Sustainability campaign asks automobile drivers to turn off idling engines

September 23, 2004, vol. 31, no. 2
By Julie Ovenell-Carter

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Even if you've never touched a cigarette in your life, you may still have a nasty smoking habit. That's the message from SFU's sustainable campus coalition, a student-led group working with faculty and staff to advance the principles of social and environmental sustainability. In an effort to raise awareness about the consequences of idling car engines, the one-year-old organization is bringing the Idle Free Workplaces campaign, recently launched by Better Environmentally Sound Transportation and the Jack Bell foundation, to SFU. Recent geography graduate Rachel Forbes, now a planning assistant with the SFU community trust, is actively involved in the coalition. She says the anti-idling campaign, which invites members of the campus community to pledge to turn their car engines off after 10 seconds (except in traffic), is just the most recent of several programs and projects aimed at making the university “a leader in sustainability. The university community should be applauded for the strides it has already made: the energy retrofit, for example, and a very effective recycling program.” Forbes says engine idling is a problem around the SFU campus, especially “in the pickup areas near the security office, in B-lot and at the bus loop. It's parallel to running the water while brushing your teeth. A lot of us do it without thinking, but when we stop to consider it, we realize there's no reason to continue the behaviour. It's really not that hard to stop doing these little things that have such a negative impact over the long run.” Forbes says every 10 minutes of idling burns about one-tenth of a litre of fuel, and wastes an average of $100 per year for every lightweight vehicle in Canada - and up to four times that amount for a larger engine. Perhaps more significantly, she notes, “vehicle emissions are one of the main contributors to air pollution. They're taking a serious toll on our health and environment.” The idle free campaign dispels the common myths that idling is necessary to warm up an engine or to keep an engine running smoothly. “With the advent of electronically controlled engines, excessive idling can actually damage your engine because it's not operating at its peak temperature, which means fuel combustion is incomplete.” As well, she notes that frequent restarting has little impact on engine components such as the battery and starter motor. Forbes says SFU community members who want to “save money, breathe easier and spare the air” can pick up a pledge card and “I'm idle free” decal from campus security. For more information about the impact of idling, visit,target=newwindow ( or,target=newwindow ( For more information about the sustainable campus coalition:,target=newwindow (

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