In the United States, climate change has long been widely contested. According to a 2019 report from the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication, 73 percent of Americans think that global warming is happening, up 10 percentage points since March 2015. 

Belief in climate change, however, isn’t necessary to get people — especially businesses — to practice more environmentally sustainable habits if those habits ultimately save money. That’s the belief of The Climate Reality Project, a nationwide nonprofit that, two years ago, developed a presentation to teach business owners that going green can be a financial asset and cost-cutter. 

“Climate Reality put together a presentation that we can take to business leaders that’s not going to get them wound up because we’re talking about something political — whose science is right, what we should believe,” said Donna Thompson, small business owner and chair of the Tacoma chapter of the Climate Reality Project. “We don’t talk to business leaders about science. We talk to them about benefits to their bottom line.” 

The goal of these presentations, which Thompson said she gives as a volunteer in a wide variety of settings, is to empower business leaders to take action to address their company’s impact on the Earth, and to examine the ways in which environmental sustainability drives economic sustainability. 

Studies support Thompson’s actions. One conducted in 2017 by Cone Communications — a 40-year-old public relations and marketing agency that conducts research focused on corporate social responsibility — shows that two out of three Americans are hopeful that businesses will take the lead to drive social and environmental change in the absence of government regulation, 78 percent want companies to address important social justice issues like climate change, and 87 percent will purchase a product because a company advocated for an issue they care about. And the same study shows that millennials — who will make up 75 percent of the workforce by 2030 — may be the generation to push the needle. 

“New generations are changing the triple bottom line for business,” Thompson said, referencing the old adage — “promotion, product, profit” — and its transformation into a new one: “people, planet, profit.” “New generations are willing to make sacrifices that previous generations weren’t willing to make. Seventy-four percent of millennials want a job where their work has purpose. Sixty-two percent of millennials are willing to take a pay cut to work for a responsible company. That’s a big deal. And studies show that inspired employees are three times more productive.” 

Thompson also emphasized that small- and medium-size companies — the ones the Climate Reality presentation targets — are the most vulnerable in the aftermath of a disaster or catastrophic event that those who believe in climate change feel are more likely to occur. According to a report from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, 40 percent of businesses do not reopen following a disaster, and another 25 percent fail within one year following. Pair that with data about the exponential increase in floods, fires, storms, and mudslides, and small businesses have a personal interest in taking steps to reverse negative climate impacts — in fact, their survival down the line may depend on it. 

“People have a lot of options of where they put their money — businesses can make it easy for them to choose by taking responsible environmental actions and then talking about it,” Thompson said. 

Photo by Jeff Hobson

One local business with a dedicated customer base — for its delicious coffee and also for its longtime commitment to offsetting its carbon footprint — is Batdorf & Bronson, the first 100 percent green-powered coffee roaster in the country. This designation means that the Olympia-based company makes intentional and consistent efforts to offset the negative environmental impact of the coffee-making process, which maintenance engineer Jim Unzicker said uses a lot of natural resources.

“We have a responsibility as a company to be good environmental stewards, because making coffee does take a lot of energy,” said Unzicker, who has worked for Batdorf & Bronson for 22 years and currently serves as the head of the company’s sustainability committee. “It is especially important that we try to reduce our footprints in other ways.” 

Some of the approaches that Batdorf & Bronson takes toward sustainability also save the company money. Unzicker pointed to the 42 solar panels installed on the roof of the roastery. The panels power the process of manufacturing and earn the business 50 cents from the state of Washington for every kilowatt of energy it creates. That translates into about a $5,000 check each year. Using energy efficient T5 fluorescent tubes saves $145 each month on the electricity bill, and mindfulness as a staff about waste allows the company to reduce the size and number of garbage bins needed for the building. 

Other measures, however, are more of an investment on the company’s part. Being a 100 percent green-powered coffee roaster is accomplished in part by the company’s purchasing of green tags — investing extra money in solar and wind power generation to offset electrical use in retail locations, which are located in Olympia and Lacey, as well as in Atlanta and Decatur, Georgia. And certain parts of packaging can’t be recycled locally, so Batdorf & Bronson pays extra to ship carefully cleaned and sorted items to processing facilities. 

Unzicker said Batdorf & Bronson remains dedicated to finding innovative solutions even when doing so requires a monetary investment, because businesses are in a prime position to create change. 

“It’s companies (like us) that can tell manufacturers what we want, like a compostable lid for our cups,” Unzicker said. “We started looking into that about 15 years ago, and we were a test market for those early compostable lids. As a business, we have power to shift what is being manufactured — making that change isn’t always cheaper, but it does reduce our footprint.” 

Aaron Shook, general manager at Gig Harbor’s Ocean5 — an entertainment venue with a commitment to reducing its ecological footprint — agreed that not every sustainable switch is a positive investment for a company’s bottom line. But that doesn’t mean that it won’t ultimately be in the business’ best interest moving forward. 

“I think we’re seeing communities in the region becoming increasingly aware of businesses that are being responsible,” Shook said. “Currently, I wouldn’t say that the awareness has a dramatic impact on spending habits. We anticipate that will change over the next few years, and that businesses that do not work toward running their business responsibly will start to see an impact over time.” 

Not every company will be willing to foot the bill to better the environment. Thompson recognizes that small- and medium-size businesses have a lot to focus on, and that many of them can’t make sustainability a top priority the way Batdorf & Bronson has. That does not, however, mean that they can’t make those eco-friendly changes that also will save them money. 

“We can all play our part,” Thompson said. “Go paperless, install LED lights and air filters, use appliance strips that ensure that power isn’t being used when something is turned off. Have an audit done — Tacoma Power will come in and do an audit and give you a plan.” 

And those businesses willing to go beyond the basics may see their investments paying off in the long run as more people — employees and consumers alike — look to support companies that market themselves as part of the solution.