Summit discusses sustainability as economic strategy

Many arguments advocating sustainability efforts include appeals on behalf of baby animals or predictions about the end of the world. However, the fourth annual Intermountain Sustainability Summit, held in Weber State University’s Shepherd Union Building, emphasized another reason people should pursue sustainability: business savvy.

“Companies that are leading in innovation regarding ways of using less carbon energy have higher financial performances,” said Hunter Lovins, the keynote speaker for the summit.

Lovins is the president and founder of the nonprofit organization National Capitalism Solutions. According to its mission statement online, her company works with government and corporate clients to develop innovative and practical ways to increase efficiency and environmental practices, as well as economic sustainability.

“It’s better business,” she said. “The companies that are reporting to the Carbon Disclosure Project have twice the average return than the Global 500, the 500 largest companies on earth.”

She said that, by simply adjusting energy usage behavior, many organizations can cut enough expenses to create new jobs, increase the pay of current employees and gain more profit.

“My team worked with a big company that had 6,300 computers in use,” Lovins said. “Publishing a policy that required employees to turn off their computers when they weren’t sitting in front of them would probably save that company about $700,000 a year.”

She said the Salt Lake City School District saves $530,000 a year from lower energy costs. These savings equate to 21 first-year teaching salaries.

Germany has a program called the feed-in tariff, in which government requires the utility to give anyone who uses green energy a competitive price, so more people and companies are using solar panels.

“There are towns in Germany that are 100 percent renewably powered and are producing 300 percent of the energy they need, so they can sell what’s left over,” she said.

Lovins praised WSU’s goal to be carbon-neutral by 2050, but said that wasn’t fast enough.

“By 2050 . . . it’s you guys who will suffer the consequences of not having a good climate policy in place,” she said.

The summit is organized in part by Jennifer Bodine, WSU’s sustainability specialist, who works to achieve the carbon-neutral goals.

“We do everything from physically working on the projects as far as putting in recycling bins around campus and upgrading equipment, to education and outreach, to putting on this conference,” Bodine said.

WSU alumnus Chris Brown founded the conference while still a student for his senior project. In its first year, 85 people attended to learn about recycling. Each year since, more people attend, and the conference covers more environmental topics.

This year’s summit included recycling, sustainability and energy tracks, as well as a student track for the first time.

“It was generated out of previous conferences,” Bodine said. “Students from other universities wanted to interact with one another, so we made it so they could all congregate together and talk about issues they care about and network together.”

Brown said the different track options help students pick classes they’re most interested in and avoid highly specialized topics that are for industry professionals.

Bodine said the conference is crucial to update the public on the rapidly changing world of sustainability.

“I think one of the most alarming things Hunter said today is that our window of opportunity to do something about climate is very short,” Bodine said. “By 2017, we have to make some drastic cuts in energy consumption. They’ve actually calculated how many gigatons of carbon we can put into the atmosphere before it changes the temperature and our planet becomes uninhabitable.”

More information on the conference is available at