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Jul 12, 201212:00 AMSmart Sustainable Biz

with Jessie Lerner

Sustainability = more money + happier employees

Sustainability = more money + happier employees

Kristen Joiner is the executive director of Sustain Dane, which administers the groundbreaking Mpower Business ChaMpions Program in partnership with the city of Madison and Madison Gas & Electric. Sustain Dane is also the founder of the Madison Region Sustainable Business Network.

Jac Garner, the CEO of Webcrafters, is doing it. So is MCD co-owner Dave Boyer. Home Savings CEO Jim Bradley says he does it all the time. Tim Metcalfe claims they’re going to do a lot more of it – right in the middle of Metcalfe’s Market.

Pretty soon all of Madison will be doing it, and the rest of the country will be coming to see how we do it ...

But before we go any further, let’s be sure we’re all doing the same thing: SUSTAINABILITY. What the heck is that? Here’s a definition (taken from the U.N.):

SUSTAINABILITY: The ability to meet present needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs.

(One of my favorite interpretations of this is “Do unto others downstream as you would have those upstream do unto you.”)

This definition has been largely applied to ecology – to keeping our water clean, our air breathable, and our soil rich in nutrients. But we know now that there’s no use in having a sustainable natural ecosystem if the human part of the system isn’t keeping its part of the bargain.

That means we need sustainable schools, we need sustainable and accessible health care models, and we need to make sure our local economy is thriving.

We need sustainable business

How do we get there? Well, we know sustainability is not something obtained – like a citation. It’s something a business does.

It’s the change that occurs when a business acknowledges that it operates in a specific location that should be protected, that it employs people who are its greatest “natural resources,” and that in order to be viable, it needs to be nimble and resilient.

Sound daunting? It’s not. It’s liberating. Because it’s just good common sense.

This blog is going to be a space – a place with breathing room – dedicated to making sustainable business as simple as possible.

Sustainability isn’t complicated. To understand just how simple it is, consider this equation:

SUSTAINABLE BUSINESS = MORE MONEY + HAPPIER EMPLOYEES

Sustainability is a national megatrend among the smartest, most nimble businesses. And for good reason: Businesses engage in low-hanging-fruit sustainability efforts like energy efficiency because they want to save money.

A recent survey conducted by Ernst & Young and GreenBiz Group found that 74% of responding businesses are engaging in sustainability programs primarily driven by cost savings.

A Sun Prairie manufacturer recently found that its energy bills had dropped by nearly a thousand dollars a month. After some sleuthing, it discovered that a new warehouse employee who had been working underneath a major air-intake unit realized the unit was running needlessly (and he was tired of working under the noise) so he just switched it off when it wasn’t required. Ka-ching!

Ask Palmer Johnson Power Systems, or any one of the other nearly 50 businesses that have participated in the city of Madison and Sustain Dane’s MPower Business ChaMpions program: Making your lighting, HVAC, and ambient systems work efficiently can save you many thousands of dollars – without sinking a cent into retrofits or complex rewiring jobs.

Collectively, these businesses have already saved nearly a million dollars taking simple steps toward sustainable energy consumption.

We know businesses are seeking these kinds of savings, and many of the folks involved are cost-conscious executives. (The E&Y survey indicates 65% of CFOs are now directly involved in company sustainability efforts.)

Yes, invisible energy loss is hurting your business. Waste is hurting your business.

But unhealthy, unengaged employees are also hurting your business.

MPower businesses have shown us time and again that when executives start to value sustainability, employees become more engaged, workplaces become healthier, new spaces are opened for professional development, and innovation is renewed as an asset.

Another study, this one by Rutgers University and the nonprofit group Net Impact, finds that employees who have the opportunity to address social or environmental issues while on the job are twice as likely to report job satisfaction than colleagues who don’t share these opportunities.

And while engaged employees will improve your workplace performance, a healthier, more sustainable workplace will contribute to public health indices across the region. Sustainable actions like biking and walking have the potential to save our region $8 billion in health care costs each year.

EIGHT BILLION!

So. Cost savings? Check. Improved employee performance? Check. Healthier communities? Taxpayer savings? Cleaner air, water, environment?

You’re seeing the picture.

Please stay tuned over the coming months, as I’ll be profiling business leaders from the Madison community who have found that sustainability is about more than just turning off the lights.

I’ll also use this space to answer common questions about sustainability to make sure this blog is relevant to your interests. So send me your questions about waste reduction, alternative transportation, energy savings, sustainability networks, or why you just don’t understand what’s up with the lakes. Email me at Kristen@sustaindane.org.

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