Sustainability: It's all about the Green
Sustainability is a term that gets thrown around a lot these days and it seems to encompass everything: the food we eat (sustainably farmed!), the vehicles we drive (electric!) and even our clothing (recycled!). This is a good thing as we need to be more mindful of the impact we have on our environment in every way. However, a lot gets lost when we use the term "Sustainability" because it has become so ubiquitous; we no longer know what it means.
Climate change is real. It is proven. July of 2019 was the hottest July ever recorded on the planet. Our oceans are warming, weather is becoming considerably more erratic and damaging and our sea levels are rising. In addition, the human population continues to rise and so does our impact on the environment through what we eat, what we throw away and consume.
Over the past 10 years, sustainability has grown from individuals seeking to reduce their impact on the environment, to Fortune 500 companies looking to improve their bottom line. Municipalities, too, are doing the same. Especially in New England where our buildings and infrastructure are aged, there has been tons of investment into green technologies, materials and energy sources. Why is it so popular? Because it is all about the green. Money, that is.
Making Melrose a leader in sustainability efforts isn't a feel good enterprise; it makes fiscal sense! We are routinely asked to do more with less, but being sustainable actually allows us to stretch tax dollars further or reduce costs. Here is a perfect example: In a couple of years we will begin negotiations on our trash contract. The company we contract with bills us per ton of trash taken away. One of the largest items in our trash is food waste. It also weighs a lot and thus, costs us a lot of money to be hauled away and ultimately incinerated. So, why not bring composting to the curbside? It will lower our tonnage and our trash costs. And, we will prevent it from being incinerated and polluting our air and watersheds. It's a win-win!
Single use plastic is the new focus. It is a product that does not breakdown and it is everywhere in our oceans and our landfills. In the old mantra of green practices: Reduce, Reuse and Recycle, the most important of those three is "reduce." Here in Melrose, we need to focus more on reduction. The best way to do this is to give people access to alternatives. If we put public drinking fountains at every park, we can begin a public outreach campaign to encourage residents to bring reusable water bottles to the parks during athletic, community, and other events. Take away the perceived need for a case of single-use plastic water bottles by providing access to a high quality source at no cost. Less plastic, more water. Another win-win!
Sustainability doesn't need to be thought of as some earthy crunchy lifestyle imposition on everyone. On top of it being the right thing to do, it also makes fiscal sense! What is the downside to reducing our carbon footprint by having an efficiently run municipal building that uses less energy and saves taxpayer money? Exactly, there isn't any. As someone who is responsible for appropriating tax payer dollars and critiquing our budget, I have a fiduciary duty to spend our tax dollars wisely. Spending our money on green cars, building products, operations, and infrastructure isn't just the right approach; it should be the only approach. We are running out of time and we need to be more aggressive in this area. By saving money on green technologies, we help combat climate change. Now that's a win-win!