If you’re paying attention to energy and sustainability in Lebanon, you’ve likely noticed at least one thing: it’s a hot topic right now. From the hiring of Tad Montgomery as the city’s first Energy and Facilities Manager to the Weatherize effort at the beginning of the year to the No Plastics Challenge during the week leading up to Earth Day, the community is highly interested in improving energy use and preserving the natural environment. Behind each of these efforts is likely a group called Sustainable Lebanon.
Sustainable Lebanon is an entirely volunteer-run group that began in Lebanon about a year ago, after residents who had been considering the Sierra Club’s “Ready for 100” campaign – a community-driven effort which aims to convince municipalities to commit to transitioning in a short period to exclusively renewable energy in electricity, transport, and heat – discovered that the city already had similar goals, but that it needed wider support to promote ideals of ecological sustainability to residents and throughout the Upper Valley. From this need, about a dozen Lebanon residents, and a few neighbors, began meeting regularly and developed the group’s mission: “Sustainable Lebanon inspires and supports sustainable practices in Lebanon - working with residents, businesses, nonprofits, and the municipality, in a way that is inclusive, coordinated, and focused on a positive long term vision.” The core group has since grown to 21 members, with a growing contact list of more than a hundred Lebanon residents.
Alongside efforts to promote the transition to renewable energy, Sustainable Lebanon has undertaken additional projects and joined the conversation in others. Members are regularly in contact with Tad Montgomery, and they comprised the vast majority of the Weatherize volunteer team. One member, Judith Bush, is leading an effort to research and discuss with city officials the viability of green burial, interment that strives to minimize the impact on the environment by allowing bodies to decompose naturally, without embalming chemicals or solid containers. Judith has learned that there is already a precedent allowing green burial in Lebanon, and she now intends to promote the practice. A subset of members has begun planning a regular film series at Kilton Library. The group, which is designed without a hierarchical leadership structure, encourages its members to suggest and pursue other initiatives as they arise.
Perhaps the most prominent of the group’s efforts is its opposition to a proposed fracked gas pipeline that would transmit natural gas from a depot in West Lebanon (where it is deposited in liquified form and converted back into a gas) through the city. Opponents to the project point out that, in addition to directly contradicting the city’s goals to embrace renewable energy, the pipeline would tear up Lebanon’s roads for a project that would literally embed fossil fuels in the city for decades. Phil Bush, Judith’s husband and one of Sustainable Lebanon’s more active spokespeople (albeit unofficially), points out that even this opposition is not controversial: when in October a critical mass of more than fifty members and contacts rallied in front of City Hall and then delivered a petition of more than 1,100 resident and student signatures to the City Council, the councilors listened respectfully and even engaged with the conversation. “My impression from their (body language) reactions that night and their past actions was that they are perhaps unanimously opposed to the pipeline but feel there is nothing more they can do,” said Phil. “We disagree.” The petition is the result of a multi-year discussion surrounding the pipeline proposal that has led to decisive action under the guidance of Sustainable Lebanon, including overwhelming support from people who live near and along the proposed pipeline.
The faces of discussion: (left) Celia Barnett; (right) Judith Bush standing and Phil Bush seated beside her.
Phil and Judith Bush see sustainability as a multifaceted process that occurs in public and at home. They live in a “solar-powered, all-electric, net-zero energy-efficient house,” as Phil describes it, with a 400-square-foot vegetable garden, and compost space for food and garden waste in their yard. They use an electric lawn mower with a battery that they recharge using solar energy. They have examined their transportation needs and reduced to be a one-car family, taking the Advance Transit buses several times a week. They, like the other members of Sustainable Lebanon, have brought this commitment to their community into the group, and they hope that others will do the same as awareness grows.