Towns joining the environmental movement

Richmond and Williston host action groups

April 17, 2008

By Tim Simard
Observer staff

Earth Day, which is celebrated the world over on April 22, came early to Richmond on Saturday during the town's sustainability fair. Local residents turned up to learn about how to save the earth from the threats of global climate change.

Representatives of local environmental groups and energy-efficient technologies spoke with attendees on the importance of thinking into the future for energy conservation.

At the same time, Williston residents were gathered at Williston Central School to discuss the town's environmental future at the Williston Into the Next Generations (WING) event (see the story on page 1).

Carrie Deegan, Williston conservation commissioner, said the town has already begun taking steps to become more environmentally sound, and hoped the WING event could move residents towards the direction Richmond has taken.

Sustainability in Richmond

The sustainability fair, held at the Richmond Free Library, was sponsored in part by the local Richmond Climate Action Committee. According to committee chairman Steve Bower, the group began a year ago by taking small steps to help the town become more environmentally responsible.

"First, we want to do projects that enable people to take steps to lower their carbon impact," Bower said. "Second, we want to raise the level of awareness of the urgency of the problems we're facing."

He said everyone needs to take steps to change energy intake. Bower admits he's part of the problem — he commutes to Bristol every day for work. Even though he tries to carpool with coworkers in Hinesburg, his carbon footprint is still bigger than he wants, even as he works to offset it.

"I've done what I can to minimize my impact, but I'm not pretending it's not a big effect," Bower said.

One of the first initiatives organized by the Climate Action Committee was a compact fluorescent lights (CFL) campaign, meant to get residents and town offices to switch from regular, incandescent bulbs. In two months, the group sold more than 4,000 indoor light bulbs. Bower said the Change-A-Light Challenge was a success, due in part because the light bulbs were sold for the reduced price of 99 cents at the Richmond Home Supply.

According to the Web site of Energy Star, a program helping businesses and individuals protect the environment through energy efficiency, if every home in America replaced just one regular light bulb with a CFL, it would save enough energy to light more than three million homes and prevent greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to those of more than 800,000 cars annually.

The committee has been working with Efficiency Vermont, a statewide provider of energy efficiency services, to identify which town buildings need to become more energy efficient. Town officials have even pledged to reduce Richmond's carbon footprint by 10 percent.

"The town has been very supportive of what we're trying to do and it's the kind of cooperation we're hoping continues," Bower said.

Bower believes a quarter of Vermont's communities have formed their own climate action groups. He said a community can form its own committee by working with the local conservation commission to set goals, or a town can create a paid energy coordinator position, as Richmond has done.

"Any town can form their own ad hoc citizens group," Bower said. "If you get enough interested people together, you can make things happen."

He said there are 10 members that officially maintain the group, while there about 200 residents on the mailing list.

The committee has only been in Richmond for a year and Bower seems hopeful small community action groups will make a big difference in lowering the danger of global climate change.

"I am very hopeful that as people become more aware of the magnitude of problems we're facing, they'll take action to limit the severity of the outcome," he said.

Williston takes action

One of the main areas of attention for residents at WING was environmental issues. Deegan said in her small group discussions there was a sense the town wasn't doing enough to curb its carbon footprint.

"We're looking at an energy audit of the town buildings," she said. "Hopefully, this will begin the process of reducing the town's carbon footprint."

She said the conservation commission would meet soon to discuss ways to move the town forward environmentally. There was talk about creating a separate climate action committee, something Deegan hopes will happen.

Meanwhile, Vermont Green Up Day is coming on Saturday, May 3. The Williston green up is once again being organized by Kimberly Richburg of the town's Public Works Department. She said she'll hand out garbage bags that Saturday morning for residents interested in cleaning up the town roadways. There were more than 325 volunteers last year and Richburg hopes more will turn out this year.

To participate in Williston's Green Up Day, call Kimberly Richburg at the Parks and Recreation Office at 878-1239 or at