Green money, not green plants, will drive environmental change in Utah

Mar 2 2013 - 9:51pm

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It's unfair to judge an environmental company's worth by the junk they give away. A free pen is just a free pen, even if it is recycled cardboard and plastic.

Although I had fun Thursday showing off WattStoppers' completely recycled free pen, what really counts is its digital products that monitor and dim or shut off lights.

Combined with new electrical fixtures, WattStoppers products saved Weber State University $220,000 on its electric bill last year.

That's so far. The system is still being installed, at a cost of $1 million over four years. Savings will pay for the special control systems in 2.3 years.

Electrical controls are just part of WSU's efforts to save money by implementing environmentally inspired savings strategies. Last year WSU saved $1 million by cutting waste.

Cardboard pens are nice, but $1 million is a lot of money and Thursday and Friday's Fourth annual Sustainability Conference at WSU was all about making money. I was told over and over that green money, not green trees, is the secret to getting Utah's allegedly conservative folk to sign on to this environmentalism stuff.

Cost is a problem. Salt Lake City recently started curb-side glass recycling. Why can't Ogden?

Glass needs to be collected separately and costs too much to truck to the lone customer, a new glass recycling plant in Salt Lake. Momentum Recycling President John Lair said he's talking to Ogden and other Weber communities about setting up drop stations, at least. Logan has eight.

The conference keynote speaker, L. Hunter Lovins, runs a nonprofit consulting firm in Colorado called Natural Capitalism Solutions (www.natcapsolutions.org), which works with companies like Wal-Mart to make their businesses more sustainable.

Mostly it boils down to cutting overhead. Wal-Mart has saved millions on its electric bills by switching to compact fluorescent bulbs in its displays.

Unnecessary lights are everywhere. Lovins found one company with a 7-million-square-foot distribution center that had huge lights all along the ceiling, so far up workers had to use flashlights to find their way around.

What good were the overhead lights? "It's called inventory afraid of the dark," she said. They flipped a switch and saved $750,000 a year.

Utah is showing some successes. Questar is looking for contractors to get Energy Star certification, which means what they build will be 30 percent more energy efficient.

Salt Lake City has exceeded former Mayor Rocky Anderson's goals for emissions reductions by municipal cars and buildings.

Did you know, Lovins said, that students in school buildings lit using free daylight get higher test scores? "Utah has an amazing solar climate," she said. "Utah could become 100 percent solar-powered if you wanted to."

It's not always easy. In a work session on recycling, small-business owners worried about how to replace Styrofoam cups, where to find cost-effective recycling, or just where to find out how to do all that stuff.

Resources are available. One of the more fun freebies was tiny garbage cans filled with shredded money from Manufacturing Extension Partnership, a part of the U.S. Department of Commerce, sort of an economic version of the agricultural extension service.

"We teach people that they're putting money in the trash by wasting ways to avoid waste," said MEP representative Paul Olsen.

Need help? Their web site is MEP.org, their phone number is 801-863-8637. They don't have any free pens, but their garbage cans say a lot.

Wasatch Rambler is the opinion of Charles Trentelman. You can contact him at 801-625-4232 or email him at ctrentelman@standard.net. He also blogs at www.standard.net.

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