Enjoying the multiple benefits of sustainability

Right now, the Iowa Environmental Council is putting together our annual conference, which this year is called Finding Iowa’s Way:  Economic Solutions for a Healthier Environment.  (Here’s a convenient registration link, right in the first paragraph, so I’m being good at my job.)

Why are we thinking about “economic solutions?”   It turns out that for so many of the environmental challenges we face, we have plenty of good solutions that people can say “yes” to for more reasons than just environmental protection.  And that’s really what we’re focusing on at our conference this year (October 4 in Des Moines)—solutions for clean water, for taking on climate change, for preventing soil erosion, and for other issues that provide multiple benefits.

Here’s an example:  Last summer, I had a job traveling around the city of Columbia, Missouri, talking to business owners about energy efficient lighting upgrades they had done.  Business owners were generally very excited about their projects, and I heard many variations on the theme of “Why didn’t we do this years ago?”  Here’s some of what I heard:

  • It stays so much cooler in the auto shop, especially in the summer.
  • It’s much brighter, and our employees can see what they are working on better.
  • Our old lights buzzed and drove me crazy; the new ones are silent.
  • We had lights shining down on top of boxes in the warehouse, and it feels good not to pay for that anymore.
  • The furniture and art we’re trying to sell looks much better under the new lights.
  • I don’t have to climb up on a ladder to change bulbs as often.

The theme running through all these stories is that the lighting upgrades made the businesses better places to work.  This was in addition to the savings all of the businesses were experiencing on their monthly utility bills, which were also substantial.

Now that I work at an environmental nonprofit, I think a lot about how these businesses, by being more efficient, were also using less energy (mainly from fossil fuels) and ultimately reducing their impact on a changing climate.  But from the businesses’ point of view, that was sort of like a bonus—if they considered it at all.  (It might shock you, but nobody greeted me at the door and said, “Come inside and see these new lights that we installed to slash our CO2 emissions!”)

At our conference, we will focus on the multiple benefits of environmental protection, hearing more stories of how Iowans are securing a healthier environment and the economic and social vitality that make Iowa such a great place to live.  I hope you’ll join us.  For details and to register, visit iaenvironment.org.

Matt HaugeMatt Hauge is the outreach and communications director at the Iowa Environmental Council, a nonprofit coalition of individuals and organizations dedicated to a safe, healthy environment and sustainable future for Iowa.
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