The event held in Wisconsin is focused on helping area businesses understand the interconnectedness of water scarcity and environmental pollution and its effect on the economy.
(TNS) -- Businesses that are working to shrink their environmental footprint are increasingly looking at the interconnectedness of issues ranging from water scarcity and climate change to public health, energy use and food production.
The interwoven nature of issues facing the planet is something that businesses need to look at carefully when considering the big picture of sustainability, said speakers at the 13th annual Sustainability Summit, which kicked off Wednesday.
Step one for many businesses in sustainability was the "easy stuff," to make buildings more efficient in a way that cuts carbon emissions and saves companies money at the same time, said Clay Nesler, vice president of global energy and sustainability at Johnson Controls.
Taking it to the next level means evaluating what the company's suppliers are doing on sustainability and working with them to become more efficient, he said. Johnson Controls conducts sessions at its suppliers that offer ways to save as much as 3% to 5% on energy use by implementing simple changes, he said.
But the company has moved beyond that to analyze its own vulnerabilities in the area of water and climate. An analysis done with the help of the not-for-profit World Resources Institute was able to target factories around the world that are located in areas vulnerable to extreme flooding or other climate risks, Nesler said.
At MillerCoors, director of sustainability Kim Marotta said the company has been focused on saving water at its breweries but is also working with farmers in water-scarce areas to help them save water.
Through a variety of ways, she said the brewing company has reduced the number of barrels of water used to produce a barrel of beer to less than 3.3 from more than 4.1 barrels in 2009.
Inside the breweries, "we set up a water war room and asked every single person in our brewery to talk to us about what we can do to save water," she said.
The process involved a variety of initiatives including talking with brewery employees about problems such as leaks as well as improved energy use, she said.
The advent of extreme weather events — Hurricane Sandy in the northeast or intense rains that spawned flooding in Wisconsin in 2008 and 2010 — could be wake-up calls to pay attention to sustainability, summit speakers said.
In planning for local watersheds' future ability to withstand flooding, those recent periods of big flooding need to be factored in, said Matthew Bednarski, a project manager with Graef, an environmental and consulting firm.
"For a long time we thought the rainy year of 1986 was an anomaly," he said. "We threw it out of our databases because we thought we'd never get that much rain again. It's back in there now because of the more recent rain years."
It's one reason, he said, "that we're looking at climate change in the Midwest a lot more seriously."
Speakers also discussed how business and environmental goals can be aligned. At Johnson Controls, a recent move to improve by 10% the efficiency of the big commercial air chillers it sells translates to carbon emissions savings that more than offset the greenhouse gas emissions of the company's factories around the world, Nesler said.
Two economic clusters that are significant players in southeastern Wisconsin — water and energy — are collaborating on an industry "road map" to find business opportunities in the energy-water nexus, said Jeff Anthony, who runs the energy innovation center for the Mid-West Energy Research Consortium, based in Milwaukee.
The road map, based on analysis of existing studies as well as proprietary market research, will be unveiled later this year but is expected to highlight opportunities for companies that supply products used in the water and energy sectors, he said.
"These are crosscutting opportunities, and many of these are technologies that companies in southeastern Wisconsin already provide," he said.
The summit, which continues Thursday at the Potawatomi Hotel & Casino, is organized by Milwaukee Area Technical College in conjunction with other colleges, businesses and the Milwaukee Office of Environmental Sustainability as well as the Mid-West Energy Research Consortium.
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