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Posted: June 19, 2009

The business case for sustainability

Hunter Lovins spells out how being green cuts costs

Mary Butler

If you listen to Hunter Lovins, you’d think any business owner who’s not implementing sustainable practices is not only crazy but soon to be out of business.

Lovins, founder and president of Natural Capital Solutions, headlined Friday morning’s opening session at the Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability conference in Boulder and, in rapid succession, detailed companies from Wal-Mart to DuPont that are saving millions, if not billions of dollars by reducing their carbon footprints.

Wal-Mart is going green, she said, “and you better believe it’s not out of the goodness of their hearts.”

Being sustainable cuts costs, plain and simple, Lovins said.

In 1990, DuPont set a goal of slashing greenhouse gas emissions by 65 percent by 2010, she said. It’s doing it – and saving $2.2 billion a year, Lovins said. “Did DuPont join Greenpeace?” she wisecracked.

Companies big and small can save money and change the world by doing simple things: swapping out energy wasting light bulbs, turning off lights in box-filled warehouses and turning off PCs when they’re not in use. As a country, $2.8 billion could be saved if workers turn off their desktop computers every night when they leave the office, Lovins said.

Workspaces built with healthy materials and lit with more natural light result in better productivity; employees in green buildings are healthier, too. What if the country could eliminate a good portion of $58 billion spent in sick time every year?, she said.

Wal-Mart learned that green stores reap higher sales when it started building one and then stopped halfway, Lovins said. The “green” side of the store had 40 percent higher sales and employees begged to work on that side of the store, she said.

Politics are rendered moot when it comes to the benefits of reducing waste and doing business in an environmentally responsible way, Lovins said.

“We are living on a razor edge. Look at the way we move around the planet, the light bulbs in this room … what’s the business case for ending life on Earth?“ she said. “This is not a red or blue issue.” Just look at the Dow Jones Index, Lovins said. “The worst performing companies are likely to have nobody in charge of sustainability.”

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Mary Butler is ColoradoBiz's online editor.

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