Early Briefing: Washington's Green Economy

This week we focus on companies big and small around the region that are staking their claims on the green economy.

* At its core, the business of climate change - at least the really big business of climate change - is an energy business. Many of the companies involved in that business are located here in our backyard, including AES, the Arlington energy giant that is pouring money into wind power and other alternative energy sources. There's Beltsville's SunEdison, a solar energy provider, and Gridpoint in Washington, a company that makes devices that allow utilities and consumers to control their electricity use. Read their stories here.

*At Honest Tea, executives weigh whether to sell their drinks in plastic or glass bottles. Glass can be recycled more often, but plastic weighs less, allowing more to be shipped at one time. See story.

* In his Federal Dairy, Steve Barr tells us about the Energy Department's attempt to build one of the most green buildings ever constructed by the federal government - the new National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colo. See story.

* Meet Jennifer Woofter, the Silver Spring sustainability coach that helps big and small companies become green. See story.

* At Marriott International, green has been an evolution, not a revolution. See story.

* Winchester's Trex is still trying to win converts to its composite decking products. See story.

* Local venture capitalists see risks in new energy and "cleantech" initiatives. See story.

* Jeffrey Abramson of Tower Cos. finds success in building green office buildings. See story.

By Dan Beyers  |  November 26, 2007; 8:02 AM ET
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These are a quite set of articles put together. They provide a window on those pursuing green productivity for, it seems, ethical/moral issues first (and financial as corollary) as per Honest Tea and those who started entirely with financial reasons (with any environmental/ethical/moral issues secondary, a corollary) as per Marriott.

And, they point to real opportunities, risks, challenges (of all types) when it comes to a greener economy. The Honest Tea discussion of decision-making and implications of different bottling choices is, for example, excellent business reporting in my opinion.

My greatest frustration with all of this comes probably with just one sentence in one article, the article on the NREL LEED Platinum building. In it is a quotation from the Independence Institute (a libertarian think tank) attacking the project as, basically, government waste and profligacy without any real placing of context.

While to achieve LEED Platinum, the building almost certainly has a design/build/certification premium for the cost to build/cost to buy, even more so, it will have a far lower cost to own:

* Worker productivity is higher in 'green' buildings. Research consistently shows gains of well above five percent (and, for LEED Platinum, for which there is less research, it looks to be 15+% from what I've seen). Why? Healthier work environments with less sick leave and more comfort while working (fewer allergies and headaches, for example). Natural lighting more conducive to work. Better heating/cooling making it more comfortable to work. Etc ...

2. The energy and maintenance savings by going green will pay for the additional cost, almost certainly with a less than 10 year (and probably much better) pay back period. Note: the energy cost savings are just a small part of the fiscal benefit of 'going green'.

3. There are many benefits to greener building that are difficult, within current accounting rules, to directly link back to a building's "cost". These benefits, however, should certainly be part of the government's calculations. They can include global warming impact, air quality, water runoff quality, financial risk/exposure to future energy cost increases, etc ...

For a further discussion of "Cost to Own vs Cost to Buy" see: http://energysmart.wordpress.com/2007/08/08/cost-to-buy-or-cost-to-own-a-societal-imperative-2/

Posted by: SiegeAd1 | November 26, 2007 9:59 AM

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