Environmental responsibility can soothe the consciences of customers and employees alike, and certain measures can even save money, but when it comes to regulation of greenhouse gas emissions, getting EPA approval can break the bank.
Fortunately for smaller business ventures, the agency recently announced that it would not require permits for businesses with greenhouse gas emissions of less than 25,000 metric tons per year. Under the Clean Air Act, businesses above that benchmark would only need to secure a permit for newly constructed facilities or major overhauls of existing ones.
"We have carefully targeted our efforts to exempt the vast majority of small and medium-sized businesses," EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said at a climate conference in Los Angeles. "We know the corner coffee shop is no place to look for meaningful carbon reductions."
However, EPA officials were not merely looking to spare smaller businesses the wallet-ache. If they were to regulate emissions of less than 25,000 metric tons, millions of small emitters such as restaurants, shops, and even residential buildings would have to apply for permits and invest in emissions reducing technology, which would swamp the agency. The EPA has plans to conduct studies to evaluate the feasibility of monitoring smaller sources of air pollution but the implementation could be more than 10 years away.
While small businesses might not have the resources to sink into emissions controlling technology they do have some advantages over their larger counterparts. "Individual small businesses generally cannot encourage environmental improvements in their supply chain the way a company like Wal-Mart can," says Marshall Chase, an associate at Business for Social Responsibility a global sustainable business consultancy. "But they may be more nimble and creative in finding solutions to environmental problems."
A case in point is Steve Savage, the CEO of Eco-Products, a Boulder, Colorado-based manufacturer and wholesaler of compostable food-service packaging goods. In addition to making his company's products eco-friendly, Savage has done everything from investing in solar power, to starting recycling, composting and gardening projects in and around his building, to buying carbon offsets for his company's shipping footprint.
At roughly 82 metric tons of emissions in a year, for which Savage invests $20,000 in gas capturing technologies, Eco-Products is well below the EPA's radar, but he has his reasons for the offsets and the other efforts. "It does more for us than just PR and marketing, it makes people who work here feel better about this job," he says, and consequently "it helps you retain employees."