Monday, January 12, 2009

Corporate Environmentalism and Sustainability in Middletown

By Karen Swartz

Environmentalism. Climate Change. Going Green. We hear more and more about these ideas and concepts every day. McDonald’s has an entire program dedicated to Social Responsibility. Universities around the country are creating Sustainability Offices. UPS has become known for saving millions of gallons of fuel by eliminating left turns from their truck routes. Grocery stores are eliminating plastic bags and encouraging customers to bring their own of reusable bags. Closer to home, Bristol-Myers Squibb’s research facility in Wallingford was recently recognized by the Green Building Initiative for promoting and instituting green building practices including having a comprehensive energy management plan with on site renewable energy and high-efficiency features.

Like any business initiative, all of these environmental programs are implemented first and foremost because they are good for business and the bottom line. Sometimes environmental initiatives are the outcome of regulatory requirements or mandates. At the same time they afford the companies implementing them a public relations boon. And, though not always the best choice, these programs do provide choices for the environmentally conscious consumer. However, all choices must be weighed carefully in the full context of ALL available choices. A consumer may feel that she has done the right thing by choosing Poland Spring bottled water because the company redesigned their bottles to reduce the amount of plastic used in making them. A better choice would be to put a filter on the sink faucet and fill a reusable water bottle from home.

Life is full of choices and everyone is capable of making the choice to do something about the issues that we care about. Some may not be willing to give up convenience in order to reduce waste, but everyone should do what they can at their own personal level of comfort. And it is heartening to see that there are more and more green options becoming available with time.

Effecting change can begin at the local level. So, what is happening with sustainability right here in Middletown?

The Book Bower

The Book Bower is a store that opened recently in Main Street Market and this business is making considerable efforts to reuse and recycle. The Book Bower buys and sells used books, which is a form of recycling and waste reduction in itself. In addition, the store owner Linda Bowers has made green business a priority by installing carpeting made out of recycled plastic bottles, obtaining web hosting from a server powered by wind energy, and using 100% post-industrial plastic bags.

Middlesex Hospital

Peg Arico, Middlesex Hospital’s Manager of Public Relations and Communications, indicates that Middlesex Hospital has a very rigorous recycling program and has also implemented many environmental improvements recently. The Food & Nutrition Department switched from using polystyrene cups to paper cups in February and as of today all “dish room” chemicals have been switched to environmentally friendly products. About two years ago, a change was made from using traditional string mops on the floors to using micro fiber mops in most areas. This change alone reduced overall use of floor cleaning solution by over 80%. As aging equipment gets replaced, more efficient pieces are purchased that use much less water and chemicals and reduce the noise and/or dust burden on the environment. Disinfectants that are registered with the Environmental Protection Agency are used in the Hospital’s green cleaning processes.

Wesleyan University

Wesleyan is making enormous strides in sustainability and has established a climate action plan in accordance with the ACUPCC national organization with a pledge to become carbon neutral by 2050. Bill Nelligan, the Director of Environmental Health, Safety, and Sustainability stated that “Wesleyan University has a strong committment and the mechanisms in place to live up to those commitments.” Nelligan believes that Wesleyan will attain carbon neutrality well ahead of the 2050 pledge date. The campus has implemented numerous initiatives in support of the sustainabililty mission, including a rideshare program, kitchen waste donation to the City of Middletown composting program, and a solar panel donation to Middletown schools. Further, professors are embracing sustainability in the classroom and incorporating concepts into their lectures.

City of Middletown

The City of Middletown Recycling Coordinator, Kim O’Rourke, indicates that the City is putting large efforts towards sustainability. She says that “from the solid waste perspective, we do have a comprehensive and awarding winning recycling program. We collect many items beyond the state mandate and recycle over 30% of the City's solid waste. We have a very active recycling program, including a full array of educational programs and special programs to recycle unique items such as sneakers, food waste and electronics. We are running a pilot vermicomposting program and an outreach campaign on organic lawn care. The City is working towards using less chemicals and pesticides on its own grounds and using organic lawn care practices. The recycling program is overseen by the Resource Recycling Advisory Council, which is currently researching broadening its mission to include other sustainability issues. They would like to see a more comprehensive approach to developing sustainable practices in the City and coordinating educational campaigns on other sustainable issues beyond solid waste and recycling. “ O’Rourke states that there will be additional increased efforts in the near future.

Seasons Federal Credit Union

Seasons Federal Credit Union, which is headquartered in Middletown, recently opened the first in Connecticut LEED certified green building financial institution in Meriden. According to the U.S. Green Building Council, “LEED, The Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building Rating System™ encourages and accelerates global adoption of sustainable green building and development practices through the creation and implementation of universally understood and accepted tools and performance criteria.” Seasons is also offering a quarter point discount on loan rates for hybrid vehicles.

Pratt Whitney

Pratt & Whitney’s Middletown facility where manufacturing, assembly and testing of jet engines take place employs approximately 2,500 people. A recent infrastructure improvement project at the facility led to major reductions in energy use and air emissions. The CO2 reduction alone is a 20% reduction from previous powerhouse emissions.

All of the strides that have been made by these businesses set a wonderful example for Middlesex County.. We can show our commitment to sustainability by supporting green businesses and asking businesses to do more. Simply inquiring into what a business may be doing to become more environmentally sustainable sends the message that the public is interested and concerned about this issue and wants to see change on the local level. So ask questions and use your buying power to support green enterprises. It is good for our own health and the health of our community and future generations.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This was a fabulous post -- and an example of how helpful it is to have a writer who is knowledgeable on an issue. I forwarded it to a local businessperson with the challenge to do the same at their company!

Please write for the Eye again!

-A. Nona Mouse