Energy efficiency is common ground for business survival
You don't need to be an expert to plainly see the imperative and the opportunity for Connecticut businesses embedded in energy efficiency. A gathering of experts living on the frontlines -- business leaders and their counterparts in government, academia and advocacy -- recently removed any lingering doubt.
The Yale Center for Business and the Environment, joined by Business for Innovative Climate & Energy Policy (BICEP), a project of Ceres, a Boston-based sustainable leadership advocacy organization, brought the sectors together to explore barriers and innovations, both current and prospective, at a daylong symposium.
Business leaders were quite emphatic that the biggest hurdle they have to overcome is cost -- the cost of doing business in Connecticut particularly, and the Northeast. It escaped no one that energy costs here are among the nation's highest.
Nonetheless, the Connecticut business expressed a commitment to staying put. How can that be accomplished? Seek and achieve efficiencies at every turn -- which is precisely what they are doing.
The plant manager for R.C. Bigelow Inc. underscored that costs in this region drive the necessity to identify energy efficiencies. That explains the 900 solar panels on the roof of the company's Fairfield headquarters, among many energy-related cost-cutting steps taken. Before they make their first teabag in Connecticut, he estimated, the company is already $300,000 behind a similar manufacturing facility elsewhere in the U.S., where the energy-driven costs of doing business are lower.
The effort must be both top-down and bottom-up. As one panelist put it, "energy awareness is the biggest underutilized asset." "Engage employees," they reiterated. Do not underestimate the "pride factor" in achieving bottom-line savings, which can improve profitability and the capacity to retain jobs, as well as in enhanced working conditions.
There is also a palpable hunger for information upon which priorities can be set and decisions made. The business leaders made it abundantly clear -- they are willing to spend up-front (with an eye on payback) to achieve long-term savings. But they need the data to do it. That's where energy companies and academia comes in.
CL&P's manager of conservation and load management underscored the utility's responsiveness to businesses seeking to identify energy efficiencies, describing their staff expertise in providing guidance, services and programs that can lead to substantial savings. Specific initiatives focus on small-business customers and businesses initiating new construction.
Stewart Hudson, president of the Emily Hall Tremaine Foundation in New Haven, affirmed that the business case for energy efficiency has long since been made. Now, the real possibility of a constructive convergence of energy efficiency, environmental protection and business opportunity is upon us. On this day, the often-heard criticism of government as obstructionist or overly regulatory was not voiced. Instead, there was praise of Connecticut's newly minted comprehensive energy policy.
The clear and present challenge that animated the day's discussions is how best to scale up and fully realize the intertwined economic and environmental opportunities that energy efficiencies place within our grasp -- and the significant implications for job creation and business survival in our state, and beyond.
Bernard L. Kavaler is managing principal of Express Strategies, a strategic communications and public policy consulting firm based in West Hartford.