Jumpstarting A New View Of Economic Progress
By Jodi La Marco
“I came to the Hudson Valley in 1995. I think I was the only person who came to Woodstock with a full-time job offer. IBM was pulling out, and the entire valley economy seemed to be collapsing or flipping,” says Melissa Everett, executive director for Sustainable Hudson Valley. “I was interested in sustainable development from an environmental, economic, and human perspective, so I co-founded—with a group of other folks—what was at first Hudson Valley Sustainable Communities Network and then became Sustainable Hudson Valley. Lives moved in various directions, and I ended up forming a board that incorporated the organization in 2007 and have been the executive director ever since.”
From its inception, Sustainable Hudson Valley has been striving to educate residents. “We have been, first of all, about seeding the kind of education that helps people understand the complexity and richness of sustainable development. Over the years we’ve done lots of forums and eight or nine conferences. We’ve done behavior change and lifestyle change campaigns,” says Everett.
The organization’s first experiment in encouraging lifestyle changes came in 2010 with the 10 Percent Challenge. “We worked with Red Hook, asking for a commitment to cut their energy usage by 10 percent and to get at least 10 percent of the community involved,” explains Everett. “We ended up with a four percent reduction, but nobody else was reducing anything on a scale more than household, so we were pretty gratified with that.”
SHV has since gone on to launch other campaigns such as Solarize Hudson Valley. The three-year program educates consumers interested in going solar, and facilitates solar purchases by vetting installers and providing discounted rates. Through the organization’s efforts, roughly 400 homes and businesses have made the transition. “One of our sweet spots has been figuring out how to engage and inspire people on what they can do in their homes or businesses. The Solarize model is basically consumer education so that people aren’t maddened by all of the noise in the marketplace,” Everett says. “We have had three-year funding of almost $400,000 from NYSERDA to staff this up and really engage Hudson Valley communities.”
The Solarize campaign has also recently expanded to include Community Shared Solar. Community Shared Solar allows renters and homeowners who are unable to buy their own solar panels to purchase solar power through local producers. “It’s just been approved within New York energy policy in the last year or so,” Everett explains. “We are working with a very carefully-selected company called Nexamp out of Boston. They have two sites: one in Central Hudson territory and one in Orange and Rockland territory. People can enroll and get credit for the electricity they use from these solar installations that will be online next spring, and it’ll be priced at about 10 percent less than what they are currently paying.”
The group is getting the word out about electric vehicles, too, through a NYSERDA-funded program called Drive Electric Hudson Valley. “If you look at the carbon footprint of any of our lives, a big part of it is transportation, especially in a sprawling area like the Hudson Valley,” says Everett. Through DEHV, Sustainable Hudson Valley has been reaching out not only to consumers, but to dealers as well. “We’ve been working with dealers to negotiate various discounts and to help dealers become comfortable selling EVs, which is not the same as selling a conventional car,” she says.
SHV is also involved in creating what are known as EcoDistricts: areas big enough to matter, yet small enough to define. According to Everett, who recently created a guide to EcoDistricts, when people begin working together to enhance their communities through public art, bikeways, and the like, they often shift toward sustainability. “Placemaking” is a guideline for designing these public spaces, and can help revitalize an area while encouraging greener development. The same strategies used in Placemaking help to build EcoDistricts, areas where sustainability and revitalization work hand in hand.
The organization has been keeping an eye on other areas and EcoDistricts for examples of sustainability in action. By looking to other communities, Sustainable Hudson Valley hopes to bring fresh ideas to our own region. “Philadelphia is an example of a city that has just done wonders with green infrastructure; rain gardens and green roofs and walls; shorelines that are protected with vegetation rather than pavement. All of that stuff has upfront costs but is economically so much better in terms of managing water and protecting communities from storm surges and stuff. That’s the kind of thing we could do wonders with in the Hudson Valley,” notes Everett.
Finally, the group is also working on the Mid-Hudson Regional Sustainability Plan in hopes of transforming ideas into realities. “The Cuomo administration gave a million dollars to each of ten regions to plan how they were going to reduce their carbon footprint and build up their economic prosperity. There was a grant program for specific projects that had to do with implementation, but not really a full mapping out of the actions needed to get to that vision,” explains Everett. “We’ve been working with participants in the original plan, including Orange County Planning and the Hudson Valley Regional Council and a bunch of the bigger nonprofits, to start asking, ‘Where do we need to concentrate and attract more resources?’” To bring projects to fruition, funding is needed, but so is community involvement. “All of these solutions need to be not just state-funded tech projects. They need to be community initiatives that are customized to really work with the geography and opportunity space in the community.”