Tobin Freid | Q&A | Indy Week

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Tobin Freid

Durham sustainability coordinator


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Durham residents and businesses emitted 6.8 tons of greenhouse gases in 2005, above the national average. As part of the county's reduction plan, officials recently hired Tobin Freid as its sustainability coordinator, whose job is to educate business, government, industry and residents on cutting these emissions. The ambitious plan calls for reductions of 50 percent for the government and 30 percent for the community over the next 20 years, based on 2005 levels. Freid also is required to find funding for reductions programs and to issue quarterly progress reports. Her experience includes managing energy and environment programs at Triangle J Council of Governments. For more information on sustainability programs, see "Capping greenhouse gases" (July 4, 2007) and visit or

Do you think these goals can be met?

It's a challenge, but we can do it. My bigger picture goal is to make Durham a place that is synonymous with sustainability. If you think about sustainable communities, right now everyone talks about Portland. Well, I want Durham to be that place, so people come here to learn what we're doing and we can be a role model for other communities. 

What will you ask people to do?

A lot of people have already switched to compact fluorescent light bulbs, for example. More people are getting energy audits in their homes to identify the places where they're wasting energy and therefore wasting money. Think about when you're doing things: Use dryers or dishwashers early in the morning or late at night and not during the day, at the peak heat times. That helps reduce the energy load for the power companies. Can I ride the bus? Can I take my bike? Can I find a carpool buddy? Can I arrange with my employer to tele-work once a week? These are all things that will make a difference in the long run.

How can Durham keep growing without increasing emissions?

We definitely need to invest in better public transportation, and we need to think about how Durham can grow at its urban center. Creating living spaces downtown where people can walk, bike or take the bus to get around is a great opportunity to bring more people into Durham while reducing their carbon footprint. 

Won't it cost a lot of money to make homes energy efficient?

There are a lot of things people can do that don't cost money, but to get the big benefits, oftentimes you will have to invest some money. My job is to identify funding sources, so maybe we can set up grant or loan programs to help offset that cost. Even if it's an investment up front, we'd love to show people the long-term benefits, especially how much you can save on energy bills over time.

Biofuels have recently been criticized for contributing to the food shortage and the rising cost of food. Should Durham count biofuels in as part of its sustainability plan?

I do see it as a viable part of the solution. A good example is Bull City Biodiesel making biodiesel from waste vegetable oil. We can use grease from restaurants. I think the argument that biofuels are increasing food prices is a very myopic way of looking at the issue. We have almost a perfect storm driving food prices up. Producing food takes a lot of petroleum: combines, tractors, processing and transportation. We've had droughts and floods this year that have affected the supply, which drives the price up more, and we have a rising middle class in developing countries that is eating more meat. Producing meat to feed people is very inefficient because it takes so much extra energy. I've been a vegetarian for 19 years, and it's interesting that people are not focusing on the impact of eating meat on the price of food. They'd rather focus on biofuels.


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