When One Plus One Equals Negative Three: A Collaborative Approach to Community Energy Reduction

Posted on May 22nd, 2013 by


At our first meeting this year, my fellow City Council and I passed the Energy Action Plan, a strategy that identifies specific goals and measures to achieve communitywide reductions in energy consumption and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. By 2020, one of our targets is reducing GHG emissions by 27,940 metric tons of carbon dioxide (MTCO2e).There’s a saying “One plus one equals three,” that illustrates the common observation of a ‘whole’ of something being greater than the sum of its parts. When it comes to achieving energy efficiency, the more appropriate wording might be “One plus oe equals negative three.” Or in Temple City’s case, “One plus one equals negative 27,940.”

For those like myself, who need help understanding “27,940 MTCO2e,” the EPA has a great tool that calculates GHG equivalencies. As it turns out, achieving our target would essentially be like asking 4,183 homes to stop using electricity for a year. Taken at once, this large and looming reduction may seem overwhelming. But let’s break it down.

If we recognize that sustainability is a shared responsibility—of the State and City leading by policy and example; and of community members by taking small actions to reduce individual carbon footprints—we can and will be able to achieve incremental gradual reductions.

New measures being implemented by the State on building and vehicle codes are already automatically reducing our community’s emissions by more than 10,000 MTCO2e. So in reality, the target we’re really aiming for is 17,470 MTCO2e. And further chipping away at this number, the City has been committed to making energy upgrades in facilities and operations.

Between 2006 and 2010, we have reduced emissions by 7,900 MTCO2e, a cool 4 percent; with planned lighting upgrades in civic facilities, public parking lots and Temple City streets to eliminate an additional 100 MTCO2e. Other measures, like replacing outdated air conditioning units and planting more canopy trees for shade and natural cooling, will also help.

Though it was only recently that we identified a specific target reduction via the Energy Action Plan, we’ve been active in integrating sustainability into our new projects—including our ongoing capital improvement program.

The Rosemead Boulevard Project now under construction not only incorporates the energy-efficient lighting and climate-appropriate plants mentioned above, but it is recognized as the State’s first true “complete street” project. By designing for the safety and comfort of all roadway users, the “complete street” aims to encourage community members to consider alternative mobility options like walking, biking and public transit, not just driving.

Many of our other projects—like the Las Tunas Drive revitalization effort, community transit study, Bicycle Master Plan and Downtown Parking Study—also emphasize a “multimodal” approach to get people out of their cars and reducing Temple City’s overall carbon footprint.

Within the community, residents and businesses can also take small steps that, while subtle at the individual level, become impactful when everybody’s contributions are added—or subtracted—together.

To take the earlier example of reducing electricity consumption, instead of asking 2,615 homes to bear the full burden of stopping power usage for one year, we can instead encourage all homes—all 10,000 Temple City households—to reduce their energy use by just a quarter to achieve the same result. Working together and spreading the responsibility communitywide makes the GHG reduction more tolerable.

Plus, depending on how creative you get, there’s no doubt the journey to energy reduction can even be even fun.  As we focus on community building and fostering neighborly connections in Temple City, we’re realizing that cutting down on energy use can be as painless as going to your neighbor’s home to watch your favorite television show together—using one instead of two TVs; or even skipping TV altogether and taking a nice evening stroll for half an hour. The possibilities are endless.

At first glance, there’s no doubt that the Energy Action Plan can look like a boring, restrictive document that tells us what we can and can’t do to save energy. But if we look beyond “one plus one equals two,” we can create our own path to energy reduction and efficiency—one that fosters collaborative action. Not only are we reducing energy use, but also recharging our neighborhoods.



Cynthia Sternquist is Mayor of the City of Temple City, a small suburban community in the Greater Los Angeles region. She has served on Council since 2011 with 19 years of previous experience on the Parks and Recreation Commission. As mayor, one of Sternquist’s top priorities is to lead a revival of the neighborhoods—fostering community interaction and promoting civic engagement through neighborhood block parties and townhall meetings.


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