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Thursday, Feb. 12, 2015 12:01 am

Businesses meet in Springfield on environmental issues

Groups call for new policies to combat climate change, grow green economy

Maldaner’s owner and chef Michael Higgins showed off his rooftop garden and solar panels last summer.


Climate change is bad for business, according to concerned business owners who met in Springfield last week.

Washington, D.C.-based Business Forward hosted a meeting of Springfield business leaders and state lawmakers on Feb. 5 to discuss how climate change negatively affects business. The same day, the Illinois Clean Jobs Initiative – another group of lawmakers and business leaders – called for raising the state’s energy efficiency goals to create “green” jobs.

The climate change meeting raised a variety of environmental issues which state lawmakers will likely have to address in the coming years. Woody Woodruff, a farmer and conservation associate with the Illinois Stewardship Alliance in Springfield, was largely concerned with soil health. He said that over-tilling of soil can release more carbon into the atmosphere, contributing to global warming, but growing cover crops between planting seasons can help draw carbon out of the atmosphere.

“We think in agriculture we can have a key role in helping to curb climate change or at least help to be prepared,” Woodruff said.

Michael Higgins, owner and chef at Maldaner’s Restaurant in Springfield, has different concerns. He said that agricultural complications brought on by climate change can drive up his food costs, but conducting his business in an environmentally conscious way helps him better market his business.

Higgins said he has different responses to give people when they ask if he’s an environmentalist.

“To some I say, ‘Well, sure, I’m an environmentalist,’ ” Higgins said “For other people I say, ‘No, it makes business sense.’ ”

Cindy Davis, co-owner of Resource One Office Furnishings and Design in Springfield, has concerns related to preserving old buildings and furniture construction. For example, she said wooden office furniture, if not finished properly, can release hazardous vapors.

Davis, who founded an annual symposium in Springfield on renewable building and interior design practices in 2002, said restoring older buildings is more environmentally friendly than new construction for two reasons: the energy costs of tearing down and building again, and the waste left over. Davis said waste like drywall from tearing down buildings can end up in landfills and release toxic runoff when it rains.

Unless an existing building is a hazard, Davis said, wasting the time, materials and energy that went into its construction is “crazy.”

“The greenest building is an existing building,” Davis said.

That same day at the Illinois Statehouse, the Illinois Clean Jobs Coalition announced a new public-private partnership to pursue policies to bolster green energy jobs. The coalition said 32,000 new jobs could be created annually if their policies are adopted – policies like increasing renewable energy standards to use more solar and wind or raising efficiency standards to encourage retrofitting of old heating and air conditioning systems.

“We have one goal: to promote policies that will maximize the use of renewable energy and energy efficiency measures in Illinois, and create thousands of good-paying jobs,” said Jen Walling, executive director of Illinois Environmental Council. “That is to go beyond the 100,000 clean energy jobs in Illinois today.”

While each of the business leaders at Business Forward had different environmental concerns and unique solutions for them, the focus of the Illinois Clean Jobs Coalition was singular and direct: grow the renewable energy economy in Illinois, both for the sake of the environment and the economy.

“We all have a very clear understanding of the direction that the country is going on these issues, the direction the world must go on these issues,” said state Sen. Daniel Biss, D-Evanston. “But there’s an enormous, enormous dividend to be paid to those who move earlier.”

Contact Alan Kozeluh at intern@illinoistimes.com.


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