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Vermont: Where sustainability and economic growth come together

Observer courtesy photo AllEarth, based in Williston, designs and engineers solar trackers.
Observer courtesy photo
AllEarth, based in Williston, designs and engineers solar trackers.

By Luc Reid

Special to the Observer

The recent election results have made it clearer than ever that we are a divided country, and even a divided state, yet a few things can unite us and benefit us all. One of these is Vermont’s successful sustainability businesses.

Politicians sometimes like to scare voters by describing the work we do in climate change and the economy as being in conflict. In reality, renewable energy and carbon-footprint reduction are examples of booming business, and they offer both immediate and long-term benefits for Vermont investors, workers and families.

Vermont businesses are seeing the potential of sustainability and making better use of it than businesses in many other states. Here are a few examples of businesses that are bringing money and jobs to Vermont by contributing to the new energy economy.

AllEarth Renewables follows the sun

Headquartered on Harvest Lane here in Williston, AllEarth designs and engineers solar trackers — solar panels that follow the sun. AllEarth Renewables solar trackers were named a Top-10 green product of the year by BuildingGreen and they ship ready-to-install to 30 states. Founded in 2005, AllEarth Renewables was the fastest-growing company in Vermont in 2010 and 2011 and was named a 2012 Inc. 500 company for fastest-growing businesses in the U.S. It currently employs 36 people.

Methane harvesting at Blue Spruce Farm

Just 30 miles south of us, in Bridport, Blue Spruce Farm produces not only milk for Cabot Cheese, but also electricity. Because of their specialized digestive systems, cows and their relatives — including goats and sheep — produce 164 million tons of methane every year just in the U.S. Methane is a greenhouse gas more than 20 times more damaging than CO2 (the carbon we hear so much about).

Blue Spruce puts the manure from its dairy operation into a piece of equipment on its farm called a “digester.” The digester harvests methane from the manure and burns it to produce much less dangerous gases and, of course, electricity. The leftover waste becomes compost, and the electricity goes into the grid for Green Mountain Power. If you live in the northern half of Williston, you might be using some of it right now.

Stevens & Associates’ adaptive reuse

Brattleboro architectural firm Stevens & Associates renovates and adapts historical structures in Vermont’s downtowns for new uses. Energy efficiency renovations convert buildings that waste electricityand heat into low-cost, comfortable environments while maintaining the unique historical character of each building. The resulting spaces create new opportunities and draw new people to these downtown areas, resulting in an economic boost, reduced need for transportation, and more livable spaces.

Observer courtesy photos (TOP) Brattleboro architectural firm Stevens & Associates renovates and adapts historical structures. (BOTTOM  Blue Spruce Farm produces not only milk for Cabot Cheese, but also electricity.
Observer courtesy photos
(TOP) Brattleboro architectural firm Stevens & Associates renovates and adapts historical structures. (BOTTOM Blue Spruce Farm produces not only milk for Cabot Cheese, but also electricity.

greenpix-stevensassociates_brooks_house

 

Ultramotive’s waste-sparing spray can

Bethel-based Ultramotive built a new business by inventing a better spray can for products like condiments and shaving gel. It might not be obvious why that would help fight climate change, but the design cuts product waste, and reducing waste almost always reduces the amount of energy required, which means less greenhouse gas emissions. Even better, the design lets manufacturers use thinner steel walls in their cans, and since it takes a lot of energy to make steel, using less has a direct and positive environmental impact.

All of these companies are on the leading edge of the economy, bringing jobs and money into our state while building Vermont’s reputation as a home for climate innovation. Our climate will continue to worsen for years to come no matter what we do, though the sooner and more decisively we act, the sooner we’ll stop the downward spiral. Either way, the need for innovation and climate-driven solutions will grow and keep growing. Positioning Vermont as a center for these kinds of businesses will attract and inspire more companies and create jobs, which in turn will energize our economy further and produce more economic activity. If there’s an end to the growth of this sector of the economy, it’s nowhere in sight. A strong economy that helps solve the world’s climate problems is a future we can all get behind.