If we just consider the past few years, it is clear climate change is not just someone else’s problem — it is also ours, made obvious by the local changes that are increasingly evident in our daily lives.
We are experiencing extreme heat, increasingly intense weather events and major flooding, as well as the health impacts of each. These risks will increase over the next several years and create challenges for area businesses. For example, roofers are not allowed to work when temperatures are over 90 degrees. Other members of the local workforce, such as construction workers, farmers, summer camp staff and landscapers will experience increased likelihood of heat stress, dehydration, dizziness and lost work days. Extreme heat threatens agricultural production, reducing plant growth and productivity and increasing disease in farm animals. The changing climate is hurting the bottom line: From late June to early September, business cooling is now nearly nonstop, and total flood damage from a 2018 storm was estimated at nearly $24 million.
A recent Deloitte Insights article reported “as the causes and consequences of global warming have grown clearer and pressure from a variety of sources has increased, businesses have begun responding across three (not mutually exclusive) dimensions: mitigation (reducing green house gas emissions), adaptation, and value creation.”
The authors went on to encourage businesses to change the way they approach business planning as it relates to climate change: “Viewing implications through a lens of long-term, sustainable profitability and growth may make actions related to climate mitigation, adaption, and value creation more justifiable in financial terms.” From a cost perspective, sustainable solutions, which often combine mitigation and adaptation, are increasingly the least expensive option when both upfront and monthly operating costs are considered. Following initial investments, substantial cost savings are experienced over the lifespan. The Global Commission on the Economy and Climate, which has conducted the most authoritative research to date, has estimated that humanity could save $26 trillion by 2030 through a global shift to sustainable solutions.
Beyond considering mitigation and adaptation impacts on the bottom line, an emerging trend is for businesses to recognize the value in climate stewardship at the community and global levels. Responsibly addressing climate change will lead to a better future — a resilient future with healthier children and adults, fewer lost school and work days caused by asthma and other climate-related diseases, and fewer extreme weather events than we would have with the status quo. A resilient and sustainable future seeks to address the staggering costs and equity issues for poor and minority communities, and integrate sustainable solutions that lift up all communities, ensuring that future generations will have access to food, clean water and air. Without action, underserved communities are too often sacrificed: left with little fiscal flexibility and often choosing between paying for rising utility bills, putting food on the table or skipping on needed medication.
What can businesses do? Even small actions can make a difference, so no business is too small to take steps to change the trajectory of our shared future for the better. And small steps add up to big results — just consider the lowly lightbulb. In 2017 alone, “the use of LEDs to illuminate buildings and outdoor spaces reduced the total carbon dioxide emissions of lighting by an estimated 570 million tons,” according to LightED Magazine. LEDs compared to incandescent bulbs use about 80 percent less energy.
The Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments estimates that 51 percent of the total greenhouse gas emissions for Frederick County are from buildings and 42 percent from transportation. Reducing emissions from these two sectors is a priority. Businesses can tackle this from two angles — by conserving energy and by purchasing from clean energy sources.
BuildingsBusinesses have taken steps to conserve energy by using LED lighting, decreasing lighting at night, using smart thermostats, adding insulation to buildings, replacing or enhancing old windows, adopting cool roof technologies, and other “tighten the envelope” strategies. Three online resources are useful for considering options:
n Seek help from the Institute for Market Transformation: This Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit helps businesses assess their energy uses and identifies ways to become more efficient. https://www.imt.org/making-buildings-more-efficient/owners-and-tenants
n Participate in the Maryland Green Registry: This registry is free and provides tools and tips to increase energy efficiency and promotes a values-driven focus to customers. Participating businesses have reported $76 million in savings from adopting conservation and sustainability practices. https://mde.maryland.gov/MarylandGreen/Pages/Tips.aspx
n A good way to understand opportunities for savings is by assessing your business’s carbon footprint. This business carbon footprint calculator is designed for small business: https://coolcalifornia.arb.ca.gov/small-business
Businesses (as well as individuals) can choose to purchase their energy from renewable sources. The city of Frederick just recently announced their decision to make this switch, and many churches in the area also have used this option by calling 800-932-1569, or go to mycleanchoiceenergy.com/sun.
A few businesses in Frederick County have used the Commercial Property Assessed Clean Energy Loan program, which provides commercial loans for businesses and nonprofits that want to invest in energy efficiency, renewables and water conservation projects.
“I see such benefit for other businesses to invest in green technology, green infrastructure, and PACE really makes it possible,” said Joe Richardson, commercial property owner of Bar-T Mountainside.
Businesses are also making use of innovative financing options, such as Energy Service Agreements, which can save utility costs from the beginning as long as the terms of the contract are well designed.
TransportationThere is no doubt that changing the way we get from one place to another, or whether we go at all, will greatly impact the future climate. During the COVID-19 crisis, Frederick City’s Office of Economic Development reports that 54 percent of all Frederick County households had at least one adult resident who telecommuted, improving air quality and reducing GHG emissions substantially. We can apply some of the strategies we’ve learned during this difficult year to our advantage. Experts urge us to continue telecommuting and hosting meetings virtually whenever possible. When business needs mandate local travel, doing so during non-peak hours, or using navigational software and traffic alerts to avoid backups can reduce emissions by as much as 50 percent. And adopting a “no-idle” policy companywide has multiple benefits of improving air quality, eliminating wasteful emissions and saving vehicle engines from needless wear and tear.
Greening fleets is also a great strategy. Electric vehicles are more affordable than ever, and tax credits are still available at the state and federal level. EVs offer a better driving experience than combustion engine counterparts, and fuel savings combined with little to no maintenance expense makes transitioning to an all-electric fleet a great business decision as well as a responsible choice.
Air travel contributes to climate change in multiple ways, including GHG emissions. When business needs call for air travel, think twice and consider train travel, which reduces GHG impact by about sevenfold. Or think about virtual meeting options. When that’s just not possible, choose nonstop flights and consider purchasing a carbon offset. There are several options — Terrapass and Native Energy are just a few of the sources recommended.
Other areas for considerationOther GHG contributors are food waste and landscaping practices. According to Project Drawdown (drawdown.org), about 40 percent of all food produced in the U.S. is wasted, contributing about 11 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. By focusing on reducing food waste and increasing composting on the consumer side, Frederick County can maximize reductions in GHGs from landfills and food production. One example where we are already seeing how this is possible is from a program called Lunches out of Landfill. LOOL is a program launched by 13 Frederick County Schools and reduced 70 percent to 80 percent of all food waste during the 2019-20 school year in the months before the COVID pandemic lockdown (facebook.com/lunchoutoflandfills).
A growing number of local businesses are offering more plant-based food options. Not only are plant-based foods (veggies, fruits, grains, legumes and nuts) healthy for humans, they are easier on the planet’s resources than typically-raised animal products by taking less land and water to grow and emitting far fewer GHGs to produce. Encouraging plant-rich diets by offering vegan and vegetarian entrees on restaurant menus and at events helps encourage residents and visitors to make better choices. And, for meat-based menu options, sourcing from local producers significantly reduces the carbon footprint of these products.
Businesses that own land can consider limiting or eliminating turf grass and non-native plants, improving soil’s natural ability to draw carbon out of the atmosphere by as much as 75 percent and improving the landscape’s ability to soak up stormwater. Businesses that make the transition from lawn to natural landscapes report as much as a 25 percent reduction in landscaping costs. The Chesapeake Landscaping Council offers resources for landowners (chesapeakelandscape.org).
The best news about climate change is that we have the tools, technology and knowledge to slow down and reverse the warming trajectory currently experienced. Multiple examples of tested and successful models are all around us. Collective action CAN reverse climate change, and making all business decisions by evaluating its impact on climate change is a necessary part of the solution.