Earth in the Balance Sheet

Will Going Green Put Us in the Red?

By Norma Butterworth-McKittrick

earth_balance

Who wants to save the Earth? Everybody! How should we do it? That's where things get a little tricky.

"Going green is a no-brainer—there's no arguing with it," says Robert Robicheaux, Ph.D., chairman of UAB's Department of Marketing and Industrial Distribution. "There's an almost universally recognized need to protect and preserve natural resources since we are using them faster than they can be replaced."

But recognizing a need and doing something about it are two separate problems. All kinds of industries have made commitments to produce goods and provide services in environmentally conscientious ways. At first they hoped that saving the earth might also be a good way to save money. As time passes, however, CEOs are beginning to admit that green practices aren't turning to black on their bottom lines.

Making Cents of Change

"The goals are worthy, but the challenge is greater than anticipated," Robicheaux says. "It is just not yet economically advantageous." You could certainly argue that this shouldn't be an issue, Robicheaux points out, but it's also important to note that "people running corporations are not managing their own money." No matter how personally enlightened business leaders are about ecological concerns, he says, they have "to balance absolute responsibility to earn a profit with absolute responsibility to preserve the environment and protect the well-being of workers."

In the past several years, Robicheaux says the students in his M.B.A. classes have expressed more interest in the green movement, especially in reducing greenhouse emissions and saving resources. "This semester, 36 students are making going green a personal high priority," he says. "When they make a career decision, they will look for corporations that are sensitive to and proactive in protecting the world."

Thinking Outside the Bulb

As one of the biggest consumers of energy in Alabama, UAB has long recognized the necessity—and the benefit—of going green. The university's Energy Management Department was created 25 years ago, although in the past it has focused on behind-the-scenes work such as maintaining equipment in mechanical and electrical rooms. Now, as part of a new "Think Green—Save Gold" campaign, staff are taking a much more visible role.

To Sleep, Perchance to Save:
UAB's Innovative Energy Management Efforts

Some elements of the campaign duplicate energy-saving efforts that all citizens have been called to adopt—replacing inefficient incandescent bulbs with power-saving compact fluorescent models, for example, and turning off lights and computers at night and on weekends. But other elements only make sense in the context of the university's vast, energy-consuming network of facilities.

The Energy Management Department is working with faculty in the School of Engineering to analyze building usage to see if classes can be grouped together at night and save power by shutting down unused floors. Engineers are also testing the feasibility of vegetation-covered "green roofs" that would reduce summertime heat gain and lower use of air conditioning.

Right now, creative thinking appears to be the best way to resolve the conflicting demands of both fiscal and environmental stewardship. And as public awareness of the threat of global warming grows, "the bar will be raised for all," Robicheaux says. "Business and government organizations will simply have to ‘retool' and meet the challenge."

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