Sustainability plans proliferate from campus to corporation

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Energy efficiency and good stewardship truly have entered the mainstream.

I got an idea of the extent of this when I went on a hunt for energy efficiency and sustainability policies. I came across a fantastically large cross section using a variety of Google searches. I began with government, headed into corporate and then finished with education.

I was most intrigued by the clarity of the college campus plans. Many spelled out energy goals and just how they would be paid for. For instance, Stanford's policy say it has allocated $15 million for major capital improvements to the most energy-intensive buildings on campus and that "new buildings and most major renovations must meet Stanford’s Guidelines for Sustainable Buildings, which adapt the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) system and the U.S. government’s Labs21 guidelines to the university setting."

Officials reported earlier this year that the University of California system would "pay about $15 million more per year in energy expenses if it had not implemented efficiency projects resulting from the systemwide sustainability policy.

"UC's policy sets a goal to install 10 megawatts of on-campus renewable energy generation by 2014. To date, 3.5 megawatts of solar power-generation capacity has been installed, including a 1-megawatt facility in Merced which provides about 20 percent of the electricity on campus."

The shortest plan overall is Walmart's: "At Walmart, we know that being an efficient and profitable business and being a good steward of the environment are goals that can work together. Our broad environmental goals at Walmart are simple and straightforward: To be supplied 100 percent by renewable energy; To create zero waste; To sell products that sustain people and the environment."

Here's Montreal-based Dawson College's short and sweet policy:

Dawson shall implement and maintain a College-wide sustainability management plan; Dawson shall develop simple and measurable sustainability benchmarks and performance indicators; Dawson shall promote environmental literacy to the College community, when appropriate, as part of College programs of study and courses.

The reasons so many institutions, corporations and governments have opted to spell out sustainable goals may have a lot to do with esoteric reasons such as making the world a better place for future generations, addressing global warming or feeling like better stewards of the environment. However, such concepts now transcend the ideals of the activists. Changes made now actually do make a difference -- in real-time cash savings. I read recently about a concept that if everybody replaced a single incandescent bulb in their homes with a compact fluorescent, the energy savings would be the same as taking thousands of cars off the road.

But simple energy efficiency retrofits make a big difference. The payback on many of them is very fast. Those with big utility bills have a huge incentive to make every effort to save money, especially in these recession-enhanced times.

Matt Kistler, senior vice-president of sustainability at Walmart, wrote this in a post on "At Walmart, sustainability continues to make us a better company by reducing waste, lowering costs, driving innovation, and helping us fulfill our mission to save people money so they can live better. In 2005, when we began our sustainability journey, we learned that taking a leadership role and collaborating with others that share our commitment and passion for sustaining the environment could benefit entire business sectors around the globe."

Sustainability, at least in the corporate world, offers multiple paybacks. Here's to more of that.

Photo: Stanford campus.