That might seem a bit of a no-brainer, but it's not. According to the Environmental Defense Fund, U.S. industry has the opportunity to reduce annual energy consumption 18% by 2020, saving more than $300 billion in the process. Some companies have already leaped at the opportunity - Minnesota-based Cypress Semiconductor, for example, has reduced its use of natural gas at least 80 percent through energy efficiency measures such as heat recovery. But for the most part, change is slow to come.
Last November, IonE's NorthStar Initiative for Sustainable Enterprise took a "deep dive" into that question during a three-day gathering of corporate, nonprofit and public-sector heavy hitters at the Johnson Foundation at Wingspread in Racine, Wis. Some of the reasons the group tendered revolved around complex issues such as risk, uncertainty, legal infrastructure, awareness, and financing mechanisms.
NorthStar is not just about questions, however. It's about finding answers. What, NorthStar leaders wondered, can we do to help reduce the risk and uncertainty associated with investments in energy efficiency so more businesses can take advantage of the huge return they offer?
Cindy McComas, formerly head of the Minnesota Technical Assistance Program (helping industries reduce waste and conserve water and energy) and now researcher with NorthStar Initiative, is using last November's conversations as guides to discovering mechanisms that could help make energy efficiency more attractive to business. Among the issues she's exploring: What do businesses consider when making decisions about energy efficiency? Are risk and uncertainty handled differently for energy efficiency than they are for other investments? What are ancillary costs and benefits of boosting efficiency? What role do things like information, finance, insurance and image play in decisions to adopt or not adopt energy efficiency measures? What role might entities like energy service companies play in tipping the risk - benefit balance win energy efficiency savings for industry?
Armed with answers that emerge from McComas' research, NorthStar hopes to provide specific recommendations for the finance industry that businesses can use to improve their bottom line while at the same time building a brighter future for all of us.
photo by Stefan Gara