Last week I participated in a "Businesses Going Green" panel discussion hosted by the St. Paul (MN) Chamber of Commerce's Young Professionals Program. On the panel with me wereJamey Flannery, LEED-certified architect with Flannery Construction and Jamison Randall of Latuff Brothers Auto Body. I represented my employer, Tunheim Partners.
There were about 40-50 people in attendance and we made for a diverse panel: Jamey the architect and Jamison the auto body salesman talked about the nuts and bolts of sustainable business practices. Jamey discussed the increase of LEED-certified buildings in Minnesota and Jamison touted the ways the businesses could make surprising gains in both green practices and profits. His shop, Latuff Brothers, was recently honored with Governor Pawlenty's pollution prevention award for their switch to less toxic auto body practices and increase in energy efficiency. I, being proficient in neither drawing nor mechanics, was the communications/marketing compliment to the group.
What stuck me most was that the audience was clearly ready and willing to make their employers or businesses green, even if just in a small way. Indeed, some had already started with less paper use, recycling, or more efficient lighting. But others were overwhelmed at the huge amount of information on how to go green, what makes the most impact, and what makes the most economic sense. One woman asked about the silver bullet for going green: "I recycle, I have mostly CFLs, but what the one thing I'm missing that could really make an impact? and that's easy? and that's not very expensive?"
That's the million dollar question. But there's not an answer to it and that's the tough part of this whole clean energy problem.
There's no silver bullet, I explained. Instead we have to think about solutions as silver BBs - there are lots of things to do and they all add up to a solution. But the point is that you have to get started with some change - whether that's getting an energy audit for your home, taking the bus or organizing for better local, state, and national policies. And then you have to keep going and making changes so you don't get complacent.
The drive I saw in this group is indicative of the larger trend of Americans taking more steps to shrink their carbon footprint. This is due partly to a concern for global warming and also because of high energy prices. An ABC News/Planet Green/Stanford University poll found that 70 percent of Americans are cutting their emissions and saving on energy bills by driving less or being more efficient with their energy use.
While high energy costs aren't always a good thing, it is changing consumer behavior. We must continue to push forward with smart energy policies that reward efficiency and innovation in clean technologies and renewables so that this change doesn't continue out of economic hardship but because it's the smartest, most profitable way to do business.