Sustainability: business planning for long haul

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David Schnabel, director of facility services at UCCS, says that creating sustainable practices just makes good business sense.

The business world might be nearing a “tipping point” — as companies focus on becoming more efficient, using less energy and implementing renewable and sustainable practices.

Businesses including GE Electrics and DuPont are moving toward sustainability, said Christopher Juniper, a director at National Capitalism Solutions in Boulder, a nonprofit organization that helps businesses develop sustainability goals.

“The best, most efficiently managed corporations are asking questions about how to maintain quality and reduce the social impact,” he said. “Those of us who have been doing this for a while see we’re at a tipping point, where sustainability becomes mainstream.”

GE has started an “ecomagination” program, Juniper said — jumping onto the bandwagon behind other companies.

“DuPont has been doing this for years,” he said. “The vast majority of the Fortune 200 companies have pretty serious sustainability efforts.”

Even retail giant Wal-Mart is considering ways to increase efficiency, lower carbon emissions and reduce the threat to global climate change throughout its supply chain.

“We are all passionate about making real progress regarding the environment,” said Wal-Mart CEO Lee Scott. “By working together, we can help each other save money, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and pass the savings on to our customers. Sustainability is good for the environment, and it’s also good for business.”

3M set a goal in 2000 to reduce energy use by 20 percent during the next five years. In 2003, the company reduced energy use by 27 percent, saving $13 million, according to the Web site

Fort Carson and the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs are two of the area’s largest employers, and two of Colorado Springs’ most vocal sustainability advocates. Creating sustainable practices makes good business sense, said Dave Schnabel, director of facility services at UCCS.

“If you look at business, and what’s happening — the cost of doing business is going up, up, up,” he said. “And this is on a local and national level. Companies are saying they need to be sustainable, because they still want to be around in the next 10 years. They have to look at more than just the bottom line — they are going after a values-driven philosophy.”

Higher energy prices are another reason companies are considering sustainable practices. UCCS received $1.3 million to reduce energy costs — and is repaying the money through rebates and savings on its energy bills. The grant is overseen by the first sustainability officer in the University of Colorado system.

“The chancellor created a sustainability task force to come up with recommendations to enhance sustainability, environmental awareness,” Schnabel said. “In the final report, they recommended the campus hire the officer. We also recommended that every building, every new building, should be LEED certified. It’s a long-term, life cycle cost-benefit program.”

Fort Carson also has adopted the LEED system for all new buildings on the post, requiring contractors to become certified within the program before receiving contracts. Sustainability at Fort Carson has other implications — federal guidelines require the military to buy “green” products whenever possible.

“We were one of the first Army installations that started the sustainability project,” said Susan Galentine, spokeswoman for the military installation. “We met for the first time in 2001, and set 12 goals that we’re working toward.”

The Mountain Post’s goal is to reduce water purchased by outside sources, and reduce air pollution, solid waste and hazardous waste to zero during the next 25 years. The post also has pledged to increase community awareness of sustainability projects on the installation.

“We’re leading the regional effort,” said Birgette Tingley, sustainability planner for the post. “And because the government is the largest purchaser of goods and services, we can definitely make a difference out there — by what products we choose to buy, which services we choose to contract for. As we move forward, we’re going to be looking at a company’s efforts for sustainability.”

The post’s sustainability efforts include an agreement with the Western Area Power Authority to purchase renewable energy certificates from biomass and wind farms. The post also uses electric hybrid vehicles and a variety of alternative fuels, including ethanol, biodiesel and compressed natural gas.

“There’s no question that the government can lead the way on this,” Juniper said. “Anyone who wants to be a DoD vendor needs to get on track with the sustainability performance of their product.”

For many companies, it’s about more than just the bottom line, although many sustainability programs save money over time, Juniper said.

“We think about it as a triple bottom line,” he said. “Maximizing environmental responsibility and performance, social performance and financial performance all at the same time. Making products more efficient throughout the life cycle. The Department of Defense is now promoting this life cycle approach — sustainability as an energy strategy.”

Juniper said Fort Carson is on the cutting edge of sustainability, with long-term goals that are “among the strongest I’ve seen.”

“They want to have 100 percent renewable energy sources by 2027,” he said. “That’s a strong goal. GE set its goal as 10 percent by 2010. It’s a matter of how fast companies can get there.”

Although initial expenditures are high for energy-saving devices and developing alternative energy sources, Juniper said companies that invested in wind energy are now reaping the benefits.

“Wind energy locks in costs for 20 years,” he said. “People who bought into wind energy earlier, are now paying less than everyone else, as energy prices go higher and higher. You really can save money in the long run.”

Many larger companies — GE, DuPont, IBM — have in-house sustainability teams, but companies without the resources to hire full-time personnel can use consultants and the Internet to determine ways to achieve sustainability goals.

“ is a great resource,” Juniper said. “Small businesses can think about opportunities for new markets using sustainability.”

Save money – and the environment

Consider energy costs. Replace light fixtures and old electrical equipment with high efficiency models. Studies have shown that investing in high-efficiency energy upgrades can be less risky, with a higher return, than investing money in the stock market. Energy-efficient lighting upgrades can reduce bills by 35 percent to 40 percent per year.

Manage water use. Eliminate non-targeted watering to sidewalks, pathways or ponds by ensuring that the irrigation system is designed correctly and functioning properly. Incorporate weather data into your irrigation schedule.

Consider ways to build in a water capture and reuse system to store storm water — a simple rain barrel can offset irrigation supplies for homeowners, while a system of drainage pipes with a storage pond can work well for larger sites.

Look for opportunities to save water indoors. Fixing leaky faucets, replacing older, large-gallon toilets and installing faucet aerators can result in dramatic water savings.

Reduce other materials costs, including waste streams. Consider what other materials you could be reducing, reusing or recycling. Conduct an audit of your waste stream.

Where are food wastes, office and paper wastes, construction and grounds wastes, and other waste going? How might you reduce or reuse these? Do you compost and reuse that compost on landscaped areas? How can you reduce waste by operating a tighter logistics management system onsite?