Jennifer Green - Sustainability Officer at Burlington, Vermont

Jennifer Green - Sustainability Officer at Burlington, Vermont

Jennifer Green is Burlington, VT’s Sustainability Officer with duties that include oversight of the Climate Action Plan and work on Burlington’s transition to net-zero energy in the thermal and transportation sectors. Jennifer is based at the Burlington Electric Department, the city’s municipal electric provider and responsible for making Burlington the first city in the country to source 100% of its electricity from renewables.

Jennifer’s work experience also includes time with the Peace Corps, CARE International, and the World Resources Institute. In addition to working for the City, Jennifer teaches sustainable development courses at the University of Vermont. 

Jennifer Joins Sustainable Nation to Discuss:

  • Incorporating social equity initiatives into climate change efforts

  • History of sustainability leadership in Burlington

  • Burlington's transition to net zero energy

  • Advice and recommendations for sustainability leaders

Jennifer's Final Five Question Responses:

What is one piece of advice you would give other sustainability professionals that might help them in their careers?

I think successful sustainability directors are doing this because they know they need to, but it's building a base and a network of colleagues and stakeholders that can do the work where you can't, or can act as your sounding piece where it's maybe appropriate for you not to. Again, sort of back to this idea of partnerships and collaboration. I think the most successful sustainability officers or directors know that they can't do it alone. So, you sort of put your pride aside and you reach out to the people that you know can help out where you may not be able to do it alone. Progress is going to happen with all of us working together and in tandem. I guess that would be my first piece of advice. The second piece of advice I would say, sort of at the risk of wanting to have things perfect before you roll out a program or project, there's a lot to be said with taking a stab at it and then regrouping, evaluating and monitoring your success or progress or where you fell short, and sort of tweaking things and carrying on. I think oftentimes in government we wait for things to be perfect before we roll them out, until we've got every "I" dotted and "T" crossed and where you have the opportunity to sort of dive in, to the extent possible, with the understanding that you can group up and make tweaks as necessary. There's so much information out there. Also, never being afraid to reach out. It's amazing what you can do when you call somebody on the phone and ask for advice. Here in Burlington, we're exploring ideas like advanced metering infrastructure for our electric meters. We've been talking to the water department  to ask, "What would it look like if we had a meter that did both water and electricity."  We have cities in our network who are doing just that and so we can talk to them for advice and guidance on how it's working and what we need to be aware of. This may be a long time out in Burlington, but there's no reason why we can't reach out to peers and other cities now to begin to chart a course.

What are you most excited about right now in the world of sustainability?

One thing I'm seeing that I find exciting is this idea of equity no longer being sort of a topic that only a few people are talking about in isolated cases. I'm seeing equity and this idea of bringing everybody into the fold. Everybody's talking about it as an important theory and means by which to move ahead. I think equity, which was once a sort of a conversation that a few cities and a few people in a few cities we're talking about at one point, has now become the status quo and a critical part of the sustainability movement. And I see that as exciting and hopeful.

What is the one book you would recommend sustainability professionals read?

I can tell you that we've been referring a lot to Drawdown. Paul Hawken edited Drawdown last year and it's available. It's pretty hopeful. I've heard Paul Hawken twice now. First at the University of Vermont where he came as a keynote speaker and then more recently at the Urban Sustainability Directors Network annual meeting. So it's been great to hear his message twice. You know, it hits home and it's a little digestible when you hear it twice. But the Drawdown book is just a wealth of information and inspiration and I think that would be the book, at the very least, I would recommend that sustainability officers, directors, or really anybody who's interested in the field, at least flip through and sort of familiarize themselves with.

What are some of your favorite resources or tools that really help you in the work that you do?

For cities that are unfamiliar with the STAR Community Index. This is a good opportunity to make a plug for STAR. It's a tool by which cities can collect and analyze a whole plethora of sustainability data over time. It not only allows cities to talk to cities and compare apples to apples versus apples to oranges, but it also allows a city internally to be looking at setting targets and goals based on their trajectory of their data over time. So I think the STAR communities index can be a really great tool. The USDN and the funding that they have in place for cities tap into has been a really invaluable resource for me and for Burlington. There's a tool that is perhaps less relevant to states outside of Vermont and California. Here in Vermont, the Renewable Energy Standard provides what we refer to as sort of tier three funding to help Burlington, and other cities with municipalities, transition to electricity away from fossil fuels. So we use our tier three resources to strategically electrify, essentially. So it's the $200 that we can offer a Burlington electric customer or a resident towards an electric bike through tier three, which allows us to bring down the cost and eventually help transition people away from a single occupancy vehicle to perhaps an e-bike as an alternative. So one of the important tools that we're using here at the Burlington Electric Department is what we refer to as tier three funding.

Where can our listeners go to learn more about you and the work you're leading at Burlington?

I would start with the Burlington Electric Department website. There's not a lot yet on our transition to net zero energy, but stay tuned for that. The city of Burlington website is also a helpful resource. I'm really proud that the city of Burlington was one of the first cities along with Chicago, that downloaded a lot of the EPA data and research that was available online, and that we feared would no longer be available under this new federal administration. I think one of the best resources that you'll find on our city of Burlington website is actually EPA data that we in essence house in order to ensure that it stays sort of safe and available to all.