Letter to the Editor: A Suggestion that Bedford Hire a Sustainability Director

~ Submitted by Sarah Sjostrom for Bedford Mothers Out Front

Bedford cannot afford to forego the benefits of a sustainability director. In recent weeks, we have seen the effects of climate change: flash flooding in New York and New Jersey causing numerous deaths; wildfires blanketing the west coast, with smoke and debris that clouded skies in Boston. Rebuilding and recovering after climate-related events is costly, and the impact can no longer be ignored. The New York Times details the tragic results of “Climate Bankruptcy” as towns around the US affected by such changes are slowly dying out as they cannot afford to rebuild and recover. These events, hitting so close to home, emphasize the undeniable urgency for our community to transition away from fossil fuels while also becoming as climate-resilient as possible, as quickly as possible.

Bedford has taken several steps toward this end: the 2017 warrant article to fund a Net Zero Plan for buildings, the 2018 energy assessment of town buildings and the work of the Net Zero Advisory Council which fed into the Net Zero Plan that the Select Board approved in 2019. This Net Zero Plan recommends hiring a Sustainability Director to spearhead the projects that will reduce our carbon emissions and increase our climate resiliency as quickly as the climate crisis requires. This full-time position gives Bedford an individual with expertise in sustainability who dedicates all their time to meeting these goals for Bedford with new and innovative solutions that support the residents and our community.

Twenty-two other towns near Bedford have already incorporated this position into their town management, including Arlington, Concord, and Lexington. As a result, these towns have reaped numerous benefits from both grant funds awarded to implement sustainable town improvements and from continued savings generated from such initiatives. Natick, for example, boasted nearly $500,000 in annual savings in 2019 from improvements made from grant-funded sustainability projects. The net return for their town for that year on such projects was nearly 12 times the salary of the Sustainability Director.

At a recent public forum hosted by Bedford’s Energy and Sustainability Committee and Bedford Mothers Out Front, Sustainability Directors from several surrounding towns highlighted the abundance of grants available to towns for sustainability projects. They noted that towns with a full-time staff member dedicated to acquiring grants and implementing associated projects have an advantage in accessing these available funds for improving their towns. Not only does the dedicated Sustainability Director have more time to pursue grants, but numerous grant partners are also seeking to provide funding to towns that have demonstrated commitment and the significant resource of a Sustainability Director. Bedford will lose out on numerous opportunities if we continue to forego investing in a Sustainability Director.

Residents will also lose out if Bedford does not invest in a staff sustainability position.  A dedicated sustainability position could provide ongoing education to all residents about the implementation of sustainability projects that move the town toward net-zero goals, including enhanced educational opportunities for the town’s schools. The director could also provide support for residents to transition to renewable energy sources through group purchasing programs for solar panels and heating and cooling systems, or obtaining rebates for the installation of residential electric vehicle charging stations.

Bedford needs a Sustainability Director who understands our town and what we need. The director will keep residents informed of program initiatives and town goals, obtain grants to achieve those goals, work with all town departments to implement these goals, and engage residents to become more interested and active. Hiring a Sustainability Director for Bedford will strengthen our ability to ensure a healthy and livable future for all residents.

For more information, stop by the Mothers Out Front booth at Bedford Day or email info.ma.bedford@mothersoutfront.org