Sustainability good for the bottom line

Charles Agar
Jordan Curet/The Aspen Times
ALL | The Aspen Times

On Friday, sustainability advocate Hunter Lovins addressed a group at the Aspen Institute, kicking off the Aspen Community Development Department’s free lecture series.The “Exploring the Future” speaker series is designed to educate the city’s decision-makers and foster dialogue among residents about issues affecting the community. And Lovins was quick to point out that her talk was taking place in the city’s first Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design gold standard-certified building – the Aspen Institute’s new Doerr-Hosier Center.And, Lovins told to the group of 50 that “sustainability” is more than a buzzword.Lovins helped found the Rocky Mountain Institute, and is a founder and current president of Natural Capitalism Inc., a nonprofit promoting sustainability. She also is a professor of sustainable management, a brand-new field, at the Presidio School of Management in California.In her first public appearance in Aspen in five years, Lovins encouraged individual and corporate action to alleviate climate change, and she illustrated the importance of sustainability and energy efficiency to the bottom line.”We’re going to innovate, or we’re not going to survive,” Lovins said.

Lovins did not paint a pretty picture of the planet’s many lost ecosystems: threatened species such as the polar bear, skyrocketing human populations, high energy prices and the Earth’s rising temperatures, which she said could submerge some coastal cities within 50 years.”Climate change is for real,” Lovins said, and not even the hundreds of millions spent on the Biosphere project could keep humans alive on their own marshaled resources.”Imagine [Aspen] like Grand Junction,” Lovins said, citing low annual snowpacks and higher temperatures recently.Lovins said sustainability is a bandwagon that even the likes of California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has jumped on. California enacted the first carbon cap, and other states are following suit – and Lovins likened going green to a domino effect as countries, companies and people realize that energy efficiency are good for the health of people, communities and the economy.Lovins called for businesses to use renewable energy and find ways to run more efficiently, something that is paying huge dividends for companies such as Wal-Mart and DuPont.”A typical community is bled to death buying energy from the outside,” Lovins said. She called for personal action, from changing to efficient light bulbs to buying carbon credits on the Chicago Climate Exchange to offset personal travel.

“We shape buildings, and they shape us,” Lovins said.She said making buildings more energy efficient not only helps the environment but will “save your community money,” citing cases like the Condé Nast building at Times Square in New York City, which runs on photovoltaic energy.”We need genuine solutions to the problems that face us,” Lovins stressed, not just switching to other problem.”China surpasses us a the world’s biggest pig,” Lovins said, and places like India and China’s dependence on oil and other resources will only grow. Lovins said “business as usual” will simply change.But while many believe in allowing the free market to drive the change, Lovins said energy efficiency and sustainability is about taking care of the next generation, adding, “That’s our job.””Companies are already being sued” because they’re not following good environmental practices, Lovins said. But companies that are going green are winning out in the global economy and on the stock market, Lovins said.

“This is now simply good business,” Lovins said.And change requires leadership, she said, something Lovins defined as “extraordinary courage by ordinary people.””Democracy is a contact sport. Get involved,” Lovins said.Aspen’s Planning, Building and Zoning, Environmental Health and Community Development departments as well as the Canary Initiative and Aspen Meadows, also sponsored the speaker series.State Sen. Gail Schwartz, D-Snowmass Village, will speak Aug. 17 at the same location about legislation in Colorado.Charles Agar’s e-mail address is