Burton Snowboards was born in a barn in southern Vermont more than 40 years ago, and we proudly remain a Vermont-based business. The climate crisis is a direct threat to the sport we love, the mountain lifestyle that we and our community lead, and our long-term business success. In today’s world, we are constantly reminded of the impacts of climate change, which are evident right here. The number of days with snow cover each year has decreased by 1 to 2 weeks since 1970 in the Northeast, a change which I have personally experienced since my childhood in rural Vermont.
At Burton, we are working hard to help tackle the global challenge by reducing our own carbon footprint: promoting renewable energy generation through improvements to operations and making changes to product design and manufacturing. However, our impacts as an individual company alone cannot stop worldwide emissions. Which is why we work to multiply our impact around the world by influencing positive climate policy.
This isn’t just a feel-good talking point for consumers or our website. We take this seriously. Locally and globally, we are dedicated to supporting climate solutions. Here in Vermont, that means we are actively supporting an equitable and ambitious Transportation & Climate Initiative (TCI). The TCI is a regional collaboration of northeast and mid-Atlantic states and the District of Columbia that seeks to improve transportation infrastructure and options, develop the clean energy economy, and reduce carbon emissions from the transportation sector. The TCI represents a once-in-a-generation opportunity for the Green Mountain State to do our part in tackling climate change and making Vermont more affordable. TCI would bring between $20 million and $60 million into Vermont, enabling us to invest in cleaner, more affordable transportation solutions that grow our economy, create family-sustaining jobs, improve public health, and serve overburdened and underserved communities on the frontlines of this crisis.
In Vermont, fossil-fueled transportation accounts for almost half (44.5%) of our greenhouse gas emissions. Yet we are the only state in the region that has failed to reduce our emissions below 1990 levels, despite having set strong goals. This is embarrassing. And costly because 95% of our state’s transportation sector is powered by fossil fuels, and we import 100% of the oil and gas we consume. Of the $2 billion a year that Vermont averages in fossil fuel spending, roughly $1.5 billion leaves our state’s economy. Additionally, fossils fuels are not only bad for our state’s bottom line, but for our local businesses and household budgets as well.
Vermont’s transportation infrastructure is outdated, polluting and expensive. Vermont needs to modernize our transportation infrastructure and address our fossil-fuel usage. Our rural communities face significant hurdles when it comes to accessing affordable, efficient transportation. Meanwhile, these communities bear the brunt of the impacts of climate change. The existing transportation system throughout the region is deeply inequitable. Decades of systemic racism has influenced where highways, airports and other infrastructure are located. As a result, BIPOC and low-income communities are disproportionately exposed to transportation pollution and face greater challenges in obtaining safe and affordable transportation to get to work, school, medical appointments, recreation and other needs.
Rural communities will benefit greatly from climate solutions like the TCI. TCI revenues can be used to modernize transportation infrastructure and lessen the impacts of extreme weather events. For drivers in rural Vermont — who often have to travel farther, repair their vehicles more often, spend more money on fuel, and produce more carbon emissions per capita — TCI can support more frequent and far-reaching rural transit routes, electric vehicle purchase incentives and charging infrastructure, expanded park-and-rides, and other solutions tailored to the specific needs of rural communities. These investments would reduce costs, lower emissions, promote resiliency, and help grow our rural economies.
Vermont’s outdated, fossil-fueled transportation system is not only our largest source of climate pollution; it is hindering our state’s long-term economic growth. The TCI is a historic opportunity to advance solutions that will modernize our transportation infrastructure, stimulate our rural economy and strengthen our most vulnerable communities. As a business rooted in Vermont that cares passionately about the future of our climate, community and our state’s economic success, Burton encourages Vermont’s newly-formed Climate Council to include TCI as a priority in its climate action plan.
Jenn Swain is Burton’s Global Sustainability director and a resident of South Burlington.