HANOVER — When the Hanover Consumer Cooperative Society hired a contractor to perform an energy audit last year on its greenhouse gas emissions, it became clear that a solid effort at reducing the carbon footprint at its four grocery stores and two auto service centers would cost roughly $10 million.
It was daunting, April Harkness, the company’s environmental program manager, said at a virtual gathering of Upper Valley businesses last week. The panel, organized by Vital Communities and the Upper Valley Adaptation Working Group, invited businesses to share their operational adaptations to climate change.
“No business really has that money laying around,” Harkness continued. “We had to understand how to prioritize this, what would our savings look like over time and how exactly we could get that money back.”
The Co-op’s governing board has set a goal for the member-owned company — which has two grocery stores in Hanover as well as one each in Lebanon and White River Junction — to be net-neutral in its greenhouse gas emissions by 2030.
“It was the impetus for a lot of the real work here,” Harkness said. “It’s about where you want to go and figuring out how soon you can get there.”
With the help of nonprofit Vermont Energy Investment Corporation, which conducted the Co-op’s energy audit, the grocery store chain built out a cost-effective, efficient equipment replacement plan, Harkness said.
The Co-op’s highest emitting infrastructure is mostly the stores’ refrigerators and freezers.
“Then we identified what vendors we should be talking to, and what incentive and funding support is out there to help us do this,” she said.
But businesses hoping to reduce their emissions — and homeowners, too — face an additional challenge.
In Vermont, the 19,000 people who make up the state’s “climate workforce” “is far short of the number (the state needs) to keep pace as policy is put in,” according to the Energy Action Network, a Vermont-based organization working towards achieving the state’s climate and energy commitments.
Revision Energy, a New England solar installation company, is getting more than double the calls a month than it usually does, Kim Quirk, who manages the company’s office in Enfield, said in an interview.
“We can’t even answer them all,” Quirk said, adding that Revision Energy recently added two more employees to handle intake alone.
“Climate wise businesses” are those that reduce their emissions and proactively manage climate-related risks, Alex Jaccaci, co-organizer of Upper Valley Adaptation Workgroup, said.
The organization aims to build “climate resilient communities” in the area, its website says.
Still, the pressure is high as the workforce that furnishes important “resiliency” infrastructure struggles to keep up with growing demand.
“Everyone is being asked by their customers to step up,” said Andrew Hatch, energy efficiency program manager of the Concord-based Resilient Buildings Group. “I don’t think this is a matter of choice.”
The easiest way to first “step up,” is to have a baseline, said Robin Tindall, environmental stewardship leader at Hanover-based Hypertherm, which produces industrial cutting supplies. “The bolder you are, the more people will ask questions, and just sparking the conversation is progress. So go big and go for goals.”
Hypertherm employs about 1,100 people in the Upper Valley.
But contractors that perform energy audits are backlogged up to four months, said Jen Severidt, Efficiency Vermont’s customer engagement manager.
Even gathering the numbers to base emissions reduction goals off of is no small feat. “Money’s only one piece of the puzzle,” Hatch, of the Resilient Buildings Group, said. “We need people to do the work.”
Frances Mize is a Report for America corps member. She can be reached at [email protected]