Although most business executives today recognize that environmental initiatives can yield a wealth of strategic advantages, there hasn't been much progress on that front lately. As for why that might be, the timing suggests that a lot of eco-initiatives became casualties of the recession: As the economic storm clouds gathered, companies put their environmental initiatives on hold as they battened down the financial and operations hatches for a bout of heavy weather.
What those companies overlooked, however, was what we might call the "green value proposition"—the benefits that eco-initiatives can provide. Although it's often assumed that the value of going green lies mainly in public relations, the benefits actually go far beyond that. Often as not, the real payoff comes in savings that go right to the bottom line.
This important fact did not escape the folks at one Minneapolis firm. In the teeth of a recession, executives at Murphy Warehouse Co. invested more than half a million dollars to better manage the runoff of storm water from their property.
That might sound like a big cash layout, but it will bring a big payoff: The company will save at least $68,000 a year from here on out. That means within eight years, Murphy Warehouse will have fully recouped its investment, and the savings will continue, in theory, in perpetuity. Not a bad way to do business, eh?
The story began back in 2004, when the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) enacted regulations requiring municipalities to manage the quality of storm water. In order to comply with the mandate, Minneapolis officials began assessing all business properties within the city stormwater fees. One of those businesses was Murphy Warehouse Co., which maintains its headquarters there. The annual assessment on Murphy's 22-acre headquarters campus: a whopping $68,000.
Although they could have simply incorporated the new fee into their annual operating budget, Murphy executives decided to try a different approach. They engaged an engineering firm to design a stormwater management system to collect and filter the runoff at the 105-year-old campus—a move that would allow them to seek an abatement of the annual fee.
The system, which was installed in the summer of 2008, consists of a retention basin and three "rain gardens" that collect 95 percent of the rainwater that falls on the site. By reducing runoff from the property into the neighboring residential streets and storm drains, the system helps reduce flooding during rainstorms and thus, the potential for sewage runoff into the Mississippi River. As it had hoped, Murphy was able to obtain an abatement of the assessment from the city.
The stormwater system, hailed by Minneapolis officials as the first and only system of its kind to be voluntarily constructed on an existing heavy-use industrial site in the city, has earned national recognition for its design. Last year, the American Council of Engineering Companies presented Murphy Warehouse and Wenck, the engineering firm that designed and installed the system, with the Minnesota Engineering Excellence Honor Award.
What makes the Murphy Warehouse initiative noteworthy is not just that the company has saved green by going green—we've seen hundreds of examples of that. It's that the company did it without embarking on a full-blown reconstruction or retrofit project. As Murphy officials like to say, it is just fine to start small.
The point is, you need to begin somewhere. The folks at Murphy did just that. Let's hope that some of the folks who have yet to jump on the green bandwagon will take note of their example.