To attain its goal of carbon neutrality by 2050, the City of Newton created the position of Newton energy coach. Liora Silkes will step into this role and work closely with residents, builders, and contractors to reduce carbon emissions, according to a statement from Mayor Ruthanne Fuller on Thursday.
Silkes has both experience and passion for energy efficiency and is ready to implement new programs in Newton. She said that her new position will help to bridge the gap between city climate planning and resident climate action.
“We are in a climate crisis, and everyone in all positions, whether it’s a paid job or volunteer work or in your personal life, this is something that every single person needs to be spending time thinking and doing, and so I’ve always been interested in this sort of work and I am really happy that I get to do this at the city level,” Silkes said.
Silkes understands green energy and how to go green economically, according to Fuller’s statement.
A resident of the greater Boston area for the past six years, Silkes graduated from Tufts University in 2019 with a B.A. in environmental studies and sociology. Silkes was previously involved in the Mass Save energy efficiency incentives program. Silkes said her experience at Mass Save as well as her involvement in outreach and communications has provided her with environmental and climate communication skills.
Mass Save is an initiative that works with energy providers and the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources to help promote energy efficiency while managing energy use and costs, according to the Mass Save website.
Following her work at the state level, Silkes said she wants to help Newton residents take advantage of the resources that Mass Save offers, as well as provide personalized support for Newtonians.
“The difference between my role and Mass Save is I’m doing a lot of similar outreach, but I’m also connected to other things within Newton, whether that’s relationships with the builders, contractors, and developers and the Climate Action Plan as a whole in terms of tracking and making sure that those actions are going through and making sure that the city is meeting its goals, which might differ from the rest of the state,” Silkes said.
Silkes also has experience with other incentive programs such as working with residents for Green Stormwater Infrastructure in Seattle. Part of Seattle Public Utilities, Green Stormwater Infrastructure treats rainwater once it hits the earth and turns into stormwater to reduce flooding, sewer overflows, and pollution, according to its website.
Silkes said that she will be available to residents through her website and personal contact information, allowing them to reach out, ask questions, and learn more about the impact of implementing personal changes to improve the climate.
“My work is not just about talking with residents who are making these changes, but also especially for new buildings, building relationships with builders and contractors and developers, the people who are working in this industry … I’m here to help you as you do your work,” Silkes said.
Fuller is inviting residents to attend a webinar on Tuesday to meet Silkes. At the webinar, residents can meet the energy coach and learn about how the energy coach website can assist Newtonians, the Newton Climate Action Plan, and climate action steps they can take.
The goal is to spur communication among residents and create a dialogue to help fuel climate action and change, Silkes said. Silkes said she will play a role in making sure everyone’s energy—not just the city’s municipal buildings’—is renewable.
“My position is a lot about this sort of communication and outreach … the personal ability to help people in a more personal way than is currently available through existing support systems for making these changes,” Silkes said. “And then also thinking about Newton specifically and the sort of data that we have already, or need to have … and look at what the state of the city and our infrastructure is currently, and then use that to make changes.”
The main goal of the Newton Climate Action Plan, implemented by the city in 2019, is to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050. Silkes has personal experience in climate action planning in Rhode Island, which she feels is very relevant to her current role.
“This position essentially is coming out of the Newton Climate Action Plan, so I have experience working with those sort of plans and tracking and making sure things happen,” she said.
Silkes said she is committed to helping Newton reach its climate goals in the next five years, with a focus on reaching net zero emissions. This is only achievable if emphasis is placed on the residents and the actions they can take, Silkes said.
“When you’re looking at where the carbon emissions come from in the City of Newton, 59 percent of the emissions are coming from residential buildings and personal vehicles … it’s really important to be focusing as the city on those individual private property changes, because so much of the … city’s emissions are coming from those sectors,” Silkes said.
Silkes said she will work to provide resources and support to residents to make changes to their homes relating to their energy output as well as in other aspects of their own lives. She encourages residents to insulate their homes, upgrade to electric heat pumps for home heating and cooling systems, install solar panels, and utilize renewable energy to power their homes.
“The next time that they’re looking to get a car, getting an electric vehicle, or if they’re not looking to get a car just encouraging biking, walking, and public transit more as well,” she said.
For residents looking to take action now, Silkes said the first step would be to visit the City of Newton website, which outlines ways residents can help reduce greenhouse gas emissions. A priority would be to see what you can do in your own home, such as getting a home assessment, Silkes said.
“Every single person can get a home energy assessment from Mass Save,” Silkes said. “This is no cost, it’s virtual so you don’t need someone to come into your home during COVID, and they will talk you through where your energy use is coming from in your home and what might be good next steps to address that.”
Silkes emphasized that this includes not just long-term goals, but starts in the short term with changes to the community that can happen today.
“The thing with infrastructure changes is that whatever you do today is going to stay in place for the next 20 years or so,” Silkes said. “And that’s why it’s really important as we’re trying to meet these long-term goals, you really have to start working backwards and you’re like ‘yeah, I needed to do that yesterday.’”
Silkes encourages everyone in Newton to take action and begin with their personal impact and what they personally can do to reduce their environmental impact, and she will be continuing to interact with and reach out to the community in the coming weeks.
“I want everyone to be making these sort of actions, as much as they can,” Silkes said. “Get a home energy assessment, look at your insulation, heating, and cooling energy sort of thing. And if you have any questions, reach out to me.”
When asked what this position means to her, Silkes cited the balance and interconnectedness of the position.
“I really like the fact that I get to be in this balance between city and individual work,” she said. “I think that’s sort of the direction that we need to be working on to address climate issues and this balance between institutional change and individual change, and so I’m really happy to be in a position where I get to do that.”
Photo courtesy of Liora Silkes