Construction, Manufacturing, and Technology

Business leaders address carbon emissions concerns

Letter sent to Congress highlights economic threats in Fourth National Climate Assessment.

February 1, 2019
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More than 500 business leaders, investors and other professionals, including eight from Michigan, recently signed a letter sent to every member of the 116th Congress imploring lawmakers to “take immediate and ambitious action” to address the economic threats made clear in the Trump administration’s Fourth National Climate Assessment.

The letter was organized by Environmental Entrepreneurs (E2), a national nonpartisan group of business professionals from a variety of sectors who advocate for economically and environmentally sound policies.

“As business leaders and investors who live, work and do business in every part of the country, we demand that Congress heed this report … and act rapidly to reduce carbon emissions to prevent the worst effects of climate change, including passing legislation that will reduce greenhouse gas emissions, increase the deployment of clean energy technologies and better prepare our nation’s infrastructure for the impacts of climate change that are growing daily,” the letter read.

According to the Fourth NCA, rising temperatures, climbing sea levels and changes in extreme events are expected to increasingly disrupt and damage not only ecosystems but also critical infrastructure and property, labor productivity and the vitality of communities.

Regional economies and industries that depend on natural resources and favorable climate conditions, like agriculture, tourism and fisheries, are particularly vulnerable to the growing impacts of climate change.

The assessment further noted rising temperatures are projected to reduce the efficiency of power generation while increasing energy demands, resulting in higher electricity costs. 

But E2 Executive Director Bob Keefe is optimistic because he noted the business sector is starting to recognize the economic impacts of climate change.

“We already have the environmental impacts,” Keefe said. “That part is clear and undisputed for everybody except the guy in the White House, perhaps.”

For Michigan’s economy specifically, which relies heavily on agriculture and tourism, climate change comes with the cost of excessive flooding in the Upper Peninsula and drought hurting farms and forestry.

“There’s a cost to infrastructure, when extreme weather causes roads to buckle, when bridges get washed out,” Keefe said. “If we don’t act more quickly, it’s going to cost our country somewhere close to the tune of $500 billion, bigger than the Great Recession.”

Keefe also said the automotive industry is a huge factor, not just in Michigan where auto is king, but also for the rest of the country. Because of several factors, including major utilities closing their coal plants for more efficient grid alternatives, like the Business Journal reported Consumers Energy is doing, auto emissions now are the largest source of CO2 emissions in the country.

“The good news is car makers, I believe, are now starting to realize this,” Keefe said. “(Electric vehicle) sales were up substantially last year, and it’s been a long time coming. Every car maker in Michigan now has EV models.”

In Holland, Global Battery Solutions fights its own battle for sustainability by repairing and recycling lithium-ion batteries, like those found in EVs, thereby extending the life and revenue stream of a single battery and keeping it out of a landfill.

Ellington Ellis is the co-founder of Global Battery Solutions and one of the 500 business leaders across the county who signed the letter to Congress. He argued the business community as a whole has a responsibility to drive the environmental issue, especially as it relates to educating the populace on sustainable jobs in the renewable energy sector.

Personally, Ellis said he would like to see a specific government mandate to track the flow of lithium-ion batteries. Global Battery Solutions helps monitor the revenue streams of batteries by implementing tracking technology in all of its own batteries.

“Right now, if a battery comes out of a Tesla or a Chevy Volt, there’s no real accountability around those batteries,” Ellis said. “They have tons and tons of batteries just sitting on the side of the road.”

“It’s pennies on the dollar to put that (technology in),” he added. “If the government put in a policy where battery manufacturers would have to have that technology in their batteries, it would ultimately cut down on carbon emissions.”

Mark Lee, who also signed the letter to Congress, is the founder of Better World Builders in Kalamazoo. His company centers on “building a better world” by eliminating energy waste from homes and businesses.

“The world’s not going to clean up itself,” Lee said. “We need people, companies and our government to help push us in the direction of making the world a cleaner place for future generations.”

Better World Builders provides building inspections and testing, air sealing, ventilation control, insulation replacement, lead and asbestos abatement, solar installation and more.

While Better World focuses on having a house that is safe to live in, is comfortable and has a high durability, Lee added the economic benefits amount to an average 30 percent reduction in home energy bills, and some have been as high as 70 percent.

“If you test the house and look at it correctly, you don’t just try to cover up the old insulation with new insulation,” Lee said. “It’s not only easier to breathe better, but it lowers your energy bill.”

Lee estimated every four houses Better World makes more efficient equals one house with a “net zero” energy usage, putting less strain on the grid.

“We’re burning through a lot of natural gas, propane and a lot of electricity for air conditioning,” he said. “That wasted energy translates into something no one gets to enjoy.”

With the arrival of a new Congressional House, Lee said he hopes the new members will be more attentive to environmental issues. Part of the reason many new members were elected was because they were clear on their intent to represent their constituents’ desires, which include a healthy economy that mirrors a healthy environment, Lee said.

But Lee said he also believes being environmentally and economically sound doesn’t have to be a partisan issue, pointing to the Governor’s Energy Excellence Award, started in 2015 by former Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder.

The Energy Excellence Award recognizes Michigan organizations and individuals for their commitment to energy efficiency.

“I think it’s a great program that we should be promoting — having that as a rally cry to help us focus and build employment,” Lee said.

Although Better World is a small company with about 20 employees, Lee said there are roughly 3.2 million Americans employed in the clean energy sector, whether they’re putting up solar panels, wind turbines or doing what his employees are doing by increasing the efficiency and value of homes and businesses.

“These jobs are really important for our housing stock but also for our environment when you look at the big picture,” Lee said.

E2 members have founded or funded more than 2,500 companies, created more than 600,000 jobs and manage more than $100 billion in venture and private equity capital, according to e2.org.

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