It’s in the air.
In the United States, government, businesses and ordinary citizens are all looking for ways to be more environmentally friendly.
At the end of January, the Obama Administration announced an initiative to reduce the Federal Government’s energy use and emissions by 28% by the year 2020.
A slew of organizations and websites, such as pristineplanet.com, climatecounts.org and ecomall.com, have popped up to help consumers choose more environmentally friendly products and services.
Hotels, ski resorts, restaurants, even auto-detail shops and movie theaters all tout their green business practices.
So do colleges and universities, with an increasing number of them also offering graduate degrees in “sustainability.”
But who are some of the biggest leaders in this drive to protect the environment?
State and local governments.
As a New York Times editorial on January 4th of this year put it: “Even as many members of Congress resist as too hard or too costly the steps necessary to address global warming, American cities and states – the largest of which have carbon footprints bigger than those of most nations – have quietly been making serious commitments to curb emissions … These states and cities shed a hopeful light on what this nation and others can and must achieve.”
Control State Agencies In Key Position
Of all the government entities in a state, the liquor control agencies in control states are among some of the best suited to achieve large, positive impacts on the environment. After all, control agencies don’t only run offices. Many run warehouse operations; some also run retail stores. Often, they have fleets of trucks and cars. And they make a lot of buying decisions, which means they could potentially influence the green business practices of these companies, from spirits suppliers to contract carriers. And, of course, they also have influence on their licensees, all the restaurants and retail establishments that can sell alcohol in their states.
And many control state agencies, perhaps surprisingly, are eager to look for environmentally friendly changes to make to their operations. “We have three reasons,” said Pat Kohler, the administrative director of the Washington State Liquor Control Board (LCB). “One: it’s the right thing to do. Two: we have the support of our governor. And three: these measures make us more efficient, which saves us money.”
Indeed, when the Oregon Liquor Control Commission (LCC) created a presentation about its environmental initiatives, its slogan was “Saving the Planet by Saving Money.”
Lynn Walding, the administrator of the Iowa Alcoholic Beverages Division (ABD), agreed with this assessment. “In some ways, tough times can force you to really look at how you do things. And there’s definitely serendipity between looking for efficiencies and looking for more environmentally friendly alternatives,” he said.
Becoming more environmentally friendly isn’t a matter of launching one large project. It is, rather, a matter of making many small changes that add up.
So, where to start?
Starting With Basics
In Montana, the Liquor Control Division (LCD) of the Department of Revenue is, like other agencies in that state, working to comply with Governor Brian Schweitzer’s 20×10 Initiative. Governor Schweitzer’s goal is to reduce the state government’s energy use by 20% by the end of this year, 2010. The state’s “green team” provides guidance to government agencies. “They talked about basic things, like weather stripping and having employees turn the lights and their computer equipment off when they leave their offices,” said Shauna Helfert, the Liquor Control Division’s administrator. “These are ‘quick wins,’ things with a lot of bang for the buck.” At the LCD’s offices, all computers have been equipped with power strips that will automatically power them down when they have not been used for a certain amount of time. Likewise, the offices have been equipped with motion sensors which, if they don’t detect motion after five minutes, will automatically turn off the lights. And the light fixtures themselves have been upgraded and use only about half the energy that the old ones did.
At the Iowa ABD, Walding and his staff looked at all the publications they produced. “We have quite a few and some of them were duplicates,” said Walding. The ABD reduced what it publishes and now delivers these publications to licensees itself, by simply putting them on the trucks that are delivering orders, lowering postage costs.
Since 2005, the ABD’s application process for a license has been entirely online. “The only piece of paper produced is the license they hang on the wall,” said Walding. “The application used to be 12 pages that was mailed out and then mailed back.” Now, the application information is entered only once, by the licensees. “That frees up our staff and has significantly reduced our internal paperwork,” said Walding. “Also, our costs for postage and envelopes have dropped and the process has been speeded up. From start to finish, a license application can go through in less than a week.”
The Washington State LCB has found that one way to make its offices less costly and more environmentally friendly was to close them. The LCB has closed five field offices so far and plans to close more as leases expire. Instead of field offices, the LCB’s enforcement officers have been set up with offices in their homes and have also been issued electronic notebooks. “They have access to all our electronic records and can print up a violation right there, in the field,” said Kohler. “There is no duplication of effort and no extra driving, either commuting into work or driving back and forth to the office to produce paperwork.”
Sixty-three percent of the vehicles these officers use are now hybrids. “Between using hybrid vehicles and reducing the amount of miles driven, our fuel costs are down $300,000,” said Kohler. The LCB began the transition to hybrid vehicles in 2007.
Warehouse Rebuilding Opportunities
Iowa’s Walding pointed out that many control state agencies have warehouses approaching the end of their lifespans and are looking to rebuild or renovate. Either scenario presents a great opportunity to add environmentally friendly features.
The Iowa ABD, for instance, did a $3 million dollar renovation of its warehouse in 2008. Some of the changes produced an immediate payoff. For instance, the new warehouse is designed to take better advantage of sunlight and also uses T5 fluorescent lights, which produce a more pleasant light with bulbs that last twice as long and use half the energy than the old light fixtures did.
Others have a longer return-on-investment. The ABD paid an additional $200,000 for a special kind of insulation to be added when the warehouse’s roof was replaced. However, Walding said, that insulation will pay for itself, in the form of lower energy bills, within seven years.
The Montana LCD is about to embark on a $2.2 million renovation of its warehouse – and being environmentally sound was a goal from the earliest stages of planning. “The environmental measures we’re taking, I hate to say they’re no brainers but they are,” said Helfert. For example, the LCD is upgrading the warehouse’s heating, ventilating and air-conditioning (HVAC) system to a much more efficient one. “It needed to be replaced anyway,” Helfert pointed out.
The renovation, which will be done by October of this year, will also feature dock shelters which will seal around a truck when it is backed up to the warehouse to load or unload, preventing heat loss. “It’s 2 degrees today. With our current dock doors, we have to open them when the trucks arrive and when they leave, sometimes for 15 to 20 minutes at a time,” explained Helfert.
Even when a control state agency’s warehouses are not undergoing a major renovation, changes can be made. In Oregon, the LCC replaced the old “energy-sucking” lighting with newer, more efficient fixtures, said Bill Mallon, wholesale operations manager. “The payback will be less than two years,” he said. He also pointed out that, as old equipment, such as conveyors, is replaced, the newer models are often more energy-efficient. The LCC’s newest conveyors, for example, are equipped with sensors that will turn off the rollers when they are not in use.
Reduce, Reuse, Recycle … Recoup
In addition to lowering energy use and emissions, many control state agencies are expanding their recycling efforts. And they are finding that recycling can actually be a money-maker for them. For example, the Virginia Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control makes about $76,000 a year just from recycling the pallets from its warehouse, enough to cover the cost of its own packaging-supply needs. In addition, it makes money from recycling cardboard, shrink-wrap and office paper.
As Iowa’s Lynn Walding pointed out, when a control-state agency recycles, it not only makes money from selling its materials – in Iowa’s case, cardboard, plastics, shrinkwrap, glass, paper and wood – to recycling companies, but it also saves money in the form of lower garbage costs. In Oregon, the LCC, as a result of its recycling efforts, went from having its garbage picked up three times a week during its busy season (the holidays) to once a week then and once every other week during the rest of the year.
Recycling as an industry is still developing, however. Some control-state agencies have not yet been able to find companies in their states who buy things like shinkwrap. In Montana, the LCD just bought a bailer (which compresses shrinkwrap into tightly pressed bales). “There is a recycling center here in Helena and they just bought our shrinkwrap for the first time,” said Helfert. “They didn’t know what it was worth and had to look it up.” In six months, the LCD has bailed up over 3,000 pounds of shrinkwrap. “That would have all ended up in the landfill,” said Helfert.
“Thinking green” in general is still in its beginning stages. Three years ago, the Virginia DABC formed its own “green team,” with representatives from all of its different divisions. The green team, which meets monthly, is currently sorting through over 40 ideas, large and small, figuring out which ones make the most sense and have the most “bang for the buck.” Some agencies, including Virginia’s, have employee-suggestion programs, which award employees, sometimes financially, for green ideas that the agency ends up adopting.
Becoming more environmentally friendly “is a good project, one people feel good about,” said Iowa’s Walding. “Most people inherently want to do the right thing, want to make a difference. And it’s great when you can do that and save or even make money. It truly is a win-win situation.”
It’s In The Bag
Another idea that is in the air: replacing disposable shopping bags with reusable ones.rst
At the beginning of this year, Washington DC passed a law charging grocery store customers 5 cents for each disposable plastic shopping bag they require at checkout. Other states and municipalities have are considering ways to reduce the use of these bags and many supermarket chains across the country sell reusable shopping bags at their checkouts. San Francisco was the first city to ban such plastic bags entirely, in 2007.
The reason? According the National Resources Defense Council, plastic shopping bags, which are made of petroleum, take 1,000 years to decompose and endanger some ocean animals that mistake them for food, are the most common litter in the world.
Two local ABC boards in North Carolina are among the control-state agencies joining the effort. Last May, the Orange County ABC Board started selling reusable bags in its eight stores and has since sold over 400 of them. The Greensboro ABC Board just started selling similar reusable bags this month. Because these local boards cannot, by law, make money from selling products other than their beverage alcohol, they sell their bags at cost, plus tax.
“With the low number of reusable bags sold [in the Orange County ABC stores], it is difficult to measure how much money is being saved,” admitted Dan Sykes, the Orange County ABC Board’s general manager. “”However, a sturdy plastic bag costs about 13 cents each; therefore, every time a reusable bag is used, it saves the board money, it keeps another plastic bag out of the landfill and there is no shipping cost, handling cost or disposal cost involved.”
Going Green with a Green Thumb
Dan Boris, the groundskeeper for the Oregon Liquor Control Commission in Portland, OR, won a Governor’s Sustainability Award several years ago for the changes he made in how the LCC’s campus, encompassing both its offices and one of its warehouses is cared for.
The very first thing he did was to start composting the yard debris rather than pay to have it hauled away. “The LCC’s dumpsters had been being picked up once a day. I cut that by at least two days a week and the bill by almost half,” said Boris.
And he didn’t spend money to compost either. “I’m pretty cheap, to be honest,” he said. “I didn’t go as high tech as a professional composter. I don’t even use a chipper. I just pile it up out of sight behind some buildings and let nature take its course.” And then, when he eventually uses it on the LCC’s plantings, he saves money because he doesn’t have to buy compost.
He also avoids using chemicals. “I cut down 95, 96, 97% on the amount of insecticides I use,” said Boris, who actually maintains a pesticide-application license. “I go for years without applying anything.” He uses only about one-fifth the amount of fertilizer recommended for the lawns. And the bushes and trees he cares for – which are thriving – go “for years and years” without being treated with fertilizer. He has cut his chemical bill by almost 80 percent.
“It’s so simple,” he said. “It’s not some big, convoluted thing. I let nature take its course.” He does not, for example, trim the LCC’s plantings into ornamental shapes, which puts a lot of pressure on the plants, but rather allows them to grow more naturally.
Even the LCC’s fountain is cared for without chemicals. “I figured out the way to keep it clean was to drain it once a week rather than treat it with herbicides,” said Boris. “It’s so simple.”
Despite – and many would say because of – Boris’s more natural approach, the LCC’s campus gets many compliments from many passersby, from motorists driving past to people who feel, on a pretty day, more comfortable stretching out on a lawn they know has not been doused with chemicals.