Engage and Empower

Senator Patrick Leahy

U.S. Senator of Vermont;
Vice Chairman, Senate Appropriations Committee

There’s a bumper sticker phrase about Vermont that says, “Vermont: We Were Green Before Green Was Cool.” I’ve always enjoyed that sentiment, that our state has been a leader in environmental responsibility and stewardship, conserving our resources, and the sustainability movement long before it became trendy.

Smart, sustainable development relies on effective engagement and empowerment. With Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) has worked hard to bring people to the table from every stakeholder group, industry, and corner of the economy to help define a common understanding of what it means to build sustainably. This important work is making us stronger, more resilient, and more secure as a nation.

In 2003, when the Leahy Center for Lake Champlain opened in Burlington, it was the first LEED-certified building in Vermont. Today the Burlington area is home to more than 75 LEED-certified projects, encompassing more than 3 million gross square feet of space. For a town of 42,000 residents, this constitutes a significant growth in green building in less than 15 years, and it represents real savings for energy, water, and maintenance, leading to lower utility bills, costs, and impact on the environment.

LEED has been a driver of sustainable development in Vermont and across the country, raising the bar for our real estate market and residents, and helping to showcase our leadership and Yankee ingenuity. We have always been a state made up of farmers, foresters, and others whose livelihoods are tied to the land. The lifeblood of our state’s economy is connected in so many ways to the health of our natural environment, which is why I am thankful for all that USGBC has done recently to better support markets for sustainable wood supplies and our family woodland owners by allowing more wood to be used in green buildings.

By embracing LEED, as well as city and statewide strategies around energy efficiency, renewables, waste management, and more, Burlington and the entire state of Vermont have shown the world that we honor and care about our environment and our health, while still progressing as a haven for 21st-century jobs and technologies.
Burlington is one of very few communities in the nation powered entirely by renewable energy. Across the state more residents and businesses are turning to renewable energy sources as our state has sought ways to encourage their development. Some might say this is too ambitious a stance for other states to follow, but I disagree.

Although Vermont is a special state for many reasons, it is not so unique that its model of development and energy use cannot be replicated elsewhere. Look at Chicago, Atlanta, and Boston—there are many examples of local and state level leadership making a very real difference in how people experience sustainability.

Progress starts with bringing people together, hearing them out, working out differences, and coming to an agreement to turn ideas and rhetoric into real action. I applaud the membership of USGBC for consistently proving the power of collaboration, for championing responsible, smart, and sustainable development, and for engaging and empowering so many thousands of green building advocates across the country.