Jobs or the environment? The early 1990s were characterized by a debate pitting environmental protection against economic development. Many said it was one or the other, that both could not exist at the same time. But in 1995, a group of successful entrepreneurs within Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility saw the need to transcend this divide. Sustainable development was a new idea at the time and it provided the group with a theme, a vision, and goals to work toward: Vermont could meet the economic needs of its citizens—without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs—by greening its economy, promoting social justice and equity, and practicing stewardship of its natural, built, and cultural environments.
This group, which called themselves the Sustainable Jobs Coalition, began crafting legislation to launch an organization that could provide early stage funding and technical assistance to entrepreneurs, businesses, farmers, networks and others interested in developing a green economy. With bi-partisan support from the Vermont Legislature, the Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund was created in 1995. The name of the organization was meant to reflect the proposition that accelerating the development of new markets for sustainably produced goods and services would lead to the creation of new environmentally-friendly and community-supporting jobs. These new or expanding markets, included:
- environmental technologies;
- environmental equipment and services;
- energy efficiency;
- renewable energy;
- pollution abatement;
- specialty foods;
- water and wastewater systems;
- solid waste and recycling technologies;
- wood products and other natural resource based or “value added” industries;
- sustainable agriculture; and
- existing businesses, including larger manufacturing firms, striving to minimize their impact and waste through environmentally sound products and processes.
In VSJF's enabling legislation (VSA, Title 10, Chapter 15A, no.326 – 330), the Legislature identified "creating quality jobs and conserving and protecting Vermont's social and natural environments" as primary means of maintaining "economic vitality and the quality of life of Vermont." They also stressed positioning the state as a sustainable development educational center as an important goal. According to the enabling legislation, the goal of creating quality jobs depends on providing support for the start-up and expansion of micro and small businesses, as well as nurturing businesses in growing sectors (environmental technologies, renewable energy, specialty foods, wood products, sustainable agriculture, etc.) of the national and international economy. Several tools were identified to accomplish these goals, including:
- Increase financial resources to fund existing programs for the start-up and expansion of small businesses, including revolving loan programs, peer lending programs, technical assistance programs and marketing programs;
- Provide access to capital for those businesses too large or too small to obtain funds from existing programs;
- and Coordinate the leveraging of federal, state, local and private resources and stimulate the development of public-private partnerships.