Not another boring article on climate change! Back from the USA with a new perspective

“I wouldn’t care to do that!” he said with a heavy drawl of emphasis on the ‘wouldn’t’, whilst looking me straight in the eye. He, in this case, was Jim, the manager of two sizeable manufacturing plants in Ohio. I’d just been telling him that I thought he could probably save himself over a million bucks a year by investing in a few relatively cheap and easy energy saving measures.

“You wouldn’t?” I asked, beginning to feel I was on slightly dodgy ground. I’d been feeling a long way away from home since we started talking about guns half an hour earlier. He’d explained to me that if I were to look through the cars in the parking lot I’d probably find 40 or 50 guns. He added reassuringly that he owned twelve, mostly for hunting.

“Yes,” he replied confusing me further.

This conversation went on for a couple of minutes before he explained to me that where he’s from the phrase ‘I wouldn’t care to do that’ means ‘I’d be very happy to do that’. Go figure. Anyway, having sorted that out, I made the mistake of saying that he could then promote the fact that he was reducing the plants greenhouse gas emissions and slowing the rate of climate change. No sooner were the words out of my mouth than I started regretting it.

“You believe that stuff?”

Luckily for me (I think) he didn’t give me time to reply and spent the next five minutes explaining in tones just short of a rant that the climate might be changing but it had nothing to do with anything mankind was doing. He included less than politically correct references to Al Gore, bleeding heart democrats and crazed environmentalists. And then he said that he was happy to save the money so long as it didn’t disrupt production or take up any significant staff time. He added that the difference the savings would make to his bottom line would allow him to make some product changes he’d been trying to get to for years – and that was what really excited him.

His attitude got me thinking a bit. I’ve been an energy efficiency consultant for a long time and I’ve always believed that the only effective way to promote climate change is to make it financially beneficial for energy users. Sadly perhaps, I’ve found that most people at senior levels in industry can’t get inspired to change by being told that they are contributing to a disaster many years in the future. They can relate to saving money now, but even more they can relate to something exciting that the money may allow them to do. In other words, improvements to the bottom line are good but dramatic effects to the top line are exciting. After all, business growth is what drives most organizations, not the fairly dry and boring (to most) subject of reducing energy use.

In a very different sector, a similar perspective emerged. Jill Doucette of Synergy Consulting in Victoria BC is writing a book on greening the restaurant industry. She believes that there is a lot of scope for restaurants to be more green in their whole operation and I met with her to discuss energy use and the bottom line benefits thereof.

“It really doesn’t interest restaurant owners.” she explained to me. “They can save on the bottom line if they want to; stop driving their Audis, buy cheaper furniture, less art on the walls and so on. If you’re in the restaurant business, energy usage is often perceived as a boring cost of doing business. What does make a difference is having more money to expand, refurbish, attract more customers. That’s the angle that works with them and that’s how we should approach greening the restaurant industry.

Ok, I hear you say, but if businesses just expand as a result of the cash savings from becoming more energy efficient, doesn’t that mean that our plant manager in Ohio and our Victoria restaurant owners end up emitting even more greenhouse gases than they did before? Well perhaps so, but hopefully their respective expansions are more energy efficient than they would have been otherwise. And if we believe in the market, less energy efficient and therefore less profitable enterprises may be forced to take energy efficiency actions or fall by the wayside. Therefore it can be argued that the net result is a greening of the sector.

Either way, if businesses can get excited, albeit indirectly, as a result of implementing energy saving measures, surely that has to be good for everyone whatever you think of Al Gore.