Darcy Dumont

In November, the Amherst Town Council adopted bold climate action goals: using 2017 as a baseline year, 25% reduction of greenhouse gas emissions town-wide by 2025, 50% by 2030 and carbon neutrality sometime between 2030 and 2050, depending on how the stars align to help us get there.  The goals are based on the uncontroverted science presented in the 2018 UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report.

The Town will lead the way in accomplishing the goals, but each sector of the town – residents, businesses and institutions – will each need to do its part. This column will look at small businesses in Amherst and how they can contribute

In Amherst, small businesses are critical to both the community and to our local economy and have shown enthusiasm for partnering with the Town to accomplish our newly established climate goals. 

When the much-talked-about effort to make Amherst an ecotourism hub gels, small businesses could help and benefit by getting on the bandwagon! We are already a global leader in zero energy buildings. Suggestions for the future have ranged from partnering with the Hitchcock Center to develop a Kendrick Park rain garden, to making Amherst a fully composting town, to getting rid of plastic straws and single use plastic containers, to covering all of our parking lots with solar canopies.  Clearly we could have 10 stops on the eco tour today. In 5 years, we could have 30 stops over a 3 day weekend, benefitting small businesses and building business solidarity for climate action.

When looking at their own carbon footprints, local small businesses could strategize about where they can rapidly make reductions. A smart move for our business leaders would be to get employee buy-in on efforts to reduce emissions. In fact, employees could be encouraged and rewarded for finding new ways to do their jobs effectively, while at the same time reducing the business’s and their own carbon footprints.

Local small businesses could lead the way in creating new best practices in transportation by asking delivery and supply companies to plan their transitions to electric vehicles.  And they could favor companies that are making progress in doing so,

In electricity use and production, Amherst businesses may have the opportunity to participate in a regional program of Community Choice Aggregation. The primary goal of the CCA would be to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, as well as to be cost competitive. Businesses could also add solar to their buildings or work with building owners to invest in shared solar. 

In the building sector, building owners could replace fossil fuel-burning heating and cooking systems with highly efficient electric systems, retrofit for energy efficiency, recycle or compost waste and upgrade and maintain HVAC systems to minimize refrigerant leaks. These are the costliest of the changes needed and small business owners’ support is needed for our state legislators to pass laws that  provide incentives to lessen the burden.

In land use, we could be supporting our farmers to make significant contributions to mitigating climate change by using  farming methods that sequester the most carbon. 

For those farmers continuing to raise animals, anaerobic digesters could reduce methane emissions while providing energy. Farmers could work cooperatively to minimize emissions, such as by sharing cold storage or the use of special equipment, like digesters.

None of these actions on its own will be sufficient to address the climate challenge. Though small businesses have a critical role to play, the reality is that climate change justifies a societal response. For small businesses – along with large businesses, residents, landlords, our higher education institutions, and the Town –  no single step will work to ensure a sustainable climate future. But multiple different actions with “all hands on deck” just might. All in.

This column was modified from an article by Craig Chandler, contributing writer for Yale Climate Connections. Darcy DuMont is on the Steering Committee of Climate Action Now MA, is an Amherst Town Councilor representing District 5 and the lead sponsor of the legislation to establish an Amherst Energy and Climate Action Committee. (Councilor Evan Ross co-authored the legislation.) Views expressed are hers and not those of the Town Council.

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