Susan Labandibar, President of Tech Networks of Boston, hired the first Climate Action Liaison after witnessing the devastating effects of Hurricane Sandy. Susan recalls her trip to New York, which spurred her to redirect her efforts from planting trees to advocating for public policy solutions to stop climate change:
On Wednesday, November 7th, I arrived in New York City in the midst of a freak snow storm that came in on the heels of Hurricane Sandy. I was caught off guard by the snow. But I wasn’t nearly as unprepared as the London Planetrees, the Honey Locusts, and the Norway Maples whose leaves were still on their branches when Sandy and the snow moved in.
As I jogged through the snow the next morning, it became very clear that there were hundreds of downed trees in the five boroughs. Irreplaceable street trees had failed to failed to shed their leaves in time, causing great heavy boughs to buckle and shear off in the weight of the wet snow. The situation in the local cemetery was also somber. Without frozen ground to serve as an anchor in high winds, trees standing in wet soil toppled over tombstones like soldiers on a civil war battlefield.
Hurricane Sandy was a wakeup call for many. For me, it was about the trees. We had a company program called Southie Trees with one full-time employee dedicated to working with neighborhood groups to preserve tree coverage in South Boston. But we were up against some major environmental problems. Pollution, road salt and soil compaction have reduced the average life expectancy of a new street tree to seven years. A warming climate adds season shifts, insect infestations, intense droughts, and violent storms to the list of tree threats. Could Southie Trees really protect our urban tree canopy under these conditions?
Back in storm-ravaged New York, I spent one evening at an old armory in Brooklyn where displaced seniors from Far Rockaway were lying on cots, waiting for the flooding to subside. As I made my way back to my room at 2:00AM, I made my decision. Southie Trees was not the right point of intervention in the system. As fast as we planted trees, we were losing them. With climate change in the picture, we were never going to meet our goal of improving the tree coverage in South Boston.
“You have to lead from where you are.” That’s what Craig Altemose, founder of the Better Future Project, told me a few months ago. Suddenly, it made sense. I’m a small business owner. There are many rewards to entrepreneurship, but ample free time is not one of them. As I grew my business, I hired people to do what I no longer had time to do. Now it was time for me to hire someone represent my business in the fight against climate change. In January 2013, Tech Networks of Boston became the first business to hire a Climate Action Liaison to advocate for policy solutions to protect our climate, create new jobs and stimulate economic growth. Other businesses are also hiring Climate Action Liaisons. Together, we have formed a coalition to represent the voice of business in the climate change movement.
P.S., I’m sure you are wondering what happened to Southie Trees. Thanks to Bethany Lawlor, the Southie Trees Program Coordinator and Donna Brown, Executive Director of the South Boston Neighborhood Development Corporation, the program continues to plant and care for trees in South Boston. For more on Southie Trees, please visit http://southietrees.techboston.com.