I had an interesting discussion with the EPA, yes, that EPA. Amy Anderson from The New York Industrial Retention Network, a local nonprofit that advocates for local and sustainable manufacturing, invited me to a panel with Andrew Kimball, President and CEO, Brooklyn Navy Yard; Adam Friedman head of Pratt’s Center for Community Development; Judith Enck, Regional Administrator, US EPA; Barbara Bennett, Chief Financial Officer, US EPA and several local manufacturers.
They didn’t have anything particular to trumpet. It seemed like a legitimate “listening tour” on the EPA’s part. They talked about what they are doing, what they think is relevant to us, and asked us to share our concerns about anything EPA related.
The EPA is a very big agency, with about 17,000 employees and an agenda fought out between their own scientists, the US Congress, the White House, Environmentalists, Polluters, and a host of other interested parties. Unwieldy as they may seem they do a huge service for our country in moving the targets for efficiency and admissible pollutants in a tighter and cleaner direction.
We debated what I see as their potential role in taking the lead to establish meaningful standards and labels for consumer education and choice. Just as everyone knows what MPG numbers mean on a new car sticker, I feel like most consumers know that an “energy star” label means “more efficient” on a home product, like a washing machine. The axe I was grinding is that energy star does not sufficiently take manufacturing method, process, nor locale into its calculations. Certainly we want equipment that performs efficiently, like a high efficiency light-bulb. But we also ought to value the efforts that a light-bulb manufacturer takes towards greening their factory (whether that’s by using renewable power, by recycling water, by eliminating pollution, or by other innovative means). Most importantly I think that the EPA should take a leading role in developing the rating system and rolling it out under their very strong, trusted name. The current state of affairs is such that absolutely anyone can call their product or process “green- eco- bio- sustainable- etc.” and make any argument, or none at all, for the veracity or even the meaning of that claim; many do just that. This greenwashing is a disincentive for further truly sustainable efforts as it undercuts whatever market distinction and advantage might accrue to a truly green business.
The EPA Green Power Partnership, in which we are partners, is a good example of their ability to succinctly telegraph a concept. Most people would recognize the EPA “brand,” believe in its veracity, and get the basic idea that any business bearing this logo is using green power. We had to submit the specifications of our 16KW photovoltaic array and our wind power purchase agreements to the EPA for verification before they certified us.
Sustainable business practices mean a lot to Remains. They are a lifelong commitment for this company, backed up by many years of thought, action, and significant investments. We invest in green initiatives foremost, for their own merits. Because our country does not assess a price for pollution or the use of common goods like water and air, green initiatives are expensive to those who implement them, even though they benefit people globally. And at least in the short term, they are difficult to justify at the bottom line. However, if the EPA would lend its trusted imprimatur to a graded (how about gold/silver/bronze?) EPA-Sustainable-Business-or-somesuch seal, the public could have confidence that the extra expense such labeled products carry is backed up by defined, valued, graded actions. Any additional market share that qualifying businesses gain by such labeling could serve to tip the scales toward correcting the imbalance in the current pollution-biased manufacturing sector.