Sustainable America Blog

College Student Speaks Out About Idling

Clare Roth, a senior at Northwestern University, made idling the topic of her prepared speech

Clare Roth, a senior at Northwestern, made vehicle idling the topic of a speech for her speech team competitions.

In January, Sustainable America received an unexpected call. It was from Clare Roth, a Northwestern University senior journalism student who had learned of our I Turn It Off pledge campaign to end unnecessary vehicle idling. A member of her school’s speech team, Roth had chosen vehicle idling as the topic for the prepared speech she would be competing with throughout the season—and she wanted to see if we could send her materials to hand out at the events.

Needless to say, we were incredibly inspired by her efforts and sent her a package. But we wanted to learn more, so we interviewed this inspiring young leader to find out her thoughts about the idling issue and what she’s learned as she’s spread the anti-idling message.

Sustainable America: How did you come across our “I Turn It Off” anti-idling campaign?
Clare Roth: I actually learned about the campaign on Facebook. My coach shared a link from Upworthy, and I decided to pursue it. What struck me about the campaign was how simple it is to do something about it, and unlike other issues, it’s actually in people’s self interest to change. I thought I’d rather talk about an issue people can actually do something about, so I started learning and working on my speech.

SA: What did you know about the vehicle idling problem before you found the “I Turn It Off” campaign?
CR: Not much at all. I had no idea how widespread the idling problem is or how common the misconceptions are about idling versus restarting and what’s better for your car. Honestly, it didn’t even occur to me to put the two together—running a car and wasting gas. Now that I am aware of it, though, I come across these issues a lot.

SA: What inspired you about the “I Turn It Off” campaign?
CR: I’m not really involved in environmental issues, so what really struck me was how small changes like this–that we can all do in our everyday lives–can make a difference. It’s like using reusable grocery bags, but what’s even better about anti-idling is that it’s also in our self-interest to make a change. It is good for the environment, for society, and for yourself, and it’s good for your wallet, your engine and your health! Maybe the impact isn’t as great as not driving at all, but it is a realistic change that everyone can make. With anti-idling it’s almost all about awareness. I consider myself an educated individual, but I didn’t know. So now I want to share that knowledge with others, especially because with that knowledge comes an easy solution!

Clare Roth giving her anti-idling speechSA: What has been the reception to your speech?
CR: I just got started with this new piece, so I’m continuing to learn and tweak it, but so far the reception has been really good. A lot of people are sharing that they have learned something new and I’ve seen a number of people have that “Wait, really?” moment as their misconceptions are changed. In fact, it was a member of the audience that encouraged me to reach out about the bumper stickers because they thought a reminder of sorts would be helpful. Of course there is always some resistance too. Some people don’t want to change no matter what you tell them, but that’s rare. Most people are excited for topics that they can actually do something about. So I feel good that I’m making a difference through my work.

SA: Have you also talked to friends and family about the issue? If so, what have their reactions been?
CR: Yes. Mostly I talk to people I’m driving with about it, since it’s on my mind when I’m in the car. People’s reactions are similar to the reactions I get during my speeches. Generally people find it interesting, learn something they didn’t know before, and start to think about idling, which they didn’t do before. My teammate, for example, called me the other day to tell me he had a moment in the car when he was idling and thought, Clare wouldn’t like this, I should turn it off! So I’m getting into people’s heads!

SA: What changes have you made in your own idling behavior?
CR: I think about it all the time! I don’t want to be a hypocrite, so I know I need to practice what I preach. It’s such a small thing. It’s not hard to do, and I drive almost every day, so by not idling, I’m contributing in my own small way.

We are so proud of Clare for taking a stand and making a difference. We hope that you will be as inspired by Clare’s work as we are, and consider launching your own I Turn It Off campaign. To learn more and download our free posters, flyers and infographics visit: iturnitoff.com.

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By the Numbers

Currently 50 million households suffer from food insecurity, meaning that family members cannot always meet their basic food needs.

10 million people a year could be fed through the recovery of just one-fifth of food waste.

Only 2% of food waste is composted or otherwise recycled—62% of paper is recycled.

Consumers throw out about 40% of the fresh and frozen fish they buy.

The U.S. produced 208 pounds of meat per person in 2009—60% more than Europe.

Low income commuters spend a much higher proportion of their wages on gas—8.6% versus 2.1% at $4 per gallon.

Food prices rose 35-40 percentage points between 2002–2008.

Americans consume 25% of the world’s produced oil, but our nation holds less than 3% of the world’s proven oil reserves.

The International Energy Agency says greenhouse gas emissions rose 3.2% last year, with a 9.3% increase in China offsetting declines in the US and EU.


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