Ten years ago, a business owner who wanted to go green might have been labeled a tree hugger – or worse – in the Palmetto State.
But those days are gone as global warming awareness rises, state and national environmental regulations increase and the opportunity for profit rises.
About 350 businesses, non-profits and other entities – including such heavyweights as international automaker BMW – gathered Tuesday in Columbia for South Carolina’s ‘Green is Good for Business’ Conference.
The annual daylong seminar, begun in 2006 under former Mayor Bob Coble, highlights many of the quickly-expanding advantages of incorporating environmental responsibility – such as water and energy conservation, waste reduction, recycling and air quality standards – into everyday business operations.
“It’s a way of doing business,” said Grant Jackson, Greater Columbia Chamber of Commerce community development senior vice president, a conference sponsor.
“We believe very simply that good environmental management, good environmental responsibility and sustainability is not incompatible with being a … profitable business,” he said.
Germany-based BMW, with its Greer plant that is the company’s second-largest manufacturing site, has been ranked an industry leader in sustainability for the past eight years, according to Josef Kerscher, BMW president, who delivered the keynote address to the conference.
The company, which produced 1.67 million cars worldwide in 2011, along with 113,000 motorcycles, said its vision of sustainability is deeply rooted in environmental responsibility.
“Governments worldwide are setting stricter CO-2 emission standards for companies,” Kerscher said. “Environmental changes, shortages of resources, and corporations ... continue to increase awareness of everyone’s responsibility to live in a sustainable manner.”
The European Union is requiring reduced emissions of climate-damaging greenhouse gases by 20 percent from 1990 levels by 2020, Kerscher said. In the U.S., auto makers are being required to achieve 54.5 miles per gallon of fuel efficiency in light vehicles by 2025, he said.
“This is the real challenge of the car industry,” said Kerscher, “and I think this is a good announcement because the industry can prepare themselves (with the proper technology) to make this possible.”
BMW is already on the road to achieving such changes, having reduced the CO2 emissions of its fleet by about 30 percent between 1995 and 2010, with further reductions planned by 2020, Kerscher said.
The automaker also is working with hydrogen technology to lower emissions, he said, though expected breakthroughs are 10-15 years away, and the company is developing a complete new brand for electric cars. The company is making its combustion engines more efficient, Kerscher said, redesigning transmissions and building its cars with lighter weight materials.
Kerscher said BMW’s green efforts would produce more jobs, not less, and said that same factor holds true elsewhere in other industries where carbon footprints are reduced.
Recycling in South Carolina is another major component of the green movement, supporting 37,440 jobs statewide, generating $1.5 billion in personal income, $6.5 billion in economic impact, and 69 million in state tax revenue, according to the S.C. Department of Commerce.
Even more promising, the recycling industry in the state is projected to grow by 12 percent annually, the department said.