A photo of a green sign with white writing and a graphic showing a car with exhaust spewing out the tailpipe onto people.

Yellowstone-Teton Clean Energy Coalition works with local seventh graders to clarify idling misconceptions, encourage behavioral changes

Each year, cars, trucks, and heavy-duty vehicles in the United States waste nearly 6 billion gallons of fuel due to idling—equating to nearly $20 billion dollars lost. Put into perspective, this amount of gas could power a Honda Civic traveling from New York City to San Francisco 82 million times.

To address the issue of idling, the Yellowstone-Teton Clean Energy Coalition (YTCEC), like many other U.S. Department of Energy Clean Cities coalitions, has implemented a multifaceted anti-idling campaign.

In addition to working with local municipalities and national parks such as Grand Teton and Yellowstone, YTCEC has started an anti-idling initiative that includes an educational component to clarify idling misconceptions. Through the initiative, the coalition has distributed resources found on Clean Cities’ IdleBox Toolkit and led discussions about idling and the detrimental impacts of petroleum use.

Still, behavioral changes are difficult to achieve. To bolster YTCEC’s efforts, the coalition has included student-targeted anti-idling educational programs. While children are not drivers, they are excellent ambassadors of information. They can help mitigate idling by educating their parents or other adults indirectly and therefore catalyze behavioral shifts. Other coalitions have carried out similar idle-reduction campaigns successfully, such as East Tennessee and San Antonio.

Last fall, YTCEC partnered with the Teton Science School to provide a half-day stewardship program for a seventh grade group. The morning began with an introduction and presentation describing detrimental effects of petroleum use, specifically due to idling, and how Clean Cities encourages the reduction of petroleum consumption through alternative fuel vehicles.

To engage the students and show them how often idling occurs, they performed field observations at three locations in town: a fast food drive-through, a post office, and a grocery store. At each location, the students spent 15 minutes identifying idling vehicles and recording the type of vehicle and the length of time it idled.

When they returned to the classroom, the students entered data into a pre-programmed Excel spreadsheet to calculate the cumulative fuel and money wasted, and greenhouse gas emissions produced, over the 45-minute period.

The results showed how small values quickly accrue over time to become a disturbingly large problem.

To conclude the program, the students were asked to imagine this scenario scaled up countywide, statewide, and nationwide, and how factors like sample size, location, weather, and time of day and year impact idling intensity. The students’ responses were quite optimistic and well-reasoned. They suggested spreading awareness via signage, school-based campaigns, and even good, old-fashioned word-of-mouth.

The coalition hopes that, through the experiential-learning program, these students will become stewards of the anti-idling campaign and help clarify idling misconceptions for their friends or family. By bridging the knowledge gap with the enthusiasm of children, YTCEC is optimistic that idling behavioral changes are possible.

  • William Karis, Workforce Development Program, Yellowstone-Teton Clean Energy Coalition
  • Clean Cities offers internships through the Clean Cities University Workforce Development Program, which unites Clean Cities coalitions across the country with students interested in changing the future of on-road transportation.
  • For more information:
  • Clean Cities Technical Response Service Team
  • technicalresponse@icfi.com
  • 800-254-6735