April Climate Leader: Andy Lowe
Andy Lowe is the Environmental Compliance Manager for Albemarle County Local Government Department of Environmental Services. Andy is responsible for environmental compliance and sustainability programs for the operations of local government. Since 2007, he has been instrumental in the past and most recent climate action planning.
He works with staff from all departments like Public Works, Parks and Recreation, and Community Development to implement programs that focus on environmental impacts of operations. Programs include climate action planning, energy and water conservation, sustainable material management, recycling, waterworks operations, and hazardous material management, to name a few. He is also on the Governance Board of the Local Energy Alliance Program (LEAP).
How did you get involved and become passionate about the environment?
I graduated with an Environmental Studies and Business Administration degree, intending to integrate positive environmental impacts in the business world. Immediately following graduation, I joined AmeriCorps where I provided environmental education in low income, urban public schools. I had the best time teaching kids and helping them to make the connections between themselves and the natural world. Each year we ended the program with field trips out of the city to a National Park, forest, river or lake. Watching the kids experience this, some for the first time, was inspirational. Now watching my kids do the same thing continues to fuel my passion and guide my work.
What are you hopeful about right now?
The wave of public attention on environmental issues. To me it feels like the mix of local political actions and grassroots efforts have led to activism at all levels including local governments, businesses, NGOs, residents, and students. I believe this connection is needed to make meaningful changes in our community, to impact global policies.
In your opinion, what is one thing that is holding the state or local community back from greater progress?
I believe the fear of change is a root cause impeding progress. I personally fall into this category sometimes and I find that information, facts, and data usually help me with the process of change. For example, the financial connection of energy efficiency is easier for folks to understand and using return on investments can ease the fear associated with making financial investments of weatherizing a home or choosing renewable energy. I also feel that we “vote” with every dollar we spend, and that positive pressure is showing positive results.
What is a climate action personally or professionally that you are proud of?
I am proud to see Albemarle County local government transitioning to active participation in the community-wide climate action conversation. In 2011, Albemarle County made the decision to focus on internal energy programs and not community-based emissions goals. During that time, we continued to work on showing positive results of internal energy programs and highlighted the work of community partners like LEAP and Better Business Challenge, but did not have a stated emissions goal for our community. Fast-forward to now and the Board of Supervisors has made climate action planning with a community-wide emission goal their top priority for fiscal year 2020-2022 Strategic Plan.
What is one thing folks can do today to help reduce climate pollution?
Take control and conserve your home energy use. Heating and cooling indoor space and lighting are two of the biggest energy uses for homes and commercial spaces. Setting your indoor air temperature at a reasonable temperature, only using room air-conditioners when room occupied, setting temperatures back when buildings are unoccupied are great ways to reduce your energy load. Take advantage of the seasons by opening windows instead of turning on air conditioning. It’s not the heat, it’s the humidity and air circulation. Use ceiling or other type fan to cool people, not empty spaces. Turn off lights inside and outside; flip-the-switch when you leave, use motion, occupancy and ambient light sensors and set timers when homes are unoccupied.
On a sillier side: Plastic and glass are not reliably recyclable and costly, so switching to aluminum cans for adult and other beverages can make a no-cost positive environmental impact.
This is challenging work! What is your favorite way to recharge and rejuvenate?
Family time is what I crave. We get out as much as possible to explore the great outdoors. I want to encourage them to be stewards of the natural world, to practice the art of reduce, reuse, recycle. Being in and among nature, allows me to teach them that the most important things in life can be free. We are up for any adventure.
I also want to promote a National Parks program. [The National Park Foundation] currently offers a program to provide a one-year free annual pass to all National Parks for all fourth-grade students (we did this last year, so check program availability for next year). See their website for program details, and as citizens provide positive feedback to the National Parks to keep funding this program. Shenandoah National Park is in our backyard but the pass is good across the National Park System.