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The New Hampshire - News
Issue: 11/16/04

Trend toward sustainability in U.S. businesses

By Meghann McCluskey

Bob Eckhert turns heads on his morning commute. The UNH natural resources professor is the proud owner of a 2004 Honda Civic Hybrid, a car powered by a combination of gasoline and electricity. People are impressed by the car's flashy silver exterior, Eckhert said, and doubly impressed when they find out its gas mileage.

"I get about 50 miles to the gallon," Eckhert said. "But I'm not in it for the payback. That's never even come into the equation for me."

By showing his car to people around campus, Eckhert wants to send a message to the public about the importance of leading an earth-friendly lifestyle. Eckhert is a proponent of sustainability, the practice of living in-synch with the environment and discontinuing the exploitation of its resources. With his new hybrid car, Eckhert leads by example. He hopes his purchase will foster a growing market for small businesses and large corporations like Honda that embrace sustainability.

The past decade has seen a steady increase in U.S. businesses moving toward sustainable practices. Major oil companies like Shell and Sunoco are exploring alternative fuel sources such as hydrogen power. The organic food industry in America has risen an average of 20 percent per year. Enticed by environmentally minded consumers like Bob Eckhert, many companies are learning that the switch to sustainability boosts efficiency, employee productivity and gross profit.

Krystal Planet is an up-and-coming business capitalizing on the consumer interest in sustainability. The company's motto, "Improve the Environment and Make Money at the Same Time," emphasizes the profit to be had by adopting sustainable practices. Krytsal Planet sells green tags, or renewable energy certificates, to New England homeowners and electricity companies. With the purchase of a green tag through Krystal Planet, East Coast consumers "trade" the electricity in their homes by supporting wind farms in the Midwest.

Mark Kent, a representative with the Rhode Island-based company, said rising oil prices in the United States are creating consumer demand for wind power.

"It's becoming more lucrative," Kent said. "People like the idea that their energy is coming indirectly from a renewable source."

Krystal Planet has recently partnered with major energy companies like General Electric and Valmont to explore the potential environmental and financial benefit of alternative energy sources.

Environmentally conscious businesses like Krystal Planet flocked to UNH last month for the first annual Northeast Campus Sustainability Summit. On a rainy Friday afternoon, under a large white tent that stood out against a backdrop of scarlet foliage, members of the Durham community drank hot cider and sampled organic breads while they chatted with company representatives about the rewards of sustainability.

At the far end of the tent, tucked into a corner alongside a display of cornstalks and pumpkins, Patrick Miller of the Jordan Institute shared his organization's findings on the benefits of sustainability in the workplace. The Jordan Institute is a science-based non-profit organization that recently conducted studies on green buildings, structures that bring elements of the natural world indoors.

"We're finding that there's a link between the amount of natural light in a work environment and employee performance," Miller said.

Larger companies investing in the environment aren't the only ones benefiting from sustainable practices. Elizabeth Obelenes is a small-time organic farmer in New Hampshire who sells pesticide-free cucumbers, green beans and Swiss chard to neighbors and friends. At last week's fair, while passing out literature printed on recycled paper, Obelenes said there is a growing demand for local, all-natural produce in New Hampshire.

"I know one farmer who makes close to $40,000 per year with organic farming," she said. "It's all about how much knowledge you have."

But not all entrepreneurs experimenting with sustainability are interested in increased productivity or profit. When Bob St. Peter graduated from UNH in 1998 he wanted to find a job that was rewarding, a job in which he could help people on a daily basis. St. Peter was hired as development director for Sustainable Harvest International, a non-profit organization that teaches impoverished farmers in Central America about sustainable methods of agriculture. According to St. Peter, farmers are finding increasing crop yields when they adopt sustainable practices.

"We had one farmer whose yield went from $600 to almost $4,000 in one year alone by growing his crops organically," St. Peter said.

While St. Peter himself may not profit from the lucrative practice of sustainable farming, he said he benefits from the knowledge that his organization is working to spread environmental awareness to Central America.

Business and non-profit organizations invested in sustainability couldn't survive without consumer support. Adam Ward, the organizer of last month's Sustainability Summit at UNH, said he makes purchasing from sustainable companies and local businesses part of his regular routine.

"When you buy apples from local orchards as opposed to getting them from California, you're saving energy," Ward said. "In turn, you're helping to boost the local economy."

In addition to his support for sustainable businesses, Ward tries to incorporate environmentally friendly practices into all aspects of his life. He uses public transportation whenever possible. He buys used clothing from second hand stores. During the summer months, he even has his own garden that overflows with ripe tomatoes, green peppers and creeping summer squash vines.

"No matter how sustainably you live, you can always do better," Ward said.

Eckhert agrees with Ward in that there is always more room for sustainability. That's why, in addition to cruising the streets of Durham in his hybrid car, Eckhert heats his home with local wood and lives in a solar-designed house. When he needs eggs, Eckhert pays a visit to a local farmer in Barrington. He supports sustainable businesses whenever possible with the hope that increased consumer demand will encourage more companies to invest in environmental health.

"It's never too late for companies to go on a greener path," Eckhert said. "Making small changes can make a huge difference in the long run."

Updated: 2016/06/30

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