February 13, 2013 —
An effort is currently underway to invite the boards of all Sullivan County’s towns to sign a Climate Smart Community Pledge, in keeping with a climate pledge the county itself signed in February of 2010. Enrolling them in the program is an essential step for the completion of any county-wide initiative, given that town governments not only set policies with regard to their own purchases and building standards, but also regulate land uses for the whole town via zoning, set an example for their citizens and serve as a point of contact with the households and businesses within their borders.
So far, Tusten, Delaware and Lumberland have all signed Climate Smart Community Pledges. It’s a good start, but leaves a long way to go—and some towns, like Cochecton, have been reluctant to join in.
Well, why should they?
As noted in the editorial printed in the September 27, 2012 issue of this newspaper, this initiative is not just about reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Signing the Climate Smart Community Pledge has the potential to bring financial benefits, both direct and indirect; as the “Roadmap for Sullivan County Climate Action Plan” says, the goal is to “unleash a tremendous economic generator for Sullivan County.” But the degree to which it can do so will depend on the degree to which everyone joins forces. The opportunity here is for Sullivan’s municipal governments, its citizens and its businesses to pull together to leverage leadership in green and sustainable initiatives into increased revenues and jobs.
The first level of benefits is direct: by signing the pledge, municipalities align themselves with the sustainability goals expressed in the New York State Mid-Hudson Planning Consortium’s development and sustainability plans. That’s one of the criteria set by the state in awarding funding through its Consolidated Funding Proposal. These funds can be used to help towns reduce costs on projects that they would need to invest in anyway.
A perfect example is the Town of Delaware’s planned town barn. By signing the pledge, the town now can now apply for grants that could not only significantly lower its capital costs, but also provide it with a facility that has significantly lower ongoing operating costs, because it would be built in a conservation-conscious manner. Retrofitting advice and financial aid is also available to towns that need to upgrade facilities, replacing heating systems or lights and such. What’s not to like?
But it’s important to note that Sullivan is competing with other counties for the Mid-Hudson money, and the level of commitment the area shows can help amass points toward receiving funding, increasing the chances of any applicant getting money. With every new signatory, the chances of this state money coming into our county get better.
Signing the pledge also provides a basis for collaboration among towns and villages in forming buying groups, paving the way for cost savings via bulk purchases of systems and equipment such as LED streetlights and solar PV systems. But joining forces does not mean every town needs to sign an identical pledge. One of Cochecton’s complaints has been that parts of the document just don’t seem relevant to its particular situation. The Town of Lumberland addressed this issue simply by modifying the pledge before adopting it, and other towns can do likewise.
But perhaps the most powerful potential benefit of an all-inclusive effort to move the county toward a sustainable lifestyle, thrifty with both resources and money, is indirect: that all-important marketing tool, branding. Branding is how an area establishs a unique identity that will give it an edge in attracting customers and investors and increase the perceived value of its goods and services, making them easier to sell—and at higher prices.
As evidence of the potentially grim impacts of climate change mounts, the themes of “green” and “sustainable” are becoming increasingly saleable, and could serve as the centerpiece of a new county identity. We could brand ourselves as a rural retreat that is no backwater, but a pioneer, working proactively to preserve open spaces and resources like its fisheries, recycling its resources, generating local energy, constructing zero-energy buildings and making innovations in energy-efficient, low-emission transportation. That’s an identity that could be immensely attractive to tourists, second-home purchasers and entrepreneurs from nearby metropolitan areas—bringing in money, and generating jobs.
The possibility is there. But in order to achieve it, we need to bring together Sullivan County’s disparate townships and start working together toward a shared goal. The Climate Smart Community Action Pledge provides such a goal. It has the potential to lead the way toward a more prosperous future, and one geared to the realities of a century in which the canny use of natural resources will be the key to success.