Moving businesses towards sustainability – balancing social, economic, environmental considerations to meet our needs and those of future generations – is something that has always been a charged subject, especially when government takes the initiative. In the current state of our polarized political environment, the government’s ability to act as the motivator for many issues has been largely handicapped from driving progress. There are strategies emerging at the local government level that deliver results by focusing on engagement and collaboration with businesses rather than the strategies of regulation and direct market incentives.
Sustainability is an issue that deserves serious consideration at many levels globally. Local governments are being challenged more to find solutions to dwindling water resources, volatile energy cost fluctuations, and landfills filling quickly to their brims. Many of these challenges couldn’t come at a worse time. The solutions to these problems are usually dealt with by implementing wildly expensive projects to drill for and pump water many miles or dig new massive holes to burry our waste in.
As a large cornerstone to any local community, businesses also have a large impact on these local issues and motivating them to change elements of their businesses to reduce their environmental impacts has always been difficult, if not highly contentious. However, we don’t have to look far to find models that work: the cities of Boulder and Fort Collins in Colorado have been successful in their approaches that stray from traditional regulations, deregulation, or direct market incentives.
The Partners for a Clean Environment (PACE) program in Boulder and the Climate Wise program in Fort Collins are unique in that they engage with the local business community to promote sustainability. The premise on which these programs operate is that most of the businesses in their community are small and find it difficult finding the time, money, and expertise to implement projects that will reduce their environmental impact.
That’s where the PACE and Climate Wise program come in. They offer many services to businesses large and small, including business assessments, networking, tools, and experts who are willing to share their knowledge openly. To sweeten the deal, they offer to promote the businesses involved through a green business website, on their printed “green map” available to anyone free of charge, and with decals and certificates that businesses can post in their locations.
These programs have also shown to deliver results. In eight years, the Climate Wise program claims that businesses in the program have saved $12.5 million in cost savings while reducing water consumption by a total of three billion gallons, energy consumption by 207,109,000 kWh, natural gas consumption by 4.2 million therms, and diverting a total 69,000 tons of landfill waste. The PACE program has shown similar results.
The City of Flagstaff Sustainability Program has picked up on the opportunities that these kinds of programs represent and has begun plans for similar services. Already, the Sustainability Program has produced a sustainable business guide that is available, free of charge, in print form or can be downloaded electronically from their website. It focuses on various sustainability topics, from energy, water, pollution prevention, and quality of life.
There are also plans for the program to collaborate with Net Impact – an NAU student organization that focuses on sustainability from a business perspective – to provide free business sustainability assessment services to Flagstaff businesses. McKenzie Jones from the Sustainability Program said, “The city’s partnership with Net Impact offers a resource to local businesses while providing real-world experience for the next generation of business leaders. By implementing ideas in the Sustainable Business Guide, local businesses can lower operating costs and enhance the quality of life of their employees and community.”
Collaborations have also been formed between the city and the Sustainable Economic Development Initiative (SEDI) to provide educational, networking, and promotional opportunities for businesses.
Efforts like the Climate Wise and PACE programs illuminate opportunities for local governments to promote sustainability as well as foster healthier relationships with the local business community. As similar efforts in Flagstaff come online, they must be supported in order to improve the quality of life. These exciting and dynamic efforts could prove to be extremely beneficial to the future of Northern Arizona, the country, and the world.