I hope I never have to see another image of a polar bear cub stranded on an ice floe in the middle of the Arctic Ocean. Not because I resent what others might see as environmentalist propaganda, but because the realities of climate change, and the U.S.'s contributions to them, make me really sad. And that just compounds my feelings of helplessness about what I can do to change the situation.
One group of entrepreneurs that don't ever seem to feel helpless, and who are actively working for change, are members of the Inc. 500. And they had a lot of really smart things to say in response to President Obama's executive order on Monday, which would curb carbon emissions and other harmful pollutants by up to 30 percent by the year 2050. I reached out to many of the companies on our list that either produce energy, or work in tandem with energy producers, to gauge their temperature.
Here's a quick look at how the new carbon emission rules would hit both traditional and renewable energy companies:
Founded in 2005 by former marine Rod Long, the Houston company provides technical services to energy companies excavating in the deep sea environment using underwater robots and other highly technical gear. Long says he favors high standards on emissions and other environmental regulations, but resents redundant regulations that suffocate businesses with too much administration. If gas companies build fewer deep sea rigs, they're likely to shift to alternative energy like wind power, and Team Trident plans to be there.
"This will require robots, for things like maintaining the transition cables from farms generating the energy to bring [that] energy back to a place where it can be used," Long says.
As one of the fastest growing businesses in Massachusetts and number 194 on the Inc. 500 list in 2013, the Cambridge-based company builds environmentally friendly lodging for workers in the energy business. But Chief Executive Brian Lash is no Obama fan, having suffered a $250 million loss, he says, about six years ago when the president put a moratorium on new coal fire plants, resulting in canceled contracts. Lash also opposes what he sees as the executive overreach of the order, but acknowledges it will have no impact on his business. He's shifted to building for oil, gas, and Canadian tar sands.
"I don't see any further hurt to my business," Long says.
Solar Alliance of America
Founded by Artie Rose in 2009, San Diego's Solar Alliance retrofits homes with solar panels, and then connects them to the local energy grid, selling excess energy to utility companies. Rose currently installs the $30,000 systems at his own expense, in return for customers buying energy from his grid, though for what he claims are dramatically lower prices than traditional utility companies that rely primarily on coal. The new EPA plan can only be a boon to his business, Rose says. He's so certain because California already has had stringent carbon reduction regulations in place since 2009, and his business has benefited.
"Global warming is a real thing, and the [executive action is] good for the environment," Rose says. "It might be overkill, but as someone in the solar energy industry, this is a positive."
The St. Augustine, Florida-based company has three divisions that deal with hybrid energy and natural gas production. NTE also consults with energy companies that want to maximize the value of their infrastructure, including shifting to hybrid energy sources. It was founded in 2009 by Seth Shortlidge.
"The general focus on climate change has been beneficial for hybrid technology, and it has helped us and our clients maximize value by addressing an issue that is more and more important to a variety of people and interests," Shortlidge says.
At the same time, Shortlidge is skeptical of the 30 percent goal for reduction of emissions, fearing it might be too arbitrary. More than anything, Shortlidge says carbon reduction goals should be consistent so businesses can plan, whether for infrastructure build out or phase out.
"Within the utility industry, there is a growing acceptance that renewable energy and sustainable energy resources need to be a significant component of production," he says, adding that he thinks the executive order will increase that acceptance.
Next Step Living
Founded by Geoff Chapin, the Boston company retrofits homes with solar panels and assists in maximizing energy efficiency. Like Rose, Chapin says the Northeast has been prepped for change since the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, which has sought carbon emissions reductions in the region since 2007. Chapin expects the executive order to be a net positive for the business.
"We would expect significantly more business as a result," Chapin says. "This would speed up our expansion, our hiring, and would encourage many other companies to be created and to follow in our footsteps. For every coal plant worker displaced, we would love to hire that person and 10 others with the growth this sector is having and could have."