By Gray Russell

In Montclair, Earth Day — April 22 — is observed for the whole month, although as we all know, every day is Earth Day. It couldn’t fall at a better time in our town, as spring blossoms and the azaleas begin bursting into bloom.

When I speak to students, I like to point out that our community sits nestled in an often overlooked natural setting. Waterways coursing through our neighborhoods — such as Toney’s, Nishuane, Yantacaw, and Pearl brooks — flow to Second River and Third River, both of which are tributaries of the Passaic River, eventually draining into the NY/NJ Bight, connecting us with the Atlantic Ocean.

Our western border is the ridge of First Watchung Mountain, formed of volcanic basalt, ancient home of the Lenape — who named them the “Wach Unks,” or “high hills” — and still inhabited by isolated ecosystems of rare plants, wildlife, and minerals. The historic Montclair Hawk Lookout is up there, at the old quarry on Edgecliff Road, a sanctuary of the NJ Audubon Society, and a very special place.

Learning about the land around us helps us to understand and know it. When we know about our world, we can love it, and once we love it we will protect it.

Any celebration of our beautiful earth is tempered by growing concerns for our increasingly threatened planet, especially the urgency of the climate change challenges we face. Some residents are taking demonstrative actions, marching for Science on Earth Day in New York City, or joining with hundreds of thousands one week later for the People’s Climate March on Washington, D.C., on Saturday, April 29.

Closer to home, the Township will honor the environment by hosting our largest annual recycling event: the Montclair Shred-Fest is on Sunday, April 30, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., at the Public Works Yard, 219 North Fullerton Ave. Residents can bring confidential documents to be shredded and recycled at no charge.

And our local government continues to take steps to be greener.

Last week, Time magazine’s cover article — “25 Smart Ways to Fix Our Infrastructure” — began by discussing the need for rebuilding the nation’s electric grid, pointing out that “the energy story is suddenly about efficiency.” The good news is that the U.S. is figuring out how to grow economically without consuming more energy, a first in human history.

As examples, the article cited “high efficiency appliances and lighting to drive down electric demand,” summarizing, “Maybe you don’t think of light bulbs as infrastructure, but they are.”

At this moment, the township is upgrading all of the lighting in 10 municipal buildings, leveraging financial incentives from our utility company to save money and energy sustainably. By converting to LEDs, we will net savings of around $150,000 over five years; on top of prior lighting improvements, we are lowering our municipal electric bills by as much as $95,000 per year, while significantly shrinking our carbon footprint by reducing the emissions of greenhouse gases which contribute to climate change.

In addition to lowering demand, the township has joined a cooperative purchasing agreement with other Essex and Hudson County municipalities to buy our electricity from a supplier at a lower rate than from PSE&G, but with significantly more renewable energy, saving more money, while greening our grid.

Montclair is also applying for a grant to help us determine the feasibility of hosting an innovative microgrid system, a combined heat and power generator which would provide public safety and security when the power goes out again.

Finally, we are exploring options for acquiring solar panels for some municipal buildings, and we will soon offer an on-line program that can assist homeowners interested in selecting a solar panel company — a Trivago-like search platform for finding solar installers.

There are many steps a community such as ours can take — big or small, public and private — to protect our own places, and the natural environment to which we are connected. With hope and vision we can transform our homes, and our world, for a more sustainable future. Happy Earth Day!

Gray Russell is the sustainability officer for the Township of Montclair.