Protecting Public Health and the Environment.

Idaho Environmental Guide for Local Governments: Greenhouse Gases

Gases that trap heat in the atmosphere are often called greenhouse gases. Some greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide occur naturally and are emitted to the atmosphere both through natural processes and human activities. Other greenhouse gases (such as fluorinated gases) are created and emitted solely through human activities. Following are the principal greenhouse gases that enter the atmosphere because of human activities:


  • Carbon dioxide (CO2)
  • Methane (CH4)
  • Nitrous oxide (N2O)
  • Fluorinated gases

Why Communities Should Care

  • Cost savings. Taking action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions can reduce costs through energy and process efficiency, conserve resources, and reduce waste.
  • Energy security. A finite amount of resources such as oil is available, and future prices of such resources remain unpredictable. Therefore, utilizing alternative energy sources and reducing energy consumption can limit the vulnerability of local government operations and reduce the volatility of overhead costs.
  • Job creation. Efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions can foster job growth. Local government initiatives such as supporting an alternative transportation program, green building, and renewable energy, can directly and indirectly promote the growth of these industries.
  • Leadership. Local governments can directly effect change through policy or program decisions, and doing so can promote change among businesses and organizations within the community.
  • Human health and the environment. Climate change affects people, plants, and animals. Observed effects include sea level rise, shrinking glaciers, changes in the range and distribution of plants and animals, earlier-blooming trees, longer growing seasons, late freezes and early thaws of ice on rivers and lakes, and thawing of permafrost. Human health can be affected directly and indirectly by climate change in part through extreme periods of heat and cold, storms, increases in climate-sensitive diseases, and smog episodes. Specifically, local governments may be faced with challenges such as the following:
    • Considering development of land in flood-risk areas
    • Ensuring building standards are adequate to withstand changes in weather events
    • Weighing the adequacy of emergency procedures
    • Addressing public health and welfare effects from uncharacteristic events triggered by climate change
  • Improving air quality. Many of the actions that reduce greenhouse gas emissions are ones that can be taken to improve air quality, such as using alternative transportation, driving less, and using renewable energy.

What Communities Can Do

  • Understand the quantity of greenhouse gases emitted from each project, evaluate the impact to the community, and develop management plans for this potential pollution. Consider requiring that each project develop a greenhouse gas inventory and associated action plan.
  • Develop a city or county inventory of greenhouse gas emissions to quantify emissions from municipal buildings, fleets and equipment, solid waste, and landfills. Develop an action plan establishing programs and goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Plan ahead.  These activities can reduce emissions of greenhouse gases:

Reduce Consumption – Free or Low Cost


  • Turn off lights when not in use or install occupancy sensors in hallways, bathrooms, meeting rooms, kitchens, storage rooms, and other areas where lights can be shut off for blocks of time.
  • Install photocells in outdoor entryway(s) and security lighting to automatically sense outdoor lighting levels.
  • Install light emitting diode (LED) exit signs in place of incandescent signs. LED signs last up to 15 times longer, and use less energy.
  • Reduce overhead lighting near day lit areas, over lit areas, or areas not requiring light.
  • Install fluorescent or LED light bulbs.
  • If a janitorial service comes in after hours, request that itonly uses lights in areas being cleaned. Require that all lights be turned off when finished for the night.


  • Install low flow fixtures on showers, sinks, and toilets.
  • Insulate hot water heaters.
  • Lower the temperature on water heaters.
  • Implement a water conservation program and post water conservation stickers, signs and posters in bathrooms, kitchens, cafeterias, conference rooms and other places where employees congregate.
  • Minimize lawns. Lawns use more water than any other landscape plants.
  • Use drip and other low-flow irrigation devices.


  • Implement a no-idling policy for vehicle fleets and customers.
  • Implement a vehicle maintenance policy for vehicle fleets to maximize vehicle efficiency.

Heating and Cooling

  • Adjust air conditioning in the summer and heat in the winter.
  • Install automatic, programmable, set-back thermostats to control heating and cooling.
  • Set thermostats and lights to correspond with shifts.
  • Open blinds in the winter and close them in the summer.
  • Restrict the use of space heaters, consider heating pads or blankets instead.
  • Clean all filters in your heating and cooling system monthly.
  • Limit open doors when picking up or delivering material.
  • Schedule HVAC tune-ups once or twice a year. Clean coils, check and correct refrigerant charge, clean and lubricate the fan motor, check for proper airflow, adjust the pulley settings and fan belts, replace air handling unit filters, and do routine checks to ensure proper performance.
  • When the building is unoccupied, close outside air dampers. This includes during morning warm-up periods.
  • Seal ducts that run through unconditioned spaces. Leaking ductwork can lose 20 percent or more of the conditioned air in a supply duct run.
  • When scheduling group activities and meetings after hours, use rooms and areas that can be heated and cooled individually, so a whole floor does not have to be heated or cooled.


  • When buying new equipment, appliances, or fixtures, look for ENERGY STAR or WaterSense certified.
  • Purchase products with recycled content or that are recyclable.
  • Purchase only what is needed. Bulk is not necessarily better if it has an expiration date.
  • Purchase Forest Stewardship Council certified paper and wood products.
  • Purchase local and/or organic food.


  • Start an alternative transportation program for employees and consider making a vehicle available to employees with emergencies who use an alternative mode of transportation to get to work.
  • Consider allowing employees to telecommute or work an alternative schedule to limit driving to work.
  • Educate drivers to be more efficient on the road and drive fewer miles. Speeding and rapid acceleration and deceleration can increase fuel consumption.
  • Schedule travel so that multiple tasks can be accomplished with one trip.
  • Remove excess weight from trunk, and remove portable roof rack when not in use.
  • Replace air filter regularly. A clogged air filter can significantly reduce fuel economy.
  • Keep tires properly inflated. Maintaining correct tire pressure and a tuned engine can save over a ton of greenhouse gases per year.
  • Change oil according to the manufacturer's recommendations.


  • Start a recycling program.
  • Start an on-site compost pile.

Equipment and Electronics

  • Install motion sensors on vending machines and remove or minimize light bulb use.
  • Power down machines when not in use.
  • Turn off air compressors when not in use.
  • Turn computers and other equipment off at night.
  • Use surge protectors for plug-in devices and turn off at the end of the day. Even when electronics or machines are not on, they still consume energy. Surge protectors can eliminate the power consumed when turned off.
  • Limit printing and print double-sided.
  • Engage energy saving features on equipment and electronics.
  • Check and regularly clean exhaust fan filters.
  • Practice routine maintenance.
  • Regularly clean and maintain food refrigeration equipment.
  • Stage turn-on of continuous motor loads with 1/2 hour intervals between loads. This prevents spikes in demand use and associated charges due to higher-than-normal start-up power.

Employee Involvement

  • Start a green team.
  • Seek employee suggestions on reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Building Envelope

Buidling Design

  • If conducting renovation, designing a new building, or looking for a new space to lease, consider LEED criteria.
  • Intall highly reflective roofs to help make cities cooler, reduce formation of smog, reduce air-conditioning loads, and save money. Highly reflective roofs and surfaces can reduce air-conditioning bills by 10 to 50 percent.


  • Install a tankless hot water system.
  • Plant a xeriscape garden or a garden that requires no limited or no irrigation.
  • Reuse wastewater or reclaimed water for other industrial uses, landscape irrigation, agricultural irrigation, aesthetic uses such as fountains, and fire protection, and other non potable uses.
  • Recycle water for the same application for which it was originally used.
  • Collect rainwater or irrigation runoff for reuse.
  • Use the same water to perform several cooling procedures.


  • Invest in video conference technology to reduce traveling.
  • Purchase fuel-efficient vehicles for company fleets.
  • Plan routes to maximize efficiency and prevent duplication for delivery or pick-up services.

Heating and Cooling

  • During occupied hours, make sure the amount of outside air matches load. Adding CO2 monitors, coupled with outside air controls, will only allow as much outside air as necessary to enter the building in the heating season.

Switch to Renewable Energy

Consider switching to renewable energy or electricity supplied from energy sources, such as wind, solar, geothermal, hydro, and biomass, by:
  • Purchasing green power from utility.
  • Installing solar panels or wind turbines.
  • Using biofuels. Biomass can be converted directly into liquid fuels, called biofuels, to help meet transportation fuel needs. Ethanol and biodiesel are the two most common types of biofuels. Think about investing in alternative fuel and flex-fuel vehicles for your business transportation needs.
  • Purchasing electric or hybrid vehicles.


What is an Offset?

An offset is a reduction of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere due to a project intended to compensate for emissions occurring elsewhere. Carbon-offset project types generally fall into four categories: 1) renewable energy, 2) energy efficiency projects, 3) land use/land change projects like reforestation and avoided deforestation, and 4) landfill gas destruction and agricultural methane destruction.

Five main types of offset sellers are: 1) project developers 2) retailers/wholesalers, 3) brokers, 4) aggregators, and 5) utility companies. Each type offers different value-added services, from providing messaging plans and outreach services to facilitating faster, larger scale transactions.

Why Purchase Offsets?

Carbon offsets can:

  • Help reduce greenhouse gas emissions to zero in addition to reducing use and switching energy sources.
  • Immediately and cost effectively reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Criteria for Quality Offsets

  • The offset is additional, meaning the project associated with the offset would not have been completed otherwise or under a business as usual scenario.
  • The project associated with the offset is completed in a reasonable time frame and has not yet been completed.
  • Permanent reductions should be produced.
  • A local project is preferable to a long distance project.
  • Offset projects are monitored and verified.
  • Offsets are not re-sold and are retired after purchased.
  • Projects have benefits to the environment as well as health and the community.
  • Specific projects with a beginning and end are better than long-term programs.
  • Offsets should be registered with a public registry, which prevents double-counting.

Promote Alternative Transportation

  • Effective public transportation systems can significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution while at the same time reducing congestion.
  • Local governments can buy fuel-efficient or alternative-fuel vehicles for their fleets including buses, passenger vehicles, etc.
  • By creating pedestrian- and bike-friendly travel routes, cities and towns can often decrease the number of vehicles on the road, leading to less congestion, air pollution, and greenhouse gas emissions.

Promote Waste Reduction and Recycling

Reduce waste and recycle. Charging residents for collection of household trash based on the amount thrown away creates a direct economic incentive to recycle more and waste less. Reducing the amount of trash sent to landfills can lower greenhouse gas emissions. Recycling reduces the amount of energy needed to produce products.

Other Local Best Practices

Best practices for local government climate and energy programs include strategies that deliver clean, reliable, and low-cost ways to meet energy demand while reducing peak electricity system loads and the environmental impacts of energy use. Find more information at EPA's Local Best Practices website.