs

In both cities, the locations for the three or four metal idle-free signs allocated to each school posed some challenges. In Mississauga, much of the idling occurs in designated pick-up and drop-off zones called "kiss and ride areas". In the morning, these areas function much like drive-thru lanes at fast food restaurants, with parents dropping off their children and then continuing on. In many cases, these areas are posted with "no stopping" or "no parking" signs. As such, the introduction of "no idling" signs was not possible in these areas – signs had to be posted elsewhere on the school property. In Greater Sudbury, one of the best locations for the idle-free signs was found to be on the existing "school bus loading zone" signposts. It should be recognized that many different locations – walls, fences, existing signposts, etc. – on school properties will need to be considered for sign placement. Furthermore, in some cases, idling may be most prevalent in areas adjacent to and outside of school properties, such as on a nearby street. In these instances, approval from the local municipality will be needed to erect the signs. The key objective is to install the signs as close as possible to the areas where idling is occurring, without contradicting signs already posted, or contravening any municipal by-laws. Good communication is needed with the school or municipal personnel who will be installing the signs to discuss issues relating to sign placement and installation.

Timing of interactions with drivers

The optimal time to approach drivers to discuss idling is at the end of the school day, as they as waiting to pick up students. Generally, they are less hurried at this time than during the morning drop-off. This is also the time when they are most likely to be idling while waiting in their vehicles, with some drivers arriving 10-15 minutes prior to the final bell and leaving their engines running until their children arrive at the vehicle. In both cities, the vast majority of drivers responded positively when approached by campaign staff, with most showing a genuine interest in issues that affect the health of their children and the environment. Depending on the size of the school and the number of drivers who regularly drive their kids to school, most drivers at a given school can be approached by a pair of campaign staff in two or three days.

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Mississauga Urges Local Businesses and Industries to be Idle-Free

As part of its citywide campaign, the City of Mississauga has sent idle-free tool kits to over 200 local businesses and industries to encourage them to join the idle-free campaign. The kits contained sample idle-free materials – information cards, cling vinyl windshield decals, and posters – as well as an illustration of a metal idle-free sign, suitable for posting in parking lot and delivery areas. Also included was information and resources to help organizations with vehicle fleets to reduce idling by fleet drivers.

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Get What You Need to be Idle-Free – Enter the "Zone"!

Natural Resources Canada has launched Canada's first idle-free Web site, called the Idle-Free Zone. This site is dedicated to helping municipalities and community groups take action to reduce unnecessary vehicle idling at the local level.

An idle-free campaign in your community is doable and can be implemented cost-effectively. The Idle-Free Zone Web site features information to help you get started and a tool kit – providing free, ready-to-use researched materials with downloadable graphics designed to save you time and money. The site also includes results and lessons learned from local campaigns to reduce vehicle idling.

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Don't idle! Share Your Community's Stories and Successes

Future issues of this newsletter, as well as the Idle-Free Zone Web site, will continue to profile the efforts of communities across Canada to become idle-free zones.

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

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  • To share your idle-free story, contact us through the Idle-Free Zone Web site.

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