During a South Portland panel discussion moderated by U.S. Sen. Angus King, they share examples of how sustainability measures can cut costs while making companies greener.
By Kevin Miller, Staff Writer
Portland Press Herald news story
SOUTH PORTLAND — Several Maine business owners said Friday that adapting to climate change doesn’t have to be costly and, in many cases, can help a company’s finances as well as the environment.
Climate change presents considerable challenges but also potential opportunities to Maine businesses and communities, many of which are witnessing the impacts of a changing ocean environment before their counterparts elsewhere around the country. That was a key theme of a forum co-sponsored Friday by the South Portland Chamber of Commerce and the Natural Resources Council of Maine.
“Ultimately, this has to make economic sense,” U.S. Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, said via Skype because early-morning budget votes in Washington prevented his return to Maine. “We can’t depend on everybody simply being good guys or nice men and women. It has to work in terms of a return on investment.”
Laying out the challenges facing Maine due to a changing climate, King and Gulf of Maine Research Institute President and CEO Don Perkins discussed how lobster and other fish species are already changing their habits as the Gulf of Maine warms. A recent six-part Portland Press Herald series explored the ecological and economic implications of the fact that the Gulf of Maine has warmed faster than almost every part of the oceans around the globe during the past decade.
“It’s real and it has very sobering implications for our fishing industry, obviously,” said Perkins, whose staff at GMRI recently co-authored a scientific study showing cod populations were not recovering because of warming Gulf of Maine waters. “Once you get over agonizing about that – and it is cause for agony – the fact is that we’re dealing with that problem a decade or a few decades earlier than many other ocean regions. And as a result, there is a huge opportunity in this state to figure out how to understand a changing system.”
But while warming and increasingly acidic ocean waters could threaten Maine’s lobster industry, it will likely create other opportunities as warmer-water commercial fish species migrate farther north.
Luke Livingston, president and founder of the fast-growing Lewiston beer maker Baxter Brewing Co., said brewers have major stakes in climate change’s impacts on agriculture because of the hops, grains and other ingredients they use. But brewing is also an energy- and water-intensive process, so Baxter Brewing has reduced its water usage by more than 50 percent in five years and is aiming to be a “zero-waste” facility in the near future.
Livingston said that in addition to helping on the climate front, using more sustainable practices could help the company stand out in other states where they cannot benefit from the “buy local” factor.
“Although it’s very nice to talk about environmental benefits … and be able to sleep well by talking about the ways that we help the environment, the true impact is going to come when small businesses like ours and ski mountains, et cetera, are able to realize that those projects we do actually help the bottom line,” Livingston said. “And that’s when we are going to see real progress.”
Similarly, Matt Hancock of Mt. Abram Ski Area in Greenwood said switching to solar power, wood pellet heat and adding electric vehicle chargers at the mountain made business and environmental sense. The transitions have helped insulate Mt. Abram to fluctuations in fossil fuel prices but also could help draw green-minded customers.
“So when I think about our clean-energy game plan that has led us to some of the things that we’ve done, it had to be done in a manner that was economically sustainable and created economic growth for us, or it just wouldn’t have happened,” Hancock said. “So I really encourage businesses to be a little bit selfish in that.”
Sam Merrill, senior practice leader of GEI Consultants, said adapting to climate change often becomes an apolitical issue in coastal communities when they realize the enormous potential financial costs of sea-level rise to private properties, bridges, roads and other infrastructure versus the costs of mitigation. GEO Consultants, a global “geoenvironmental” firm with an office in Portland, works with clients and communities around the world on coastal planning, climate adaptation and other engineering tasks.
“It doesn’t matter what your politics are,” Merrill said. “We are getting a sense that we are all in this together, we are all going under together in coastal areas.”