A Business Case for Climate Action

We’re very pleased to highlight a guest blog today from Nora Ferm Nickum, a 2017 Jackson Leadership Fellow, about her project this year.  Her work emphasizes the importance of climate action in the Pacific Northwest and what businesses can do to seize the initiative. -Lara Iglitzin, Executive Director

Nora Ferm Nickum

Climate change is a massive challenge that requires public policy answers at all levels of government, but also widespread action by the private sector and within our communities. For my Henry M. Jackson Leadership Fellow project, I sought to learn about how businesses here in the Seattle area are helping to tackle this challenge. I interviewed ten businesses across a range of industries, from retail and recreation to construction and health care. Throughout, there was a common thread that climate change action is not only a necessity, but also an opportunity. Steps that reduce emissions can save costs, attract customers, and demonstrate leadership.

I heard stories from businesses that are leading change in their industries. For example, Fremont Brewing pilot-tested a biodigester that turns its spent grain into methane and then electricity. There are systems like that available for very large established breweries, but not small ones. Fremont’s goal is to show that it is feasible—and that there is demand—so that manufacturers will recognize the market opportunity and create systems that can work for smaller breweries.

Srirup Kumar of Impact Bioenergy explains how the biodigester works. Photo credit: Impact Bioenergy.
Concrete pour. Credit: Sellen Construction.

Meanwhile, Sellen Construction worked with a local concrete supplier to figure out the carbon content of more than 80 types of concrete, so that they could choose lower-carbon options in their projects. They made this information freely available so that other companies can also make informed choices and lower their impact.

Virginia Mason learned that the use of just one kind of inhaled anesthesia—desflurane gas—was alone responsible for nearly 5% of the hospital system’s overall greenhouse gas emissions. Using desflurane for one hour of surgery has been estimated to have the same climate change impact as driving a car for as much as 470 miles. The anesthesiology team determined last year that outside of a few neurological cases, alternatives could be used that cost the same, provided the same benefits for patients, and had a lower environmental impact. Now, this kind of anesthesia is used 90% less often at Virginia Mason than it was before.

Stevens Pass Mountain Resort’s new lot is free for cars with four or more people. Photo credit: Stevens Pass.

I also heard stories about actions that are replicable and easy—both for other businesses and for us as individuals. For example, Stevens Pass Mountain Resort incentivizes skiers to carpool, and bus drivers to not leave their buses idling all day. Rick Steves’ Europe teaches classes about how to travel light, and doesn’t sell large suitcases. Less weight on the plane means less fuel is burned.

Tom Douglas Restaurants uses seasonal produce, including from their own farm in Washington State. Buying local produce cuts down on emissions from transportation.

Staff bring local produce from Prosser Farm to one of Tom Douglas’s restaurants. Credit: Sarah Flotard.

Additional stories—about innovative steps being taken by companies like Boeing, NBBJ, and Microsoft—can be found in the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce’s Bright Green in an Emerald City report released last fall.

Senator Jackson was a pragmatist and a problem-solver. He cared about the environment—he played a leading role in the conservation and energy legislation in the 1960s and 1970s—and he also sought to promote economic development in our state. He recognized that those goals need not be contradictory. Washington businesses can learn from his vision and legacy, and from the actions being taken by businesses—like those highlighted here—who recognize that there is a business case for climate change action, and plenty of room for innovation to expand the solution set. I appreciate having had the opportunity through this leadership fellowship to explore this issue more deeply.

Nora Ferm Nickum is a 2017 Henry M. Jackson Leadership Fellow and a Senior Associate at Cascadia Consulting Group.

One thought on “A Business Case for Climate Action

  1. Congratulations, Nora. What a compelling project! Now more than ever we need examples of how organizations can remain profitable while respecting the commons and valuing natural resources.

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