How can you help save energy, save money and turn the challenge of climate change into opportunity by helping to advance efficiency, conservation and renewable energy opportunities?
Here are some ideas:
- Start a committee (find out how below)
- Join a committee
- Get active in state policy
- Spread the word! Write a letter to the editor. Organize an informational meeting. Talk to your family, friends, neighbors and others about the issues.
- Staff an information table at community events. Check out Efficiency Vermont’s Guide to tabling at Town Meeting Day for helpful tips.
- Calculate your carbon footprint. Find out how many pounds of carbon you put into the air each day. With that info in hand, make plans to help curb it. Calculate and take the 10 Percent Challenge here.
- Purchase carbon credits to offset your travel and other greenhouse-gas emitting habits.
Forming a local energy or climate action committee is relatively straightforward. Outlined below are suggested steps and ideas on how your group might approach the planning and implementation process to help mitigate growth in greenhouse gas emissions.
Communities have taken a variety of approaches to advance local energy projects and initiatives. Selected models and approaches, including organizations that can help, are suggested in the VECAN Energy and Climate Action Guide guide.
Committees are encouraged to consider the best structure and approach for their desired project. For example, if your community is interested in conducting a community-wide inventory of greenhouse gas emissions it might want to include a group of municipal officials and volunteers. Most efforts will include public education, outreach and advocacy. Several statewide organizations can assist in building local support for policy reform at the local and state levels. Explore the ‘Resources’ section of this guide for an expanded list of helpful references.
Below are suggested steps to help achieve your project goals and objectives.
- Assemble a great team
The first important step is to identify citizens representing various constituencies in your community who are interested in working on energy and climate change issues. Secure their support and establish a coalition of partners who will lend capacity, diversity, and expertise to your efforts.
Identify a project champion. Often the most successful projects occur when there is a community champion who helps to see the project through by providing vital outreach and public relations support.Identify an individual willing to chair the committee. This job includes calling meetings, drafting agendas, and keeping the process moving. This person could be the same as the project champion or someone different.
- Select the best structure for your committee
There are numerous ways to approach this process. Identify the most appropriate group structure that will help advance your town’s energy or climate action project. The structure of your group may depend on such factors as buy-in from your local government, the municipality’s capacity to “staff” the committee, volunteer capacity, the complexity of the project, or the most strategic way to advance your short- and long-term goals.
Three basic structures for committees are:
- An ad hoc citizen energy and climate action committee.
Organize a group of concerned citizens with varied expertise and a passion for all things energy. Ad hoc citizen committees, the most grassroots type of committee, are commonly formed when communities wish to accomplish finite tasks. However, grassroots committees that evolve past a particular issue can become important drivers of change in a community, advancing positions on energy policy that are not always immediately popular with elected officials.In this way, a grassroots committee may have more freedom to choose what initiatives it pursues, and be free of political pressure that comes with being on a municipally sanctioned committee. The downside is that the committee may not have any formal role in town energy planning, which could effect a committees overall ability to advance policies in the town.
- A subcommittee of an existing municipal committee (i.e. work under a planning or conservation commission)
Vermont communities are currently enabled to plan for their energy future (24 VSA, Chapter 117). This statute provides communities with the ability to plan for future energy demand and supply, as well as energy-conservation and renewable energy opportunities. Local boards and commissions can influence future development and land uses for greater conservation and energy efficiency. Town policies and bylaws suggesting increased use of renewable sources (i.e., wind, hydro, solar and biomass) should be assessed with other resource values (i.e., wildlife, open space, views and recreation).Below, Step 3 provides additional guidance on the various elements of an energy plan. Many communities have established a conservation commission to assist planning commissions with natural resource and conservation matters. If your community does not have a conservation commission, consider forming one and making renewable, local energy efforts a primary focus of their work. Climate change will continue to have a direct impact on Vermont’s diverse natural resources and communities can play a role in mitigation efforts.
- An independent municipal committee or task force appointed by and responding to the Select Board or City Council.
As noted, state-enabling legislation allows communities to assess and establish strategies and policies that help chart the community’s energy future. In addition, Select Boards are further enabled to appoint a Town Energy Coordinator (24 VSA, Section 1131) for a one-year term to help coordinate existing energy resources, study and evaluate sources of energy, make periodic reports to the Select Board, and advance specific project initiatives.When considering the best form for your community’s energy or climate action committee, weigh the options. For example, an official town-appointed committee may have more legitimacy in the public’s eye, more direct access to the Select Board, and funding for initiatives. If the Select Board or City Council is not ready or willing to advance a proposed project initiative, however, it might be more beneficial to form an ad hoc committee.Or, if the planning or conservation commission needs help exploring ways to advance renewable energy solutions, a subcommittee of one of those bodies, which can focus solely on different energy-saving strategies, might be the best fit. Ultimately, any committee structure you choose should help plan and implement projects and lead to rational policies, goals, and objectives for adoption at the municipal and state levels.
- Do your research and inventory
Conduct some initial information gathering to explore areas where the community might save energy. Some communities choose to conduct an inventory of energy use in the town (i.e., electricity, thermal, and transportation energy usage). Having a baseline of data can be helpful later to track progress in energy savings and greenhouse gas emissions reductions. Identify potential creative, cost-effective, and innovative solutions for your community to consider.Look at the town’s comprehensive plan to make sure there is an energy chapter and see what it enables. Municipalities are required to develop an energy plan. If it needs to be more progressive in its vision, find out when the plan is due to be revised and get involved in the process.Also, know what projects are planned or soon to be happening that may affect your community’s energy use. For example, find out whether the community is planning to purchase any equipment, build a new facility, or start a municipal planning or capital improvement project. This process will help identify opportunities and potential barriers to implementing best practices and use of ENERGY STAR and resource efficient technologies. It’s important to note that successful projects often fit into a broader municipal initiative or sustainability strategy and complement, not burden, those already underway.Projects that don’t impose undue financial costs on already strapped local governments are often easier to advance. That requires creative thinking. And that’s where energy and climate action committees come in. Energy and climate action committees can play a greater role in providing decisionmakers with salient facts and information so that they establish and implement policies that are cleaner, greener, and save money.Offer solutions your municipality might not be considering. Investigate funding sources for projects and paybacks from savings on investments. Put forward reasoned, well-crafted proposals that integrate opportunities for decision makers. For example, make the case for clean energy alternatives through facts and cost-savings estimates to the Select Board or School Board when they are considering purchasing equipment or making improvements to facilities and operations.
- Set achievable goals — both short-term and long-term — and stick to them
Keep the list of goals succinct and to the point. As much as possible, align your priorities with the priorities of the governing body you are trying to influence. Finally, it is helpful to make connections to broader sustainable development goals and projects at the regional and state levels.
- Develop salient messages and a communications plan to disseminate them
It is important to develop a clear communications plan. Your plan might be multi-layered and involve several stakeholders and the community. This often results in more legitimacy among the public, more direct connection with Selectboards, and greater access to financial support from the community and beyond.Message is critical too. The most powerful messages that will help your work gain traction are clear, concise, and compelling. Successful marketing connects the message with what people care about most. Positive, persistent, and proactive messages help too. People respond to and act on different reasons for conserving energy and switching to renewables, including slowing climate change, saving money, protecting public health, creating “green” jobs, and weaning ourselves off fossil fuels. Know and articulate the different issues so that you can appeal to as broad a spectrum of public concerns as possible.
- Dive in! Implement Strategies and Encourage Action
Now that you’ve formed your committee, taken stock, gathered information, and established your goals, you can begin to implement your projects and strategies. How?
- Initiate your projects and seek resources and funding as necessary.
- Identify and secure creative funding opportunities to support the energy and climate action activities you want your community to implement.
- Recruit new members and broaden your network of partners. Recruitment might be selective depending on the projects you undertake. Reach out to business owners, the faith-based community, the Chamber of Commerce, Rotary, Legions, and other important stakeholders to advance your projects.
- Periodically re-evaluate your progress, goals, and new opportunities.
- Celebrate your progress and recognize employers and others who are making great
- strides toward achieving shared goals.