WashPost Business Section worth a look

Monday’s Washington Post business section has an excellent set of articles examining local green businesses.   They provide a window on those pursuing green productivity for, it seems, ethical/moral issues first (and financial as corollary) as per Honest Tea and those who started entirely with financial reasons (with any environmental/ethical/moral issues secondary, a corollary) as per Marriott (article subtitle: “Marriott Transforms Its Penny-Pinching Measures Into a Conservation Ethos”).

And, this collection of articles points to real opportunities, risks, challenges (of all types) when it comes to a greener economy.  The Honest Tea discussion of decision-making and implications of different bottling choices is, for example, excellent business reporting in my opinion.

At Honest Tea, the organic-beverage company, sustainability is a way of life. …. [the company] company … live[s] by the mantra “reduce, reuse, recycle”

And, they face the dilemma:  Plastic or Glass or Aluminum-using kid’s drink pouches. There are benefits and problems with each path. Glass is far easier to recycle/reuse but weighs much more, which means more energy use per ounce of liquid delivered.  Plastic is, well, plastic with its fossil-fuel demands.  And, the kids’ drink pouches have limited reuse potential (more than, I think, any competitor on the market) but have the lowest packaging weight for delivered liquid.  And insightful discussion on the packaging challenges for a modern business that cares about its carbon footprint. 

My greatest frustration with all of these articles comes probably with just two short paragraphs in one article, the article on a coming National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL) LEED Platinum building

Jon Caldara, president of the Independence Institute, a free-market think tank in Golden, said the government has its priorities mixed up.

“Since we are forced to pay taxes, those taxes ought to be used for government services, not to set examples for other people,” he said. “We pay taxes to get government services, not to build pretty buildings.”  

This quotation from the libertarian Independence Institute attacks the project as, basically, government waste and profligacy without enough placing of context what the financial and other implications are of ‘building green’.

Is this just about ‘building pretty buildings’? 

While to achieve LEED Platinum, the building almost certainly has a design/build/certification premium for the cost to build/cost to buy, even more so, it will have a far lower cost to own:

  1. Worker productivity is higher in ‘green’ buildings. Research consistently shows gains of well above five percent (and, for LEED Platinum, for which there is less research, it looks to be 15+% from what I’ve seen). Why? Healthier work environments with less sick leave and more comfort while working (fewer allergies and headaches, for example). Natural lighting more conducive to work. Better heating/cooling making it more comfortable to work. Etc …
  2. The energy and maintenance savings by going green will pay for the additional cost, almost certainly with a less than 10 year (and probably much better) pay back period. Note: the energy cost savings are just a small part of the fiscal benefit of ‘going green’.
  3. There are many benefits to greener building that are difficult, within current accounting rules, to directly link back to a building’s “cost”. These benefits, however, should certainly be part of the government’s calculations. They can include global warming impact, air quality, water runoff quality, financial risk/exposure to future energy cost increases, etc …

For more, see: “Cost to Own vs Cost to Buy“.

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