By Joseph Fusco
There has been a fascinating conversation taking place in Vermont over the last several years, a conversation about whether environmentalism and entrepreneurialism can exist together. It is a conversation driven, in part, by the anticipated effects of climate change, and the challenge to do something about it.
Of course, in Vermont, the economy and the environment are deeply intertwined. For most, if not all, of our history, we have relied a great deal on our unique and healthy environment to support a vibrant and evolving working landscape. From tourism to the maple industry, from forest products to craft beer and more, Vermont has birthed livelihoods that both depend on and contribute to a healthy and sustainable environment.
I have participated in this conversation with thoughtful and diverse people who love Vermont, and who are deeply motivated to think about how we can create value, affordability, prosperity and environmental sustainability by approaching climate change and its related challenges with creativity, innovation and thoughtfulness.
I serve as chair of the Vermont Climate Economy Action Team (CEAT), a diverse group of Vermonters representing the business, economic development, tourism, finance, workforce development, low-income advocacy, solid waste and energy communities. CEAT is dedicated to ensuring that Vermont not only leads in identifying solutions to climate change, but grasps the economic opportunities this challenge presents. These opportunities lie within advancing the climate economy — initiatives that expand distributed energy generation and efficiency, cultivate climate economy entrepreneurs and ultimately reduce Vermont’s carbon dependence.
As we begin this new phase of Vermont’s history, we are already seeing a surprising opportunity emerge. Relatively new economic sectors, such as solar and home efficiency, are helping to reduce emissions while boosting local economies, increasing state revenues and employing hard-working professionals. Electricians, contractors, plumbers, engineers, tech experts, farmers and foresters are creating answers to climate change that will be a foundation for the economic renewal of the state.
The climate economy can be a fundamental component of all economic activity in the state, whether it’s how we manufacture and produce goods, develop technology, transport products, attract tourism or use the working landscape. It is the economy of the future, powered by Vermont’s history of independence, frugality, resilience and innovation. With hard work, a vision for economic renewal and the right policies in place, Vermont has a terrific opportunity to become the most attractive state in the country for climate economy businesses.
CEAT envisions a climate economy that connects Vermonters across communities, from businesses and homes to schools and places of worship. We see a future where electric vehicles are affordable and accessible to all individuals and businesses, where transportation networks can be reliable and inexpensive without increasing greenhouse gas emissions and where bike and pedestrian commuting can be a realistic and attractive option rather than an exception.
The climate economy makes it possible for everyone to have access to a comfortable, safe and well-heated home powered by reliable, clean and affordable electricity. This can be achieved while reducing emissions and improving access to clean energy. Vermonters shouldn’t have to struggle to heat their homes; low-energy and net-zero homes will improve efficiency and help curb climate change.
It is an ambitious vision. And it’s one that requires us to begin acting now, taking the steps and putting the vital foundations in place while both the opportunities and the challenges are fresh.
CEAT recently released its legislative platform for 2018. The platform supports initiatives that promote the growth of the Climate economy through dramatically expanding weatherization, supporting built-environment solar and facilitating a shift to electric vehicles. I encourage you to take a look at it at: vtrural.org/programs/climate-economy/action-team.
We can do our part to innovate solutions to climate change while boosting the economy and growing jobs throughout Vermont. We are very enthusiastic about the chance to seize the most significant economic development opportunity of our generation.
Joseph Fusco, a vice president at Casella Waste Systems, is chair of the Climate Economy Action Team, a group of stakeholders convened by the Vermont Council on Rural Development.