Green Spotlight: 5 Initiatives Around Aquidneck Island Doing Important Environmental Work

The daffodils have begun blooming and with that, Earth month is almost here. The hope in highlighting these environmental initiatives is to get people thinking about all the decisions they make and how might they choose differently in the future, whether that be deciding what to plant in their garden, how to get to work, or what to do with their end of life vehicles. 

1. Eastern Rhode Island Conservation District

This 501c3 organization was formed in 1944 following the dust bowl of the 1930s and yet, they continue to drive their vision forward with fervor and passion. ERICD promotes the most up-to-date, at times even innovative, environmental practices possible to protect the state’s soil, air, and water.

Their event calendar for this coming Earth month is packed with activities that make it easy and fun to get involved. The collaborative element of many of these activities means that just as important as their environmental impacts, they connect people who care together.

April includes the following: comedy shows, seedling sales, plogging (jogging + pickup up trash) after the Rhode race, DIY take-and-make rain barrels, and opportunities to get funding for community gardens. ERICD truly has something for everyone, or at least anyone that shares their same vision for the future: “To promote and improve long-lasting and environmentally-friendly practices that protect natural resources such as soil, water, and air.” (ERICD 2023).

Photo courtesy of the RIPTA website.

Haven’t you heard? All the cool kids are taking public transport again. 

While not necessarily new, RI’s public transport is an under-utilized asset that is overlooked by much of the state’s local populations. The folks that do take advantage of this system are skewed towards the state’s more vulnerable, marginalized, and poorer populations; these are the individuals whose needs tend not to be adequately represented in the rooms where decisions are being made. Perhaps this has something to do with why progress has been relatively slow to make major improvements, such as moving towards more localized transit as opposed to the current state-wide system. 

Is the state’s public transport system perfect? Far from it! But that shouldn’t deter the car-owning class on this island from trying it, if nothing else then simply as an activity. Increased ridership, especially by people with access to those in power, is a surefire way to increase funding for improvements.

Summertime traffic on Aquidneck Island only increases each year and preserving the history of our cities prevents major infrastructure changes. An effective, efficient, easy-to-use public transport system on the island is likely to become urgently needed if tourism trends increase, as they are expected to. 

Americans are known for maximizing the hours in a day. So what if you moved more slowly? What if your commute time opened up, allowing you to slowly reflect each afternoon? How would you pass the time?

SHIFT is the newest large-scale environmental initiative related to the auto recycling sector. Based out of Middletown, this social enterprise launched with the aim to create a donation pathway for individuals to be able to responsibly recycle their gas-powered vehicles. Unlike any other vehicle retirement program in the United States, SHIFT has created a network of recyclers across the country that have signed a commitment to officially retire all internal combustion engines received through the SHIFT program from returning to U.S. and international roadways.

The transportation sector is the largest sector in terms of contributions to greenhouse gas emissions in the United States, with cars contributing disproportionately compared to all other modes of transport. The team behind SHIFT understands the transition to EVs as inevitable but cautions that before this can be accomplished, the millions of gas vehicles coming off of U.S. roadways each year must be properly dealt with to ensure the best environmental outcome possible.

The SHIFT program also stands out for the way it intends to improve the sector it exists within. All net proceeds from this program are given to support the Auto Recycling Training Institute (ARTI), which trains and certifies auto recyclers on the most environmentally sustainable practices possible. The SHIFT website is working to build out its knowledge base on the auto recycling sector with the goal to identify and promote further opportunities for improved material efficiency uses and carbon reductions within the sector.

If one is looking to donate their end-of-life vehicle and would like the assurance that their vehicle will not go on to continue emitting carbon in the U.S. or worse, will not be shipped to a developing nation with lower emissions standards, individuals may want to consider SHIFT for their vehicle donation needs. If one is looking for more information on this topic, their talkSHIFT page is an excellent place to start.

Purple Loosestrife, one of RI’s many beautiful native wildflowers.

While technically based out of North Kingston, this initiative by Rhode Island’s Wild Plant Society aims to increase the availability of seeds and plants from locally-sourced wild native “ecotypic” plant populations.

The importance of this work cannot be understanded. Increasing native plant populations supports the growth of native pollinator populations (bees, butterflies,  hummingbirds, and bats) which in turn, improves entire ecosystems. Native plants create diverse habitats and food sources for wildlife all while requiring less maintenance than non-natives due to their natural adeptness for their native environment. 

A  traditional grass lawn is of very little use for local wildlife populations whereas the native plants support the growth of these populations in a multitude of ways. 

The organization’s processes for seed collection, storage, sowing, and selling are well-documented and individuals of all different botanical expertise are encouraged to join in on various parts of the process. Knowledge on native plants is also shared through the organization’s identification walks, lectures, and book discussion events that are held throughout the year, across the state. Folks can jump into the beautiful world of native plants by attending one of the organization’s native plant sales, in Saunderstown on May 13th or at URI’s botanical gardens on June 3rd.

PCE is the town’s electricity supply program, set to launch in May 2023. While the program has been approved since August 2020, customers in Portsmouth have only just begun to receive notification letters within the last month (Feb/March 2023), notifying those that are eligible for automatic enrollment. 

The main purpose of rolling out this program is to help Portsmouth’s residents manage energy costs, increase use of renewables, and reduce carbon emissions where possible. 

The program’s website is careful to distinguish between the two parts to one’s energy bill: supply services and delivery services. The latter will remain the responsibility of Rhode Island Energy while the former is where residents can expect to see changes. The most basic tier of this new energy supply program is called the ‘Portsmouth Standard’ and adds 5% voluntary renewable energy to one’s energy supply; all those who receive the notification letter will be automatically enrolled in this option and its associated rate of 9.361¢/kWh. 

Notably, this option costs slightly more per kWh compared to the previous default option, ‘Portsmouth Basic’, which includes no renewable energy at a price of most recently 10.341¢/kWh. The deadline to opt-out of automatic enrollment is April 8th though anyone enrolled is able to leave the program at any time without penalty.

For those interested in expanding their use of renewables there are also higher energy supply tiers available with either additional renewable energy to total 50% or additional renewable energy to total 100%. 

This program is supported by Green Energy Consumers Alliance, a New England based non-profit that describes itself as “an honest broker between people and energy services”.

Update 3/27 – Portsmouth is one of few towns in Rhode Island undergoing a larger state pilot program implementing more affordable and renewable electricity programs. The towns involved so far include Newport, Barrington, Central Falls, Narragansett, Providence and South Kingstown. 

That about wraps up our roundup of exciting, local environmental initiatives. If you’re interested in this topic and want to join the conversation you can reach out to iNvolve Newport at 

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