How sustainability helps the planet and boosts the bottom line

Hunter Lovins, center with the blue scarf, meets with Bradley students and faculty during her campus visit.

May 1, 2013

By Emily Laidley ’13

Environmental author and entrepreneur Hunter Lovins believes businesses that address environmental problems can make the earth a better place and, at the same time, make a profit.

Lovins’ presentation, titled “The Business Case for Implementing Genuine Sustainability,” served as the inaugural event in the Bradley Graduate Student Advisory Committee Speaker Series. A question and answer session and book signing followed the presentation.

From the environmental standpoint, Lovins said, the basic idea is that the less energy used, the less carbon is released into the air and contributed to global warming. From a business standpoint, the less energy used, the less money is spent on fueling operations. For example, Lovins said Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium recently cut its energy use by 80 percent and saved over $200,000.

In addition to saving money, being environmentally conscious can grow business. Consumers are more mindful today of a company’s environmental policy, so business that show they are working to reduce their carbon footprint may get more business. “A study out of Notre Dame shows that companies that are carbon intensive are being implicitly valued lower by the market,” Lovins said.

President and founder of the Natural Capitalism Solutions, which educates leaders in business, government and civil society about how to both solve global warming and make a profit, Lovins spoke to the Bradley community on the importance of sustainability and how conserving natural recourses can make companies both prosperous and resilient.

Lovins said that Bradley University’s goals of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, conserving resources and educating the public are a good start, but not ambitious enough. Bradley aims to reduce energy use by 20 percent by 2018. Lovins argues that this number should be 50 percent and encourages the University to innovate.

“You have all the departments here. Treat your campus as a living laboratory and see how low your energy use and greenhouse emissions can go,” she told the audience.

MBA student Veronika Koubova, who helped organize Lovins’ visit to campus and conduct sustainability report with Dan Dugal MBA ’12 on the University, said she appreciated how Lovins urged Bradley to be more efficient. Koubova presented the sustainability report to Lovins and received some positive feedback on the research as well as several references during Lovins’ talk.

“I was surprised she mentioned it as much as she did,” Koubova said. “Bradley could really be a leader in sustainability and I feel that [Lovins] helped push that.”

During her campus lecture, Lovins pointed out that Ohio State University’s policy of turning off computers when not in use saved it $250,000 a year, and that Butte College in northern California has become “grid positive;” meaning the institution produces more energy from renewable sources than they need. As a result, the college puts the excess electricity back into the grid and expects to save between $50 and $75 million over 15 years, with the savings to be reinvested in academic programs.

But renewable energy and carbon emissions reduction are important for more than the bottom line, Lovins stressed. The global temperature has already risen 0.8 degrees Celsius, which has contributed to drastic and dangerous weather changes.

Lovins explains, “The world can sustain the release of 565 more gigatons of carbon and hold the global temperature increase to below two degrees Celsius. The trouble is that the fossil fuel industries have 2,795 gigatons of carbon that they own in the ground and their business model is to dig it up and burn it. Unless we stop them.”

Lovins life’s work is to get people to act to reduce global warming and this can be done in any number of ways. As she said, “There is no silver bullet, but there is a heck of a lot of silver buckshot.”