MN Businesses Saving Energy, Environment & Money

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At the 2011 Greening Your Business Conference, Minnesota companies lead the race for corporate solutions to our environmental woes

Videos and text by Jacob Wheeler

Saving energy, and reducing their carbon footprint, now mean big business for Minnesota companies that are increasingly finding ways to simultaneously “do good” and “do well”.

At the Minneapolis Regional Chamber of Commerce’s third-annual Greening Your Business Conference on April 14 at the Marriott Minneapolis City Center, executives from ICF International, Xcel Energy, Best Buy and Target all extolled the virtues of sustainable practices that their companies have undertaken.

“Today, companies that run state of the art programs have virtually everyone in the organization fully engaged, and having accountability for meeting those goals, and that’s a huge shift,” said Bill Prindle, vice president of ICF International, who spoke about the growing number of companies that pay attention to energy usage and, thus, monitor their carbon footprints. “Instead of two talented and frustrated engineers in the boiler room, you might have 2,000 people who are now thinking about working on the problem. Energy is all of a sudden a big issue for companies.”

“Even if you don’t believe in climate science, and even if you don’t want to do carbon foot-printing, energy management has a business case all its own,” Prindle continued.

“Energy efficiency is a really core part of my business,” Judy Poferl, president and CEO of Northern States Power Company, boasted. “We do a lot of things really well. We’re the number one wind provider, we’ve undertaken a lot of emissions control to get us ready for an uncertain future. We’re modernizing our infrastructure. But from my perspective, a gem among all those things is energy efficiency.”

Environmental impact a selling point for consumers too

“When we talk to our customers, two things always come up in terms of environmental issues,” said Leo Raudys, senior director of environmental sustainability at Best Buy. “The first one is energy efficiency. They want us to help them engage in the digital world in a more energy efficient way. The second one is around recycling. Years ago we started the utilities summit — now called the energy efficiency summit. There’s a growing demand, and we feel that because of how big we are, we can drive that movement.”

In the two years that Best Buy has run its recycling program, Raudys claims that the chain has collected over 300 million pounds of consumer goods, half of which are consumer appliances and half of which are electronics.

Meanwhile, Target’s mission statement, according to Kate Heiny, manager of sustainability at Target, states that the company “strives to be a responsible steward of the environment; we seek to understand our impact and continuously improve business practices to achieve the following goals — using resources responsibly, eliminating waste, minimizing our carbon footprint, offering sustainable products, incorporating sustainable elements into our stores, and influencing our vendors and suppliers to embrace sustainable practices.”

The reusable bag program that Target rolled out in 2009 rewards shoppers with a 5 cent discount when they use those bags. The program was recognized by USA Today.

What started in 2008 as a Greening Your Business Expo has turned into a full-day conference with educational workshops, keynote panelists and an awards ceremony. Award recipients at this year’s Greening Your Business Conference included the Center for Energy and Environment (Green Campaign Award), The Weidt Group (Green Workplace Award), LHB (Green Business Award) and VAST Enterprises (Green Market Development Award). Before the ceremony, Tim Juliani, director of corporate engagement at the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, moderated a keynote panel that featured Prindle, Poferl, Raudys and Heiny.

Earlier in the day, Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak issued a challenge to businesses gathered at the conference. Citing examples of leading local innovators from the last century (including General Mills and Pillsbury) Rybak called on Minneapolis to once again carry the baton in the green business race.

“For the first time in our lifetime, folks, Minnesota is not out-innovating the rest of the country, and that has to change.”

“The old way of doing things is literally running out of gas. We see what’s happening as oil prices go up,” said the Mayor. “When people look back at what really recharged this economy, they’ll point to the period of time when the old ways ran out of gas, people turned to green, and they turned that into the kind of green that we all want in our wallets.”

At the conference, TheUpTake interviewed Travis Bunch, director of public policy for the Minneapolis Chamber of Commerce, Melissa Harrison of the marketing firm Allée, as well as the Pew Center’s Juliani about barriers to growth in the green economy, how business-to-business communication can encourage green innovation, payback incentives of energy efficiency upgrades, the Chamber’s forthcoming book Minneapolis-Saint Paul, Where Innovation Meets Sustainability, the Twin Cities’ track record of promoting innovation, the extent to which businesses can lead their customers in the path toward sustainability, how corporations can constructively contribute to climate change solutions, and recognition of supply chain greenhouse gas emissions.

A focal emphasis at the conference was illustrating how a company can “do good” and succeed at the same time. Travis Bunch points to Excel Energy, one of Minnesota’s standout green companies, as an example. “How many businesses do you know try to educate their clients not to use their product?”

Watch the speeches and interviews in their entirety, below.

Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak:

Travis Bunch of the Minneapolis Area Chamber of Commerce:

Melissa Harrison of the marketing firm Allée:

Tim Juliani, Pew Center on Global Climate Change:

Keynote panel: Bill Prindle, ICF International; Judy Poferl, Northern States Power Company; Leo Raudys, Best Buy; Kate Heiny, Target.

Jacob Wheeler

In addition to shooting videos for The UpTake, Jacob Wheeler is a contributing editor at the progressive political magazine In These Times, publishes the Glen Arbor Sun in his native Michigan, and authored "Between Light and Shadow," a recent book about the Guatemalan adoption industry. Wheeler's stories have appeared in such magazines as the Utne Reader, Earth Island Journal, Rotarian and Teaching Tolerance magazine, and newspapers including the San Francisco Chronicle and Christian Science Monitor. He speaks fluent Spanish, German and Danish.

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