Businesses going green without losing green


Senior Reporter

Is green the new gold, or it could it be fool’s gold? That question was the topic of discussion for local businessmen and academics who gathered at OU Friday, for the “It’s Not Easy Being Green” forum.

Environmentally conscious businesspeople talked about how investing in energy efficiency and other green solutions doesn’t have to be a money loser.

“Green does not have to cost more,” said Paul Murray, director of environmental safety at Herman Miller, Inc.

Murray used the example of Herman Miller’s state-of-the-art production facility that raised the bar on energy efficiency, recycling and eco-friendly operations in a factory. The annual savings the building incurs as a result of the changes quickly made up for the initial investment. So far the building has saved the company more than $6.5 million in 7 years.

Not everyone is that optimistic about being green.

“A company can be completely green, but if they are not making a profit, they will quickly go out of business,” said Dr. Wolfgang Sofka, a research fellow at the Center for European Economic Research.

For others at the conference, the problem with “going green” is making people aware of eco-friendly alternatives that are available.

“To me one of the biggest things is awareness and education,” said Bob Burnside, owner of Fireside Home Construction.

Burnside and Steven Burch, vice president of Strategic Marketing for Pulte Homes, spoke about how “green” is emerging as a popular trend in home building.

 Customer awareness and potential cost savings are reasons more homeowners consider going green,  Burch said.

Others see the movement as an inevitability in the changing world in which we live.

“It’s not about being green and enjoying the environment,” said Andrew Mangan, executive director of the U.S. Business Council for Sustainable Development. “The world is really changing, and a growing population forces us to change our lifestyle.”

Professor Russell Belk, chair of marketing for Kraft Foods Canada, said he has seen this trend emerge in food packaging.

He said fast-food chains went from using foam packaging that takes a millennia to break down, to using wax paper packaging that only takes 300 years.

“We have a problem with creating disposable packaging that sticks around long after it’s usefulness has run out,” Belk said. “Ideally McDonald’s would use a wrapper that doubles as an after dinner mint,” he said jokingly. “Now that’s packaging that has the perfect lifespan.”

Michigan Rep. Kathleen Law has proposed legislation aimed at making Michigan more energy independent.

The Michigan Renewable Resources Act would allow individuals to harness wind or solar energy and then sell that energy back into the power grid.

Law says that currently only 2.3 percent of Michigan’s power is renewable.

The bill is a first of its kind in the United States, and is modeled after the German renewable resources act.

Rep. Law is confident that Michigan can become the standard bearer for this new wave of technology.     

She points out that the solar panels used in the German plan are manufactured in Michigan, yet we do not utilize these technologies. We also have an untapped resource right above our heads.

“Michigan is to wind what Saudi Arabia is to oil,” Law said. “You go up 100 meters, and it doesn’t stop blowing.”

The forum was presented by OU’s School of Business Administration. Marketing professor John Henke provided the opening remarks for the meeting and served as moderator.