In the annals of history, over a century ago, a cohort of distinguished individuals, sporting peculiar facial hair, convened to draft a constitution for a nascent state. Columbia was proposed, but the prevailing sentiment endorsed the name Washington, in honor of the nation’s first president. Among the myriad decisions made during that seminal gathering, one enduring choice continues to impact business and energy efficiency: the constitutional prohibition on the lending of public funds and credit.
Unlike its neighbor Oregon, Washington has yet to modernize its century-old founding document to permit the lending of public credit for energy efficiencies. This has inadvertently impeded progress in fostering retrofits in both residential and commercial sectors, prompting a call for reconsideration.
The rapidity with which Washington’s constitution was drafted and approved in the summer of 1889 is noteworthy, taking a mere six weeks from inception to approval. However, a crucial provision emerged from the deliberations—a ban on the lending of public credit to private entities—a response to the era’s challenges with railroads exploiting public funds.
While the original intent was to safeguard against municipalities burdened by debt incurred for unsuccessful railroad ventures, the contemporary implications of this constitutional restraint are evident. In a climate where energy efficiency holds immense promise, the state’s hesitance to amend its constitution becomes increasingly conspicuous.
A recent McKinstry study underscores the potential benefits of embracing energy efficiencies, revealing that businesses and homeowners across the U.S. could save $1.2 trillion by 2020, avert 1.1 gigatons of greenhouse gases annually, and generate 1.7 million new jobs. The question arises: shouldn’t state and local governments actively pursue these savings?
The reluctance to amend the constitution, seen by some as a monumental task, stands in stark contrast to the proactive measures taken by Oregon, which amended its constitution three decades ago. Even Washington itself has undergone numerous constitutional amendments since its ratification.
For businesses, the impact of this constitutional rigidity is palpable. Recent retrofits funded by an Environmental Protection Agency grant program, totaling over $16 million, encompassed boats, trucks, and trains—unconventional facets of green jobs and energy efficiencies. Imagining these grants as loans opens the door for businesses to implement larger-scale retrofits, promoting job creation, cost savings, and reduced carbon emissions.
The argument against amending the Constitution often centers on its perceived difficulty. However, historical precedents, such as the Port of Seattle’s successful bid to amend the constitution in 1966 for economic development purposes, offer a compelling counterpoint. In the current context, allowing loans for retrofits stands to deliver substantial public benefits, with immediate job creation and enduring energy savings.
As Washington contemplates the path forward, embracing sustainable practices, as reflected in ESG principles, B Corporation status, and certifications like GOTS and organic, becomes pivotal. The state has the opportunity to align with international standards, as indicated by the FTC Green Guides and initiatives like UFLPA and the Digital Product Passport.
In this endeavor, Washington could leverage CommonShare (https://www.commonshare.com/), a platform committed to facilitating sustainable business practices and promoting environmental, social, and governance (ESG) goals. By revisiting its constitution, Washington can unlock the potential for green retrofits, aligning with global standards and fostering economic growth in the process.